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Drag Divas (and some dudes) of Corpus Christi, 1990s style!

Amazing.

The Top Shelf

RuPaul’s ladies have nothing on these Drag Divas of the fabulous 90s! The hair, the nails, the gowns that shimmer!!!

Miss Corpus Christi America pageant, 1994 and undated

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Female impersonators from across the state of Texas flocked to these pageants to secure a place among the royalty of the Miss Gay Texas America pageant circuit which was and is the oldest and largest pageant for female impersonators in the state. After winning at the local level, contestants went on to compete at the state level. Judging by the expression on this lovely lady’s face, snagging a crown was a big deal!

txsau_ms00476_b1_f6_009 Miss Nueces County pageant, undated

The Miss Corpus Christi America pageant and related pageants were put on by Texas Crown Productions owned by Rudy Cardona and his partner, Victor Lopez. This past fall,  Victor donated the photographs to UTSA Special Collections. All photographs have been digitized and can be…

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Amerikan Rambler: Podcast: Episode 1, James Bond

It’s the inaugural episode of Amerikan Rambler! Host Colin Woodward answers such burning questions as “Who am I?” and “Why am I doing this?” Also, he talks about the recent James Bond movie, “Spectre,” and why playing James Bond is a lot like being a mall Santa Claus.

via Podcast: Episode 1, James Bond — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: Some varieties of life

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 68: Velazquez explores Mormon beliefs, enjoys a new friendship, and appreciates the beauty of her new home.

******

To my great satisfaction, my husband at length got tired of working in this region and under so many disadvantages, and concluded to try his fortune elsewhere. He had quite a notion of New Mexico, which he thought held out inducements for fortune-seekers but I was beginning to be out of the notion of the whole business and was anxious to be among a different class of people from those who, for the most part, make up the population of the mining districts. There was so much outrageous swindling going on when we were there residing that I was disposed to regard almost any move as a good one and very willingly turned my face eastward again.

We went first to Salt Lake City, where we remained for some time, and I consequently had excellent opportunities afforded me for becoming intimately acquainted with a number of Mormons and of learning a great deal about their religion and their manners and customs.

The lady with whom I boarded had been an early convert to Mormonism, had resided at Nauvoo at the time the exodus was determined upon, and had been one of the band of emigrants, who, fleeing from persecution, had sought a home among the mountains of Utah. She had been one of twelve wives and was a strong advocate of polygamy. When she saw that I really desired to know something about Mormonism, not from mere curiosity but from a genuine wish to gain information that would enable me to form an impartial judgment, she took great pleasure in answering all my questions and in providing me with facilities for pursuing my inquiries.

She was a very intelligent woman, and her account of the persecutions to which the Mormons were subjected at Nauvoo, and the suffering and hardships they endured during the long and toilsome journey to a place where they hoped to be forever undisturbed, was most interesting. She had quite an extensive library, to which I had free access, and she took a great deal of pains in directing my reading and in explaining points which I found to be obscurely stated in the books.

As I was the only boarder in the house, my husband being away in the canyon most of the time, we were naturally thrown much together, and after we became intimate she took me into her confidence to an extent that she would not have done had we been comparative strangers.

Among other things, she showed me her Endowment robes, which she wore when she became a member of the Mormon Church. This dress consisted of a linen garment, something like a pair of drawers. It was very full and had a body and sleeves attached. Over one side a heart-shaped piece was cut out, and the edges worked with a button-hole stitch. Curious figures were also worked on the sleeves and on the left hip. The robe proper was something like a priest’s surplice. The slippers, which, like the rest of the dress, were of linen, resembled moccasins. A tall pointed cap with holes for the eyes, which is drawn down over the face during the ceremonies, completed this singular attire.

The decorations worn by the men while taking the oath were also shown to me. They consisted of a regalia of Mazarine blue silk, with a representation of the Temple of Solomon in the center and a heart surrounded by a number of emblems similar to those in use by the Masons. She told me that the oath was very similar to that which the Masons used, and that it was administered to both men and women.

During my residence in Salt Lake City, I became acquainted with Brigham Young, and a number of the bishops, and other prominent Mormons, and I formed a very high opinion of them. There certainly has seldom or never been so well-governed a people as the Mormons were before the Gentiles found them out and insisted on intruding on their domain. As for polygamy, it is a part and parcel of their religion and has the sanction of the same Bible that the Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, acknowledge, and I cannot see why the Mormons should not be permitted to hold their religious beliefs the same as other sects. I do not believe in polygamy myself, but if other people think it is right and choose to practice it, that is their business and not mine.

