Ibid, p.5

IBID, page 5



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  I have not altered the opinion I held in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer editorials to which you refer, and that is that our safety even in this relatively new century continues to depend upon the total extermination of the Indians. I will agree with you that we have wronged the savage Red Man for centuries. But while you suggest that we make amends in whatever way possible for those decades of subjugation, I strongly argue the opposite course of action. The red-skinned barbarian will never submit to our civilizing influence. He will insist on retaining claim to land to which by his innate primitivism he has lost clear title. Anger-fueled violence toward our government will never subside. Without hope of reconciliation or redress, it is most efficacious for us to simply finish the job we started: wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth and be done with it. Unless we take swift action along these lines, our great nation will remain under-civilized, its enormous potential unrealized. We have no choice: the Red Man must be eliminated.My secretary tells me that your letter was accompanied by a picture which you had drawn that was of such a distressing nature that she was forced to place it directly into the hearth fire to ensure that none of the many children who wander into my office would find it and be harmed by the exposure.

  Young man, I think it should be possible for you to disagree with me on this matter without making a shamefully obscene mockery of my work. My secretary tells me that your drawing depicted a full scale Indian assault on the characters in my children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the picture the savages have eviscerated the Scarecrow, chopped the Tin Man into a pile of scrap metal, and skinned the Lion and hung him upon a spit, his face twisted in agonizing death throes. Young Dorothy lay writhing upon the blood-streaked Yellow Road, her scalp peeled horrifically from her skull.

  In addition to which, young man, your facts are erroneous. There are no Indians in the land of Oz. They were exterminated many years ago by the Munchkins. Oz is a far better (and safer) place for their absence. Perhaps some day you will see that our great country would fare even better (we have no witches here) should we follow the same course of action.

  Perhaps it is good that I did not see the picture you drew. I am not sure that I would find it in my heart to forgive you for the violence you did to them.

  Yours truly,

  L. Frank Baum

  4. A high point of the year was the tug-of-war. Griselda Duderstadt, Halcyon Days in Wilkinson County (El Dorado, Arkansas: Ouachita Publishing, 1974), 178-79. The Wilkinson County tug-of-war had been an annual event going back to 1870. Traditionally, male citizens of Pettiville would gather on the south bank of Gobles Creek as male citizens of neighboring Ambless gathered on the north bank with the exception of 1889 when Pettivillians, finding the south bank rain-soaked and mud-laden—a disadvantage they would not accept—requested of their north county rivals a switch, or at the very least, the drawing of lots to determine bank assignment. Amblessites, staunchly adhering to tradition, rejected both proposals. Rather than canceling the bout, the two teams agreed to join forces for this one year, the men of both towns gathering en masse on the north bank to pull down a roped oak tree across the creek. Failing miserably at this task (“We removed some bark.”) the men were mocked by their female kin, and the Pettiville Press published a demoralizing story under the headline, “Wilkinson County Hangs its Head. Oak Tree wins Annual Tug-of-war” (24 July1889). The emasculated men of the county did, however, get the last laugh; the next week they chopped down the deeply rooted oak, milled its timber and turned the boards into backsplashes for a number of Pettiville and Ambless outhouses. “This way,” explained Pettiville mayor Herman Sills, “whoever wanted to, could piss right on that damned uppity tree.”

  5. Jonathan was caught playing craps behind the main tent of the Billy Wonder Traveling Revival. Interview with Odger Blashette.

  6. Later Jonathan found Jesus at the Billy Wonder Traveling Revival. Jonathan’s chief duties as “silent deacon” during his summer on the tent show circuit after his conversion by Billy Wonder included standing as sentry to prevent “bedeviled” teenaged hooligans from pulling out the stakes and toppling the canvas tenting, collecting love offerings from those in attendance, and lending a hand to those spiritually and physically “infirm” who might wish to approach the altar to obtain soul-cleansing and chiropractic adjustments. Sixteen-, then seventeen-year-old Jonathan wrestled throughout the summer with a faith that seemed by turns impertinent and non-existent. “Is it possible to be a Christian and not believe in God?” Jonathan posed in his diary. He put this question to Billy Wonder, as well. “That’s a new one on me,” Billy responded, and then added somewhat cryptically, “I suppose you can drink the milk without dancing with the cow.” “And what milk would that be?” Jonathan inquired of the man who, in spite of his skillful religious legerdemain, did possess faith of a sort. “Why, the milk of human kindness!” Billy chirped, his bright, sun-glinted eyes reflecting thoughtful consideration of the concept. An interesting concept, Jonathan noted in his journal, from the wonder-working Billy Wonder. Jonathan’s Diary, 30 June 1904, JBP.

