Beginning the modern idea of the American West, the real target of Prohibition, and forensic science reform: newsletter, January 18, 2019

January 21, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,927) on Friday, January 11, 2019.



You may have heard this story already. When the newspaper in Portland, Maine, announced it would no longer pay freelancers to book write reviews, the most famous author among their readership — Stephen King, no less — went onto Twitter complaining about the decision. The newspaper publisher promptly issued this challenge to King: come up with 100 new subscribers, and we’ll rescind the decision. King has a following in the hundreds of thousands, and when he urged people to subscribe, the newspaper picked up 200 subscribers. Happy ending all around. (You can read the New York Times article here.)

The real point here, however, is that you should be supporting the journalism — the news websites — that you read and use. Journalism is not free. It’s difficult, and it’s expensive, and you should be doing your part to support it. You won’t agree with everything your news organization produces. That’s not the point. The point is journalism, and it needs your help. When you read it regularly, you should be subscribing. It’s the honorable thing to do.

A couple of items of shameless self-promotion are repeated from last week’s newsletter and appear below the signature. They’re about Baseball Joe and Seeing Suffrage. Thanks for checking them out.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,941 subscribers and had a 30.9 percent open rate; 10 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Capt. Mayne Reid and the beginnings of the modern idea of the American West

“Go West!” has been the clarion call for Americans since the days of the early Republic.

West across the Alleghenies, west across the Mississippi River, west across Texas and the Great Plains — whatever is west of where we are has represented openness, wonder, opportunity, and adventure. In more modern times, writers like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour took advantage of these ideas to build an image of the American West that was akin to life itself.

But before there was Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey, there was Thomas Mayne Reid — more popularly known as Capt. Reid.

Reid (1818-1883) was an Irish immigrant who first settled in Pittsburgh and later in Philadelphia, and graced the newspapers of both cities with his stories, reviews, essays, and poems. In Philadelphia, he was a drinking companion of Edgar Allan Poe. When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846, Reid joined a New York infantry unit and found himself at the battle of Chapultepec, where he fought courageously and was badly wounded. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. (There is no evidence he was ever a captain, the rank he adopted as the author of his later adventure books.)

In 1849, Reid sailed back to Europe intending the participate in the Bavarian revolution, but he changed his mind and instead returned to Ireland. Then he moved to London and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers, which was soon followed by another, The Scalp Hunters. In these novels and many that followed, he vividly described the landscape that he had viewed while traveling through Texas and Mexico and constructed exciting and adventuresome stories of the people there.

His books were highly popular with boys with the ear — one of whom was Theodore Roosevelt, a sickly, asthmatic child, who in his autobiography credits Reid with sparking his desire to be part of the adventures of the American West. Another of Reid’s young readers was Arthur Conan Doyle

Reid’s adventure novels were much in the genre of Robert Louis Stevenson. Indeed, Reid did not confine himself to the American West but also wrote books set in South Africa, Jamaica, and the Himalayas.

Reid’s works were popular into the 1860s, but that popularity faded. He returned to America in 1867 and tried to restart his career as a writer, but he could never capture the magic of his early work. He returned to England and lived the last decade of his life wracked with melancholia and poverty. He died in London in 1883.

CrimeReport: Forensic science reform at a ‘crossroads’ 

A forensic science expert testified that a bite mark on a victim matched the bite of the man accused of the crime. The accused was convicted and given a 60-year sentence.

That was 18 years ago. Now the expert has recanted his testimony, and the accused man has been released from prison.

That’s only one example of the failings of forensics in the last generation. Many legal experts are taking a hard look at forensic evidence — how it is acquired and how it is used.

In this article in CrimeReports, writer Megan Hadley cites the work of UCLA law professor Jennifer Mnookin in our changing view of forensic evidence:

Mnookin suggested the case (of the bite mark evidence) indicated a potential sea change for the use of bite mark evidence,  and noted there is a growing consensus among judges that the forensic science community should scale back exaggerated and overconfident assertions of knowledge and authority by forensic scientists.Source: Forensic Science Reform at ‘Crossroads’ | The Crime Report

We fell in love with forensics when the CSI craze became so popular on television nearly two decades ago. As depicted by the many televisions shows that followed, forensic science offered us objective certainty in determining the guilt or innocence of people accused of crimes.

It was good television. It wasn’t particularly good law.

In reality, not on television, forensic evidence currently offers us little more than an educated guess, if that. It’s a good thing that we are finally recognizing that truth.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Nazis burned books, certainly, but they stole even more

The images are indelible: large bonfires fueled by books with Nazi soldiers and citizens tossing them into the flames.

Flames, of course, do not destroy information or ideas, and the Nazis understood this as well as anyone. That’s why the Nazis stole far more books than they burned.

Libraries of Jewish families who fell under the Nazi terror were major targets of this massive theft, but they were not the only ones. Nazis looted the libraries of dissenters and occupied countries. Many Nazis understood the value of books. Many, such as Heinrich Himmler, were book collectors.

Getting those books back to their rightful owners or to places that deserve them has been a multi-generational task that is continuing today. This recently published New York Times article by Milton Esterow outlines some of those efforts:

Given the scope of the looting, the task ahead remains mountainous. In Berlin, for example, at the Central and Regional Library, almost a third of the 3.5 million books are suspected to have been looted by the Nazis, according to Sebastian Finsterwalder, a provenance researcher there.