Whether polygamy, however, be right or wrong, there is this to be said in favor of the Mormons. The men marry according to the custom of their church, and they acknowledge and provide for the women who bear them children — which is a good deal more than a great many people who denounce polygamy and Mormonism do. The Mormon religion professes to be based upon the Bible, what they call “The Book of Mormon,” being merely a later revelation, and I have heard as good, sound, practical sermons preached in Salt Lake City by Mormons who worked hard all the week earning bread for their families as I ever heard anywhere.

I have listened to the preaching of nearly all the principal bishops, and I never heard any of them utter a word that was not good doctrine, calculated to make men and women better and more honorable in all their dealings with their neighbors. Most of these sermons were in a much more practical vein than some I have heard in fashionable churches a good many hundred miles eastward of Salt Lake City, but I liked them none the less for that, and I respected the preachers, for, so far as I was able to see, they practiced exactly what they preached and did not have one religion for the Sabbath and another for working days.

I never saw or heard of a gambling den or a drinking saloon being kept by a Mormon, and many of the degrading vices which flourish in Gentile communities were absolutely unknown in Salt Lake City when the Mormons were its only residents. Even now, the standard of morality is higher in this and other Mormon towns than it is in any place that I know anything about between Omaha and the Pacific coast, while in real thrift and industry the Mormons are out of all comparison superior to their Gentile neighbors.

These people went to Utah, hoping and expecting to separate themselves from the rest of the world in order that they might worship God in their own way without molestation, and they ought to be permitted to do it. Through many years of toil and indefatigable industry they transformed the barren wilderness into a blooming Paradise. Conducting the water down from the mountains, they succeeded in bringing the sandy plains, covered with sage bushes, under cultivation, and what was once a dreary desert is now fertile fields, yielding luxuriant harvests or orchards bearing the most delicious fruits.

During my stay in Salt Lake Valley, I boarded for several months in the house of Bishop Nilo Andrews at Sandy Station and was on very intimate terms with five of his six wives. They were all smart women, and their children were, without exception, fine looking, strong, hearty, and intelligent. The bishop was passionately fond of his children and took the greatest pains to have them well educated. His daughters he escorted to all public gatherings and entertainments that it was proper for them to attend and did all in his power to make life enjoyable for them.

The bishop was about sixty years of age and was as hale and hearty as a man of thirty. He was not a bit afraid of work and could get through an amount of it that would have shamed many a younger man. I never want to receive better hospitality than I did from him, and when he found that I was desirous of obtaining correct information about the Mormons, he expressed himself as willing to tell me anything I wished to know.

He was quite a learned man, and like all the Mormons I ever met, was thoroughly posted in the Bible and in biblical history, and was able to explain in a satisfactory manner the points of coincidence and differences between Mormonism and other religious systems. The bishop told me that the greatest pains was taken in the matter of religious instruction, and that men and women who could not read, and even quite young children, often knew most of the Bible by heart.

There are a number of sects among the Mormons, between which some jealousy seems to exist. Of these, the Brighamites, the Gadites, and the Josephites are the principal. What the differences between them are I never could exactly make out. Another matter I never clearly understood was the status of sealed wives. I could not comprehend by what theory a Mormon could marry a widow for her lifetime, while all her children born of the second marriage would belong to the first husband in the next world.

The city of Salt Lake is located on the banks of the River Jordan, a stream which connects Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. It is about three miles distant from the mountains, which lie to the eastward. The streets are very wide and are, many of them, very handsome in appearance, being lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees and having streams of water running through them. This last is an especially attractive feature.

Most of the houses are well built and are very neat and pretty, being supplied with all the conveniences and comforts reasonable people can desire. Each house has a small garden and orchard attached, which are invariably kept in the best possible order.

Brigham Young’s residence is of stone and is surrounded by a wall. Over the entrance is a bee-hive, emblematic of industry, and over the large gate is a spread eagle. The house is plain and not at all pretentious, but it is neat and substantial looking. The walls of the office are ornamented with some fine portraits of Joseph Smith and other Mormon celebrities.

Brigham Young is a light-complexioned man, rather inclined to corpulency, but strong and hearty in spite of his years and the labors he has undergone. He has a large, full head, a keen blue eye, and an easy, affable manner that is very engaging. I found him to be a pleasant, genial gentleman, with an excellent fund of humor and a captivating style of conversation.

The great Tabernacle, which will be used for the purpose of worship until the Temple is completed, is an immense building which will seat fifteen thousand people. The pews are built in tiers, so that each person in the building can have a view of the altar. The altar is a large and imposing structure. In its rear is the organ and a space for the choir. This organ is the second largest in the world. It was built entirely in Salt Lake City. The work on the Temple is going on all the time, slowly but surely, and the expectation is to have it finished by the time of Christ’s second coming. He will then dedicate it, and it will be the great religious center of the world, where all true Christians will come and worship.

Every ward of Salt Lake City has its public school, and efforts are made to give every child a good practical education. There are four large hotels, three banks, three printing offices, a large, well-regulated hospital, numerous manufactories of various kinds, and several flouring and other mills.