  7. Jonathan was removed from the Epworth League for making a joke about the Holy Ghost. Reverend Devon Stoddard to Eugenia Sellers, 20 September1904, Sellers Family Papers.

  8. Jonathan was voted president of the Pettiville High School Debate Society. Jonathan’s Diary, 12 October1904.

  9. Jonathan lost the presidency of the debate society when a rival challenged his legitimacy and he responded with, “Oh, really…must we debate this?” Ibid., 13 October1904.

  10. Jonathan considered quitting school and becoming a patent medicine salesman. Interview with Odger Blashette.

  11. Jonathan decided not to quit school and become a patent medicine salesman. Ibid.

  12. “I’m so glad that you decided not to quit school and become a patent medicine salesman. Your mother is too.” Ibid.

  13. “He’s right. I am. Come give Mother a hug.” Ibid.

  14. Love finds Jonathan Blashette. Mildred Boyers’s family was relatively new to Pettiville. Her father sold Divine Bain sea sponges throughout a territory that included eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and western Tennessee as well as, curiously, Atlantic City, New Jersey, where, it was said, he had a mistress named Sheila who either (sources disagree) ate lye and died, or ate dye and lied about it, bragging that blue tongues ran in her family. Mildred wasn’t close to her father, but found comfort and solace at the rectory of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church of Ambless where she performed light housekeeping chores and posed as famous Greek statuary for the amusement of Father Dwayne and his toothless assistant Toot. Maise Boyers Gabridge, interview by author, 16 May 2000.

  No picture of Jonathan’s first girlfriend Mildred exists (see Note 16.). However, we have been left with several photographic likenesses of “Sheila,” discovered among the Boyers family effects in an old Atlantic City taffy box. In one snapshot she wears a Gibson Girl bathing dress and a big grin. This particular picture was given to me by Sheila’s great-granddaughter and it is now affixed to my refrigerator right next to the Michigan snowshoe magnet that secures my coupons for Mint Milanos.

  15. “Mildred’s my gal.” As happy as Jonathan and Mildred were, they must have known that they were not destined to spend the rest of their lives together. Perhaps this note, slipped into Jonathan’s hand at the Pettiville High School Homecoming bonfire, offers a few clues. JBP.

  November 2, 1904

  Dear Jonny,

  You CANNOT, CANNOT, CANNOT think that I would go on the hayride with you. I simply will not do it. You will horse around as you always do when you get with Bub and Charlie and the Vox, and will pay no attention to me, you may be sure of it. I will sit in a corner of that wagon ALONE and watch the four of you make UTTER fools of one another and wonder why I ever FOR ONE MINUTE thought we’d be cuddling in the moonlight when that is probably THE LAST THING ON YOUR MIND! So you go on without me and I will stay behind and help Miss Britten dust her
erasers unless you can absolutely positively assure me that you will pay attention to ME and only ME on the hayride and not act the fool with those ruffian characters you call your pals.

  I made you a pie last night and it is waiting for you in the home sciences room and you may have it for the price of a little KINDNESS for HEAVENS SAKE!



  PS. Daddy is off in Atlantic City again. He will no doubt try to make me feel better about his absence by bringing home TAFFY.

  16. Another favorite pastime was “kodaking” in Donlee Hills. Each of these photographs of Jonathan and his friends (JBP and Maise Boyers Gabridge, Private Collection of Family Ephemera) was taken with Mildred’s new Brownie camera, probably by Jonathan’s high school chum Will “The Vox” Crispen. The oversize thumb-intrusions in the bottom right corner of each are identical.