“Most major German libraries have books stolen by the Nazis,” he said. But researchers say there are signs they may be on the brink of making measurable progress in restitutions.

In the last 10 years, for example, libraries in Germany and Austria have returned about 30,000 books to 600 owners, heirs and institutions, according to researchers. In one instance in 2015, almost 700 books stolen from the library of Leopold Singer, an expert in the field of petroleum engineering, were returned to his heirs by the library of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Source: The Hunt for the Nazi Loot Still Sitting on Library Shelves – The New York Times

Much has been made in recent years about the efforts to restore artwork stolen by the Nazis. More attention should be paid to the work in restoring stolen books to their rightful places. This article is a good start.


The real target of Prohibition: the brewers, not the drinkers

We’ve begun the 100th anniversary year of the beginning of the era of Prohibition in the United States — an era that gave rise, ironically, to an unprecedented rise in crime and in the consumption of alcohol. It’s an era that is almost universally characterized as a “mistake,” if not worse.

And who is to blame for the fiasco that was Prohibition?

According to political scientist Mark Lawrence Schad, writing in Politico Magazine, the blame is often laid at the feet of women — particularly those of the Carrie Nation ilk who were hellbent on curtailing liberties. (Thanks to newsletter reader and good friend John N. for pointing me to this article.)

Contrary to popular description, prohibitionists weren’t hellbent on taking away the individual’s “right to drink.” From its very inception, the temperance movement targeted not the drink, or the drinker, but the drink seller. Just as abolitionists objected to the slave trader who profited from subjugating others, prohibitionists aimed at a predatory liquor traffic of wealthy capitalists and saloonkeepers who—together with a state that, before the income tax, relied disproportionately on liquor revenues—got rich from the drunken misery of the poor. The 18th Amendment doesn’t even outlaw alcohol or drinking. It prohibits the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” This wasn’t some oversight; the target was the traffic, not the booze. Source: Why Do We Blame Women For Prohibition? – POLITICO Magazine

Professor Schad makes a good point. The prohibitionist movement reaches far back into American history — to the 1830s, in fact — and was begun by men, and men, rather than vote-less women, were its driving force.

But figures such as Carrie Nation and her ax-welding expeditions took over the public perception of the movement, and they have maintained a tight grip on our historical memories.

Schad’s article seeks to remedy that:

Ultimately, we need to stop vilifying prohibitionists as “antidemocratic” simply because our understanding of liberty has changed. In fact, prohibitionists championed the right of self-determination, and the right of the community to defend itself against extortionate businesses and government corruption. Prohibitionists encouraged grassroots power—especially for communities, counties and states to vote themselves dry at the ballot box. 

This is an excellent article that takes just a few minutes to read: Why Do We Blame Women For Prohibition? – POLITICO Magazine


Dan C.: Since you have been doing some Writing Tips, I thought you might like this:

Tod: With respect to your notes about Erwin Rommel, the movie “Five Graves to Cairo”  is a great 1943 film that has Erich von Stroheim playing Rommel.  Not exactly an award winner but definitely worth watching.

Jim D.: Love your blog, Jim. Every week it’s a desultory ramble, but any ramble that includes stops along the way with Thackeray, Rommel, and Vonnegut is just fine with me. Keep up the good work!

Dale T: Yes, I’m taking this out of context but the thought jumped at me when I read your comments. “Rommel’s image is no longer as heroic as it was in the first generation after the war, but it is still largely positive thanks not only to his achievements but also to the deliberate plans of those who want him as a hero.” This is why I think Trump has so many defenders: Your last line on motive and reality over Rommel. Trump’s defenders refuse to see him as a damaged human being because it ruins their perspective of him being a hero.I fear our country is about to find out how damaged he really is. And how damaged our country is by him and his defenders.


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Thomas Mayne Reid (caricature)


Best quote of the week:

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing, the Rommel myth, Becky Sharp and Baseball Joe: newsletter, January 11, 2019



New edition of the Baseball Joe series (repeated from last week)

The newsletter last week carried an item about the incomparable Edward Stratemeyer whose publishing syndicate produced for us young 20th-century readers series of books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. One of those series was titled Baseball Joe, and Stratemeyer published 14 volumes between 1912 and 1928. The “author” of the series was Lester Chadwick, but they were actually written by Howard Garis and John Duffield.

I promised a big announcement about Baseball Joe last week, so here it is: First Inning Press is publishing new editions of some of the volumes of the Baseball Joe series. So far, we have four Kindle (ebook) editions out and about on Amazon:

Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars or The Rivals of Riverside

Baseball Joe on the School Nine or Pitching for the Blue Banner

Baseball Joe at Yale or Pitching for the College Championship

Baseball Joe in the World Series or Pitching for the Championship

The Baseball Joe series follows Joe Matson as he starts on the local sandlot and ascends to the top of the baseball world. These new editions contain more illustrations than were found in the originals. The new illustrations are by me.

The first of the volume listed above (Silver Stars) is currently $ .99 on Amazon. The others are $2.99. We will be bringing out paperback editions before long and will also be publishing other volumes in the series.


Seeing Suffrage (repeated from last week)

Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.

The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.


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