There are several large towns in the neighborhood of the city, and new settlements are continually springing up. Springville, about fifty miles to the southeast, is a very beautiful place. At the time of which I am writing a railroad down the center of the valley was in operation, and two others were in contemplation.

The mineral wealth of Utah is practically inexhaustible. Iron, gold, silver, copper, lead, salt, gypsum, soda, arsenic, and slate abound in immense quantities. Salt Lake is a very large body of water, of a much greater specific gravity than that of the ocean. No living thing can exist in it, and in its deepest parts no soundings have ever been able to find a bottom. There are three islands near the middle of the lake, which are said to be rich in metals. In the southern part of Utah, called Dixie, cotton and cattle are raised. On the banks of the Sevier River are very fine grazing lands. The Mormons claim that there have been some discoveries of gold and silver made in this section.

Taking it all in all, my residence in Salt Lake City was both pleasant and profitable to me, and when the time came for me to say farewell to my Mormon friends, I did so with many regrets and with many wishes that they might escape persecution from their enemies. I could not agree with all of their religious doctrines, but I learned to regard them as an industrious, hard-working, and honest people, and as, consequently, deserving of respect and sympathy.

After a sojourn of a number of months in Utah, I prepared to journey eastward again, having scarcely bettered my fortunes, but having seen some varieties of life worth seeing and having gained some valuable experiences, not the least valuable of which was that mining speculations are things that people who have consciences should have as little as possible to do with.

Loreta’s Civil War: The gold fever

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 67: Gold and silver fever swirl around Velazquez, and her husband is not immune. She marvels at the different schemes employed to swindle the desperate settlers who share her aspirations for a new and better life.

******

Shortly after my marriage I made a flying trip to New Orleans, for the purpose of seeing my brother and some of my relatives. Immediately a rumor was started that I had run away, and when I returned I found that all kinds of stories had been set afloat about me. My reappearance, however, set them all at rest, and, as my husband and myself zealously attended to our own business and let that of other people alone, we were permitted to dwell together in peace.

When I got back from New Orleans, we purchased a snug little stone house, and I devoted myself to advancing my husband’s interests as much as possible and to making our home comfortable and attractive.

My husband, for a time, prospered in his mining operations, and, although there were some envious people who spoke ill of him and of me, we succeeded in gaining the esteem of such of our neighbors as were worth knowing and did not disturb ourselves about what might be said of us by those who were disposed to speak evil.

The city of Austin, which is near the center of Nevada, at this time (1868) contained from fifteen hundred to two thousand inhabitants, most of whom were in some way connected with the mines. There were about a dozen stores, one hotel, four or five lodging-houses, half a dozen restaurants, more drinking- saloons than I ever undertook to count, Catholic and Methodist churches, a Masonic hall, and five quartz crushing-mills — only one, however, of which was in operation.

There was any amount of speculation in mines and mining stocks and any amount of the worst kind of swindling going on all the time. Some of the mines were good ones but others were mere pretences and were worth nothing at all. Many of these bogus mines were sold to eastern capitalists by experts, who made a specialty of working frauds of this description.

It was while residing in Austin that I first heard the expression “salting” applied to mines and learned what it meant. Salting, however, was only one of a number of frauds that were practiced every day.

It grieved me greatly that my husband should be compelled to associate and to transact business with such scoundrels as the men about him. His partner, especially, was as worthless a scamp as there was in the district, and, as I felt certain that he would in time be held responsible for some of the doings of this fellow, I persuaded him to give up mining and to seek a home in some locality that offered greater advantages for living, as decent people ought to live, than Austin did.

My husband accordingly sold out his interest in the mines, and we removed to California, where we purchased a lovely place in the Sacramento Valley. This was just such a home as I had always sighed for, and I was perfectly happy in the idea of settling down and living a quiet, contented life for the rest of my days.

It was not to be, however. My husband had the gold fever, and he found it impossible to be satisfied with what would have satisfied most reasonable people. He was restless and irritable and was all the time anxious to be off to the mines again.

We had not been settled in our new home more than a few months, when, to my infinite regret, he insisted on starting off for the new Eldorado in Utah. He then passed a year prospecting in Bingham Canyon, Camp Floyd, Eureka, and Tintic, and expended all his money without achieving anything. He was then compelled to accept the foremanship of a mine in the Lucine district, and after he had been working in that capacity for some time was promoted to superintendent.

One of the members of the firm by whom my husband was employed was a gentleman, and was honest, as honesty went in that region. The other was a drunkard and a fraud of the worst kind. This man, some time before this, had started a settlement which he named after himself and had built a smelting furnace, all for the purpose of selling some bogus mines. He also perpetrated an infamous swindle on some English capitalists, in relation to a mine in Nevada.