  Though camera-shy herself, Mildred loved her little Brownie and was careful to preserve all of her own efforts, including a photographic essay she entitled “Work, the Curse of the Drinking Class.” Jonathan played one of the roles in this pictorial commentary on Upper Class indolence, dressing up as a moneyed swell, berating (in frozen pantomime) the hired help, and drinking himself into a nightly stupor. The photographic tableau assigned to “nightly stupor” shows Jonathan comically body-hugging a lamppost. I have discovered a number of variations of the lamppost clench. My chief researcher Billy Vivian was quick to demonstrate to me that by placing the photographs in a certain order and flipping them, one may animate the scene, thus producing a peep show of Jonathan dry-humping the post.

  17. Both a curse and a blessing was this second sight. Jonathan’s mother didn’t always possess the gift of prophecy, but for a period of ten years, it seemed that almost all of her predictions came true. In early 1912, however, Emmaline’s second sight began to fail her and her back-porch prognostications started to miss their mark by wide margins. For example, she predicted that the Titanic would be drydocked after forty years of dutiful service to the White Star Line and then be turned into a home for old sailors, and that anarchist Emma Goldman would become a Republican senator from New Jersey. Later she predicted that Al Jolson would lose his voice and become a whispering Southern Baptist. Addicus Andrew Blashette, interview with author, 5 October, 1999.

  18. “Graduation comes none too soon! Hip Hip Hoorah! Tah Rah Rah Boom Dee-A! [sic]” Jonathan’s Diary, 25 May 1905.

  19. “I am leaving to spend my summer as a counselor at a fishing camp.” Jonathan Blashette to Mildred Boyers, 29 May, 1905, Private Family Correspondence Collection of Maise Boyers Gabridge. Mildred was, incidentally, in Atlantic City looking for her mother who, according to Gabridge, had learned of her husband’s extramarital dalliances and went to either “drag the man by the short-hairs all the way home” or “feed that sorry excuse for a husband and father to the fishes.”

  20. “This was my welcome to the Fritz Fighting Camp.” The word “fighting” was a misprint. Jonathan spent his graduation summer paying—along with other members of the camp’s staff—for this glaring promotional brochure typographical error. Given the misleading advertising, few arrived at the Minnesota camp expecting to fish and those who made the attempt usually, in the words of the camp’s beleaguered administrator Trent Littlefeather, “had no sooner dropped their lines in the cool, placid lake water than their boatmate hauls off and knocks the dog crap out of them when they’re not looking.” It was the summer Jonathan learned fisticuffs, a little about lures, and the importance of accuracy in promotional circulars. Jonathan’s Diary, 3 June1905.

  21. It was the second tornado to hit Wilkinson County in as many months. According to Blashette’s step-granddaughter Vicka Lovett (interview), Jonathan was in the barn as the twister lifted the roof off the farmhouse. Emmaline was in the kitchen and Addicus was out in the field. Jonathan’s diary disputes this. He places himself in the field, his father in the barn and his mother visiting with Pastor Stoddard’s myopic wife Margaret at the parsonage. By Addicus’s account (letter from Addicus to Lindy Blashette), Emmaline was in the barn, he was in the kitchen and Jonathan was off fishing with his friend Raymond Beams. Raymond (letter to his birth father soliciting funds) said that he was in the kitchen with Margaret Stoddard looking for Emmaline’s canning lids. Pastor Stoddard was in the Blashette barn looking for Margaret’s eyeglasses. Addicus and Emmaline were at Claiborne’s General Groceries and Sundry Dry Goods Store. Pastor Stoddard (church newsletter) said that everyone was seated at the Blashette kitchen table playing Uncle Wiggly. Margaret Stoddard (Bible Methodist Church Missionary Circle Circular) remembers that when the tornado touched down, Raymond Beams was in a barn located somewhere in the tri-county area helping her husband look for her eyeglasses. County historian Ida Sheridan (interview) insists that Pastor Stoddard was at Claiborne’s store buying an Uncle Wiggly game and a comical monocle fob. Everyone else was at the Pettiville ice cream social discussing crop rotation and bungled Montgomery Ward mail orders.



