A Case of Small Beer

This blog started out as a home for all the odd little bits of information I ran across while documenting the life of Thomas Lovewell - items that really had no place else to go, but were too good to throw away.

For instance, while spooling through the pages of the Osceola Union Sentinel in the basement of the library at the county seat of Clarke County, Iowa, I found some interesting details about the snowy January of 1864.  It was information that nicely set the stage for Orel Jane Davis’s unfortunate marriage to her first husband, Alfred W. Moore.  Looking through issues of the Union Sentinel for the following year I ran across an advertisement which trumpeted the news, “The South Has Fallen, and So Have Our Cotton Goods!”  It  was small beer that had nothing to do with the Thomas Lovewell story, but I found the line too amusing to leave it alone.  So, here you go.

The next time someone complains about the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents being celebrated with unbeatable deals on towels and linens, we can remind ourselves that it’s nothing new.  The folks who write advertising copy were just as shameless then as they are now.  Even with the echoes of Civil War cannon-fire hanging in the air, the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Americans could be reduced to a sales slogan.  Perhaps it was a sign that the country was ready to put the war behind it and get back to business.

One of the benefits of being under the weather for a week or two, is the chance it gave me to catch up on the current state of historical research as presented on Reality TV.  On the History Channel I was treated to a pair of brothers scratching around for the fabled treasure of Oak Island, just off the southern coast of Nova Scotia, a quest that various treasure hunters have carried on for two centuries now.  Another pair of brothers are darting around the country looking for the skeletal remains of a purported race of giant humans with double rows of teeth.  An intrepid lone adventurer follows a set of clues which supposedly point the way to the Lost Dutchman Mine, and then checks out a farfetched theory that Davy Crockett survived the Alamo and lived out his days on a farm in Alabama.

There is a sameness to these various cable shows, highlighted by their need to recap the whole story after every commercial break, an obvious method of drawing out ten minutes of actual content to fill an hour of programming.  All are propelled by interchangeable, nervously-percussive music scores, and further energized by kinetic camerawork interrupted by random light flashes.  The shows may not be exciting, but they certainly look and sound exciting.  At ten-minute intervals there are sure to be high-fives all around, and someone inevitably finds an excuse to shout, "This is a game-changer!”  The discovery of a thimbleful of sand was an awesome moment of validation for the bone-hunters, while the brothers exploring Oak Island were absolutely giddy over the discovery of a Spanish penny.  When a second penny turned up in the vicinity of the island's aptly-named “Money Pit,” it was another game-changer.  Those two pennies may be the only coins ever unearthed at a site which was once presumed to house Captain Kidd’s pirate treasure, but is now the center of wild speculations about the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and the riches of King Solomon.  Or, perhaps a third penny will turn up eventually.

At the start of the “America Unearthed” episode devoted to inventing a new ending for Davy Crockett’s story, an Alabama couple shows the investigator an 1836 newspaper account, credited to an unnamed eyewitness, claiming that Crockett was not dead but was at that moment recovering from wounds received at the Alamo.  They also present a land record from 1859 signed  by David Crockett.  “Compare the handwriting,” I croaked at the television from my sick-bed.  The signature on the land record would eventually be compared with a known handwriting sample of the real David Crockett, but not until the show’s waning minutes.  Why spoil the fun with a reality check so early on?

There was an actual fun fact embedded in this investigation, one which was uncovered during a trip to San Antonio and a talk with a Crockett expert.  It turns out that both Colonel David Crockett and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna were Freemasons, leading to speculation that if Crockett had given the Masonic sign requesting help at the end of the battle, Santa Anna might have spared him, “if” and “might have” being the crucial words in this sentence.

As for the fanciful story about Crockett’s survival after the fall of the Alamo, that was the subject of a genuine newspaper account entitled “Col. Crockett Not Dead Yet," that made the rounds in the spring of 1836.  It was “genuine” in the sense that somebody really did write it in 1836, and the story was published in several newspapers.  However, there was also a cautious addendum to the account, one which I don’t recall hearing anyone recite in the “America Unearthed” episode:

Candor compels us to say that there are many improbabilities in relation to the truth of this report; but the respectable character of the gentleman who says he saw him with his own eyes in the condition and under the circumstances above stated, induces us to give it credit.  We have, nevertheless, some doubts of its truth.  We give the story, however, as the gentleman represented it, and we sincerely hope it may prove entirely authentic.  It is either true or the man who has detailed to numerous persons in this city the above sentiments, is a lying villain.

Ah, well.  That Freemasonry thing really was a neat angle, anyhow.  It seems to me that the History Channel and I are both in the business of serving up small beer.  They just serve theirs in bigger glasses.  

More bubbles, too, I imagine.

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com