The way the thing was done was this, and it will serve as an illustration of the kind of swindles that were constantly being perpetrated in connection with mines. He sent to Virginia and purchased some rich ore from the Comstock mine for the purpose of salting the mine which he wished to sell. This was a silver-bearing lead, but there was not enough metal in the ore to pay for getting it out. It was necessary, however, in order to effect a sale, to give the impression that it was very rich. The smelter, therefore, run out about three thousand bars, which were supposed to be silver, but which were in reality half lead.

These were hauled to the depot, where the persons who proposed to purchase could see them but after dark they were taken back to the mine, and the next day the teams took them to the depot again. This was done for three successive days, and the Englishmen, seeing such enormous amounts of metal, became greatly excited and offered a million dollars for the mine. The speculator refused, and then they offered a million and a half. This offer he closed with, and a day was set for the inspection of the mine.

The “dumps” were thoroughly salted, and arrangements were made for the assayer and mining expert to be in attendance. The proposed purchasers had their expert with them, a German professor from Freiburg. This professor had a large sack with him in which to put samples of ore, and when going down into the mine he gave it to one of the men to carry for him.

The speculator had on a large blanket-coat with immense pockets in it, which were filled with rich ore. The man with the sack was also provided with a small quantity to be used in case of emergency. Every time the professor put a piece of ore in the sack, so soon as his back was turned the speculator or his man would drop in some of the rich ore. The result was that when the assays were made, they rose from three thousand to fifteen thousand dollars to the ton.

The Englishmen were in ecstasies and insisted on the contract being drawn up immediately. Part of the purchase money was then paid down, and the rest was to be forthcoming in thirty days. When the thirty days expired the purchasers took possession, only to find that they had been duped in a most outrageous manner. By the time the discovery of the fraud was made, however, the swindlers had fled, and the Englishmen had nothing to do but to return to London with empty pockets.

One of them, however, tried his luck again in Little Cottonwood, in the Wellington district, but with no better success.

My husband was at this time superintendent of one of the Wellington mines, and I consequently had ample opportunities to study mining life and to become acquainted with the numerous frauds that were going on. I was also thrown in a good deal with the Mormons and was able to study their characters and manners.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is about twelve miles long, is very narrow and very deep. A stream runs down the middle of it, which is very swift in the months of June and July, when it is full, on account of the melting of immense quantities of snow in the mountains.

Tannersville is a town or settlement named in honor of a woman who kept a hotel or stage-station there. There was a mill and smelter at that place at the time of which I am writing.

Alta City, at the foot of the two canyons — Big and Little Cottonwood — is a town of rather more importance. When I was there it had three stores, a hotel, a couple of lodging-houses, a livery stable, and a large number of drinking-saloons. The dwelling-houses were mostly very small and were entirely invisible in winter, being covered by the snow. The snow usually commences to fall about the middle of September, but I have seen it in August. During the winter many parts of the canyon are impassable, except by the use of sledges and snow-shoes, and there is constant danger from avalanches, which carry everything before them.

The Wellington mine lost its foreman and a miner through an avalanche while I was there, and many men have lost their lives in this canyon, their bodies remaining buried beneath the snow until spring.

I doubt whether many of the mines in this district will ever be successfully worked. The Emma is one of the best, and I think could be made to pay if judiciously operated. This mine is situated in the side of the mountain and is almost perpendicular. On looking at it, it is impossible not to wonder how the owners ever reached it or are able to work it. I believe that there is an immense lead of silver here which will yet be unearthed.

This part of the country offers a rich field for the botanist and naturalist. The flowers are in the greatest profusion and are of every imaginable hue. They grow from the mouth of the canyon to some of the highest points on the mountains.

The wild cherry, the whortleberry, the serviceberry, the thimbleberry, and the dewberry are very abundant.

On the very summits of this immense range will be found clear blue lakes, filled with spotted trout. How they have managed to get there is more than I can tell.

When the highest points are reached, if one looks aloft the broadwinged eagle may be seen wheeling in the air, while upon the ground are the beautiful mountain squirrels, busily engaged in gathering their winter stores. I have often sat for hours and watched these nimble little animals. There are as many as six different varieties of squirrels, some of which are not larger than mice, while others, the size of the common gray squirrels of the Eastern states, are beautifully striped and vary in color from light gray to dark brown. The greatest enemies of these harmless animals are the eagle and the mink.

Large rats abound in the woods, as do also the brown weasels. These last-named animals are about eighteen inches in length from the nose to the tip of the tail. The head is small, and the eyes, which are very prominent, are of a soft, lustrous black. The weasels are very cunning and are especially destructive to the mice and squirrels. I have seen two old ones kill as many as six or eight mice in a day in my home and carry them, one at a time, across the ravine to their young in the woods. While carrying a mouse, however, should a squirrel appear, the weasel will throw down the mouse, and go after this fresh game, and then come back and get the mouse.