  1. The first day at Devanter went smoothly. Devanter College and Seminary was founded in 1866 by three Confederate veterans who implemented an early Dixie version of the G.I. bill, offering free tuition, room and board to any veteran of Jefferson Davis’s army whose application for its eclectic program was accepted. The school was financed by a wealthy British eccentric, Lord Hallowell who owned vast acreage in England’s Lake District and whose large family fortune (acquired over a century of trade with southern planters) also financed full-scholarships at an art school in Leeds for students willing to paint only portraits of his estranged wife Tildy whose oft-reproduced image clutters the walls of that city’s “Museum of Tildy” to this day. Alwin Chambers, The Little Brown College in the Wildwood (Pittsburgh: Academe Press, 1992), 222-25.

  Devanter offered courses in the sciences, business management, and the “Biblical arts.” Since Jonathan’s interests included both of the latter two disciplines, the small Tennessee college seemed the ideal choice.

  2. Jonathan was assigned to Orville House. Ibid., 225-26, 301, 321-23. Lord Hallowell’s endowment carried several stipulations. First and foremost, Devanter College would be multi-racial, a place of study and fellowship for men of all races. Over the years, the college’s charter had been altered to allow only half-white mulattos, then quadroons, and finally octoroons. It was because Jonathan was admitted to the school one week late that he was placed in Orville House (regarded by most as the “dormitory of last resort”), which bunked the college’s twenty-two octoroons and its only Chinese student, Wing Lu, who, though there to study the recently developed quantum theory of German physicist Max Planck, found himself spending most of his non-classroom hours running the college laundry and grousing heavily over his lot.

  A second stipulation: That students were to be of strong moral character. Smoking and drinking were strictly prohibited, although the young men were permitted a glass of watered sherry from time to time at the home of President and Mrs. Greaney when “some of the boys would be invited over for social and intellectual intercourse with the faculty.” Most importantly, the men were to visit nearby Chucking with “only the most extreme caution.” A wild and wooly railroad town, Chucking had twice as many saloons as churches. Any student found to be frequenting saloon, brothel, or dental parlor (where, it was understood, nitrous oxide parties sometimes degenerated into giggly orgies of lust and “just plain undignified tomfoolery”) would risk expulsion.

  Ironically, it was here in Chucking that Jonathan met one of the enduring loves of his life, a pocked syphilitic former prostitute named Great Jane.

  3. “She is the earth, the moon and the stars.” Though never allowing Jonathan to consummate their relationship, there is no doubt that Great Jane did permit him to hand her his heart. Nor is there any doubt that she felt the same. Such a love many have found inexplicable. Lucianne Flom in her study of love, romance and venereal disease, A Canker of the Hea
rt (New York: Koppelman Publishers, 1990), offers the following stab: that Jonathan, being somewhat the social misfit himself, given his disability, identified with others who viewed the world through a slightly skewed lens, and it is entirely plausible that such empathy might in a special circumstance extend itself to romantic attachment. I believe that Jonathan’s feelings for Great Jane went much deeper than simple romantic attachment. To call the two soul mates would not be a far-reaching assessment.

  4. “Jonny, give me paradise!” Ibid., 125. Great Jane was misheard. What she actually said was, “Jonny, give me a pair of dice!” The diseased ex-hooker loved craps almost as much as she loved Jonathan.

  5. Two months passed before Jonathan found the courage to mention Great Jane to his mother. The reference was strategically buried within the letter Jonathan sent home on November 2, 1905, an excerpt of which follows. JBP.

  “I am quite the diligent one when it comes to my studies, and my marks have been very good. Yet, I am not at all the proverbial dull boy and do spend some time in recreation with my mates. I have been learning to swing the tennis racquet upon the grassy patch that serves as makeshift tennis court here. Football is too rough-and-tumble for me, but I have a good arm for playing third base and I am happy that autumn has made a delayed appearance this year. We have a chef who once served a British earl in India and his offerings are quite exotic and flavorful. I am not a glutton but I do so enjoy the food here, as well as the company of a girl named Jane, backgammon, reading Owen Wister novels and lively conversation.

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