Amerikan Rambler: Confessions of a (Former?) Book Hoarder

If you are a historian, you probably have lots of books. The same goes for all academics, historians or otherwise. You might have so many books, in fact, that they have become a problem. A problem to store, a problem to move, a problem to get read. Let’s face it, some of us are book hoarders.

via Confessions of a (Former?) Book Hoarder — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: Ruffianly white men

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 66: Velazquez encounters a Mormon community, makes new friends, and marries again as she looks ahead to a new life.

******

After breakfast that morning, I inquired for the superintendent and road agent, Mr. Rube Thomas, but learned that he was not in the town. I then asked for Mr. J. Stewart, another road agent, and a very affable, obliging gentleman. This gentleman was, fortunately for me, in Cheyenne, and he waited on me very promptly when he received my message and expressed himself as willing to do anything in his power to assist me.

I desired to go to Camp Davy Russell, and Mr. Stewart, in the kindest manner, said that he would procure a conveyance and drive me there himself. He did so, and during our drive he took a great deal of pains to point out the features of interest and to explain a number of useful points about the country, its people, and its prospects. On reaching the camp, I presented to Gen. Stephenson a letter of introduction from Gen. Harney and was very kindly received by him. After a conference with Gen. Stephenson, I returned to Cheyenne with Mr. Stewart but found that, in consequence of the crowded condition of the stage, I would have to remain until the next day.

Mr. Stewart, knowing how uncomfortable I was at the hotel, then offered to take me to Laporte and place me in rather better quarters. This kind offer I eagerly accepted, and soon found myself under the excellent care of Mrs. Taylor, the station-keeper’s wife, and her sister, who did all that was in their power to make me comfortable and to make the time pass agreeably. I passed several pleasant days with these hospitable ladies, employing my time in horseback riding, rambling over the mountains, gathering mossagates, and visiting the wigwams of the Indians.

The red men smiled on me in a rather disdainful sort of way and evidently regarded me as an enemy. I wished most sincerely that I understood their language, if only for the purpose of explaining my friendly feelings towards them. I had much more respect for these savages than I had for the ruffianly white men who were dispossessing them of their country. In one camp I did find an old woman who spoke English quite well and had a long conversation with her. She said that vice was almost unknown among her people before the white men came, but that they corrupted the young girls and supplied the men with whiskey until now there was getting to be fewer and fewer good Indians every day.

The coaches at each trip continued to be so crowded that it was impossible for me to get a place in one, and, as I was anxious to proceed, the agent at length arranged to put on an extra for the accommodation of myself and several other travelers who also were waiting somewhat impatiently. When I was about starting, Mr. Stewart gave me a letter of introduction to the Mormon proprietor of the Kimble House in Salt Lake City.

After a few days’ travel we came to Echo City at the entrance of Echo Canon, where we met with an accident, which might have had unpleasant consequences, but, as no lives were lost, we regarded it as rather an agreeable variation of the monotony of our journey.

A water spout in the mountains had flooded the road, and the driver, in attempting to force his way through a rather bad-looking place, managed to get the coach and the horses stuck fast in a quicksand. The passengers were obliged to swim out on the backs of the horses and escaped with no other damage than wet clothing. Fortunately, we were near the house of a Mormon, who received us very hospitably, and who, while his three wives were endeavoring to make us as comfortable as circumstances would permit, went and got two yoke of oxen and pulled the coach out.

I had heard so much against the Mormons that I was under the impression they were all thieves and cutthroats. I confess that I was most agreeably disappointed in them from this, my first acquaintance, to the time of my taking a final leave of Utah. The homes, farms, dress, and behavior all indicated that they were a hard-working, industrious people, while they appeared to be entirely free from many of the worst vices of the Gentiles.

While stopping at this house in Echo Canon, I ventured to make a few inquiries about their customs and beliefs, which were very politely answered, and I was in the midst of a very interesting conversation with one of the wives, a woman of about fifty-five, when I was interrupted by the driver calling upon me to get into the coach.

The rain having freshened the air somewhat, I asked the driver to permit me to sit with him outside as we went through the canyon in order that I might see the scenery. He consented and assisted me to a seat on the box, and as we passed through the canyon, he explained the points of interest to me. He was quite a handsome young fellow and very intelligent.

On entering the Bear River Valley, my eye met on all sides little white cottages or neat log houses, surrounded by well-cultivated and well-watered farms and orchards where not many years before was but a burning plain, covered with sage bushes, and the home of the Ute Indian, the buffalo, the elk, the antelope, the coyote, and the silver gray fox. Through the untiring industry and good management of people who had been driven from their homes in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, this desert had been transformed into the paradise I beheld. The Mormons fled here to escape persecution, desiring only to get as far away from their enemies as possible, and after many years of toil and hardship they achieved results of which they had a right to be proud, and which entitled them to a more kindly consideration than had been accorded them when residing in the States.

Having passed the Bear River Valley, we were soon in the great metropolis of Mormondom, and driving through wide streets and avenues, past houses that were evidently the abodes of thrifty well-to-do people, the coach at length drew up before the door of the Kimble House.

The proprietor came out and ushered us up stairs to the parlor, a large, airy room, plainly but comfortably furnished, and soon a little girl came and said that she would show me my room. The furniture in this was somewhat primitive in its style, but everything was neat and clean, and the accommodations, if not exactly such as the Fifth Avenue Hotel offers, were all that any reasonable person had a right to expect.

So soon as I was fairly settled in the hotel, I presented the proprietor the letter of introduction from the road agent at Cheyenne and had quite a long conversation with him. He gave me much good advice about my future movements and seemed disposed, in every way, to be as kind and obliging as he could. From him I learned that there were a number of old Confederate soldiers in the city and vicinity but as I was anxious to get to the El Dorado, where I expected to make my fortune, with as little delay as possible, I made no attempt to find any of them.

After taking a rest for a day or two in Salt Lake City, I again started on my journey westward. At Ruby Valley in Nevada I met a gentleman who was engaged in mining operations, and he advised me strongly to go to the Reese River gold regions. I was not greatly prepossessed with him, and yet he was certainly a man of intelligence and cultivation, and, as what he told me only served to confirm what I had heard from other persons, I concluded to take his advice. On arriving at Austin, a new city in the mountains near the Reese River, I accordingly left the stage and took lodgings at the Exchange Hotel, which was kept by a Slavonian by the name of Mouinely.

The sleeping apartment assigned me at Austin was not the most agreeable, being next to a room occupied by some drunken fellows who kept up a terrible noise nearly all night, and as I thought that most likely I would have to put up with this sort of thing nearly all the time I remained in the hotel, I determined for lodgings elsewhere. A gentleman to whom I spoke about the matter said that he knew of a private house where rooms were sometimes to be had and offered to go and see if I could obtain accommodation there.

While he was gone, the chambermaid brought from the room next to mine two pairs of pistols, two large knives, and a razor and informed me that their owner was a noted desperado, called Irish Tom, and that he had killed two men.

I had some curiosity to see this individual, but did not care particularly to make his acquaintance. My curiosity was soon gratified, for he came to the parlor inquiring for his weapons. Instead of being angry with the chambermaid for having taken them from his room to show them to me, he seemed to feel rather complimented that I should feel an interest in them and him. He was a tall, good-looking Irishman with a very pleasant face and had as little of the ruffian in his appearance as any man I had met on the frontier. I was informed that he never attempted to hurt well-behaved people, and that he often submitted to the grossest kind of insults from some of his intimates. Men of his acquaintance had been known to slap him in the face, and he would take no notice but walk away as if nothing had happened. With others, however, he would have no mercy but would produce a pistol or knife at the slightest provocation.

Tom was rather noted for his polite bearing towards the ladies, which I considered as an evidence that he was not as bad, by any means, as he might have been. My friend who had gone to look for lodgings for me returned and said that he had secured me a very good room. I accordingly left the hotel and had reason to congratulate myself in my change of quarters. My landlady was a Pennsylvanian and was disposed to do all in her power to make me comfortable and to assist me in carrying out the object I had in view in taking up my residence in Austin. She introduced me to a restaurant-keeper, who agreed to supply me with my meals, and also to a number of the prominent people of the place — the judge, the doctor, the Methodist minister, and others.

The aristocracy of Austin was made up of an odd lot of people, who, however, had the best possible opinion of themselves, even if they did use bad grammar, swear hard, and drink unlimited quantities of whiskey. I, however, always had a happy faculty of adapting myself to circumstances, and I was soon on excellent terms with most of my new acquaintances.

Among my friends was an individual of about sixty years of age, who, from his conversation, seemed to have been at one time accustomed to mingle in really good society. He was a widower and was extensively engaged in mining operations. I had not known him more than a couple of days before he asked me to marry him and offered to give me an interest in his mines if I would accept him. I thought that this was a rather abrupt style of courtship and felt constrained to decline. He took my refusal good-naturedly enough and was evidently not sufficiently in love with me to break his heart because he could not get me.

Subsequently I met a gentleman who paid me attention and to whom I became sincerely attached. We were married in a very quiet manner, for neither of us desired any more than we could help to be made the subjects of the gossip of a mining town.

Loreta’s Civil War: This delectable creature

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 65: The bloody lawlessness of Western communities and of Western men fascinate and outrage Velazquez as she moves westward.

******

My traveling companions were a rather rough set. The men on the front seat — who proved to be what I took them for, mountaineers — had some whiskey, of which they partook rather more freely than was good for them, and they were a little inclined to be boisterous. They did not make themselves disagreeable to me, however, and were evidently inclined to be on their good behavior on account of a lady being present. In spite of their rough manners they were better gentlemen than the fellow who sat next to me and who wore more stylish clothes than they did. They used no black-guard language or profanity and showed a disposition to be attentive to me whenever they had an opportunity.

This other man, however, swore fearfully, and, in spite of my being on the seat with him, made use of language such as no true gentleman would degrade himself by using under any circumstances. At length, noticing the expression of disgust on my face, one of the mountaineers on the front seat, said, “See here, old chap, just remember there is a female aboard this stagecoach, will you?”

The other replied, “I am a captain in the United States Army, sir, and I wish you to respect my commission.”

“I don’t care a d–n who you are,” said one of them, called Bill by his companions. “You simmer down mighty quick,” and with that he took him by the throat and choked him until he was nearly black in the face.

This treatment was effectual, and he did simmer down, and I was annoyed no more by him during the balance of the trip, while Bill and his friends earned my hearty respect despite their rough ways and their over-fondness for whiskey-drinking.

I shall not attempt to describe the rough and toilsome ride over the plains. It was scarcely such a journey as one would make for a mere pleasure trip, and yet it was one worth making, if only for the reason that it afforded an opportunity to study with some minuteness a country that ere many years will probably be the seat of empire on this continent. Much of this land between Omaha and the Rocky Mountains is, undoubtedly, capable of great improvement under a proper system of cultivation, and that it ultimately will be settled and improved there can be no doubt. Just at present, however, there are more inviting regions to which settlers may be expected to flock in preference.

In course of time we arrived at one of the most remarkable products of Western civilization — the town of tents called Julesburg. I had seen a great deal of life and a great deal of rough life, but when I beheld this place, I thought that I would prefer to be excused from choosing it as a permanent residence. In fact, a very brief stay in Julesburg was eminently satisfying, and I was quite content to leave it with a hope in my heart that I would never be compelled to find myself within sight of it again.

Card-playing and whiskey-drinking, embellished with blasphemy, seemed to be the chief occupations of the Julesburg citizens, while murder was their commonest amusement. Many of these men had been brought up and educated in civilized communities and knew what decent living was, and yet, so soon as they would get out here, they would throw off all restraint and develop into worse savages than the red men. Such a collection of fiends in human shape as Julesburg was at the time I visited the place, I hope never to see again. The women were, if anything, worse than the men, and I did not meet more than two of my own sex while I was there who made the most distant claims to even common decency or self-respect.

The reckless bloodthirstiness of most of the men baffles description. Pistols and knives were produced on the slightest provocation, and often on no provocation at all, and no ties of friendship appeared to be strong enough to check the murderous propensities of some of the ruffians.

While standing in the board shanty, which was dignified by the name of a station, waiting for the stage to come up, I saw a fiend in human shape deliberately shoot down a young man of about twenty years of age. While his victim was writhing on the ground, he stepped up and fired two more shots into his prostrate body, and then, pulling out a huge knife, was about to cut his throat. Two of the murderer’s comrades who seemed to have a little humanity in them, now interfered, but only to have him turn upon them, with his eyes flashing with fury and his mouth full of oaths. I expected to see a general free fight, but the fellow, apparently satisfied with his bloody work, permitted himself finally to be persuaded to leave his victim and go away. I had witnessed many shocking scenes, but nothing so atrocious as this, and I was heartily glad when the stage shortly after drove up and I was able to say farewell to Julesburg.

It is due to these desperadoes, however, to say that they are not entirely without some good qualities. When they have any reason to think that a woman is really respectable they will protect her, and they are always free with their money and ready to help any one who may be in distress. Their vices, however, so far outnumber their virtues that their good deeds will scarcely count for much when they are called upon to settle their final accounts.

My companions of the stagecoach, as we rolled out of Julesburg, were a rougher and more unpleasant set than the first party, and one of the most disagreeable among them was, I am ashamed to say, a woman. The men were tolerably full when we started, and we were scarcely off before they produced a bottle, and, after taking some of the fearful smelling whiskey which it contained, passed it around. I begged to be excused from partaking, but the other female passenger was not so fastidious, and she took a good drink every time it was handed to her. Her whiskey-drinking capacity was great, equal to that of any of the men.

The language this woman used was frightful, and she seemed to be unable to open her lips without uttering some blasphemous or obscene expression. Finally, having taken eight or nine big drinks from the bottle, she became stupidly drunk, and then, to vary the monotony of her proceedings, she produced a filthy pipe, which she filled with the blackest plug tobacco, and commenced to smoke. The fumes from this pipe were sickening to me, but I was willing to let her smoke in peace, for it at least kept her quiet and soothed her until she fell into a deep and drunken sleep.

In this fashion we rolled along until we came to Cheyenne, which appeared to be quite a town and a decided improvement on Julesburg. A number of moderately good-looking houses were already occupied, while others were in process of erection, and everything seemed to indicate that this, in a short time, was likely to be a really thriving place. The driver pulled up his horses, shouting, “Cheyenne House!” and out the occupants of the stagecoach tumbled, the drunken woman and all, although she was so far gone that one of the men was forced to almost lift her out to prevent her from falling flat on the ground.

The Cheyenne House, in spite of its rather imposing name, was, taking it all in all, the worst apology for a hotel I had ever met with in the course of my rather extensive travels. It was a frame building of the rudest construction, while the lodging rooms — about eight by ten feet in size — were merely separated from each other by canvas partitions which rendered any real privacy an absolute impossibility. The beds, or rather the bunks, in these rooms were large enough for two persons, and it was expected that two persons would occupy each of them, the luxury of a single bed being something unheard of in that locality. The mattresses and pillows were made of flour bags — the miller’s brands still on them — stuffed with straw, and the coverlets were a pair of gray army blankets with “U.S.A.” plainly marked — undoubtedly the plunder of some rascally quartermaster who was bent on making his residence on the frontier pay him handsomely even if he had to cheat the government.

On entering the hotel, we were ushered into a good-sized room, the floor being made of the roughest pine boards, from which the tar exuded in thick and sticky lumps. A large railroad stove, heated red hot, was in the center of the room and was surrounded by a motley crowd of men, who were sitting in every describable posture, smoking, chewing, spitting, and blaspheming in a style that indicated a total ignorance on their part of the fact that they had souls to be saved. It was impossible to get near the stove, although it was quite cold, for none of these men offered to move, and seemed to consider a poor little woman, like myself, as something entirely beneath their notice.

To my great satisfaction I did not have to remain long in this choice company, for supper was announced as ready within a few moments of our arrival. I requested to be shown the washroom, and, on reaching it, found there a few old tin washbasins, all of which were vilely dirty, a sardine box with a lump of homemade soap in it, and a vile-looking tow towel on a roller, which, in addition to being utterly filthy, did not have a dry place on it as big as half a dollar. Fortunately, I had my own soap and towels in my satchel and managed to perform my ablutions in a moderately satisfactory fashion. As for the basins and towels belonging to the place, I should not have hesitated to have used them, rough as they were, had they been moderately clean, for, on the frontier, we have no right to expect the accommodations of the Grand Central Hotel of New York or the Hotel le Louvre of Paris and must expect to rough it. Still, even on the frontier, soap and water are cheap, and people who profess to keep hotels and who take the money of the public ought to make some effort to have things reasonably neat and tidy.

The dining-room was like the rest of the building, of the roughest possible construction. The table was covered with a dark colored oil-cloth, full of grease and dirt, and the supper, although it was such as a hungry traveler could have relished had it been properly prepared, was so uninviting in appearance that I could eat but little of it.

Being much fatigued, so soon as I had swallowed a few mouthfuls I sought my room, but, on arriving there, found, to my utter astonishment, that the woman who had come with me in the stage was occupying the bed. When I remonstrated, I was told that it was impossible for me to have a room to myself and speedily found that I either had to submit or else pass the night in the parlor among the roughs congregated there. The alternative of sharing the bed with my fellow traveler was preferable, for there at least I should be safe, as the room was over the landlord’s private apartments, while the parlor being over the barroom was liable to have a bullet coming through the floor before morning.

I accordingly submitted to circumstances but did not obtain much satisfaction from my couch, for, independently of its unpleasant human occupant, it was fairly alive with vermin. My companion, however, snored away in happy unconsciousness of any such disturbances, being stupefied with whiskey and overcome by the fatigues of travel. She was evidently accustomed to this sort of thing and was not disposed to be fastidious.

The next morning, she was called to go in the stage. I, having determined to remain for a day or two, was therefore to part company with her. She got up, and I was surprised to see that she had been in bed all night without removing any of her clothing. From under her pillow she took a belt containing a formidable-looking knife and a six-shooter, which she buckled around her waist, and as she did so, seeing that I was awake, asked, in a sarcastic sort of way, “How did you sleep?”

“Not much,” I replied. “This kind of a bed don’t suit me.”

“Well, I’ve slept too d–d much,” she said. “I am tired yet. I’d as lives sleep on a board or a rock as on one of these d–d old straw beds!”

This was nice language for a woman to utter, but it was nothing in comparison to some that I had heard her use the day before. Soon, to my infinite relief, this delectable creature was gone, and I was left to myself.

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