The first Native American autobiography, Mozart’s genius, and Murder Most Criminous: newsletter, March 25, 2022

March 25, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,234) on Friday, March 25, 2022.

This week I have been working in the library, not in my normal capacity, but as a librarian—or maybe as a pseudo-librarian. My local library has begun the process of “radio-frequency tagging.” This involves putting a radio-frequency sticker on all 198,000 items that the library owns. The library has been closed to the public for a week for this activity, and only staff and volunteers, including me, are allowed inside.

Since I am blessed with height, I volunteered to do the top shelves of books wherever needed. The shorter librarians seem grateful. The work has been difficult, tedious, and boring. It can result in stiff fingers, sore shoulders, aching muscles, and head-spinning dizziness. Still, we librarians and pseudo-librarians soldier on. The general public will never fully realize what has happened, but this process will allow the library to up its level of service in a variety of ways. (I won’t go into detail here, but trust me.)

I am grateful to my local library for many things but this week especially for allowing me to be on the “inside.” The fact that you can look a book up, go to a library shelf, and find it—well, that is one of modern life’s daily, unnoticed miracles. And for that you can thank a librarian (and even, occasionally, us pseudo-librarians).

Have a great weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,243 subscribers and had a 34.5 percent open rate; 11 persons unsubscribed.

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Black Hawk and the first published Native American autobiography

We naturally associate the name of Black Hawk with war and fighting (think: Black Hawk helicopter), but the real history of Chief Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk Nation of Native Americans, encompasses not only war but a literary tradition: Black Hawk was the first Native American to have an autobiography published in the United States.

The title of his book was Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk, Embracing the Traditions of his Nation… and was published in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1833. When it appeared, it became an immediate best-seller and went through numerous editions.

The man we have come to know as Black Hawk was born sometime around 1767 in the land that we now call Illinois and Iowa and through which ran the Mississippi River. His tribe, the Sauk Indians, occupied that land but not without conflict with other Native American tribes who were in the area.

Black Hawk knew war and conflict from the very beginning of his days. He became famous as a war leader, and in the complicated structure of his tribe was only that. He was never considered a political or civilian leader. He did not inherit any of his leadership positions. Rather, he earned them through his ability to lead people into battle.

By the time he had come of age, the white men of the east coast American colonies had expelled the British, but the British remained very much present to the north in Canada. As white settlements spread to the west, the British believed they had some rights to the territories that the white people of America were beginning to occupy.

New conflicts inevitably ensued, and the Native Americans were caught up in those fights. During the War of 1812, Black Hawk joined with other Native Americans—though not all—and helped the British fight American forces in the Great Lakes area.

When the war finally ended, the British left the territory, and disputes then followed among the Native American tribes and between those tribes and the white settlers. Black Hawk had been part of a settlement between the Native Americans and the new settlers about which lands could be occupied by what people. He later came to believe that the settlement was fraudulent and that his tribe leaders did not know or realize what they were giving away. 

Consequently, he seemed to be in constant conflict with settlers and settlements as white men and women moved steadily west. In 1832 that conflict expanded into what we now know as Black Hawk’s War. Militia from the territories of Illinois and Wisconsin were formed to do battle with Native American warriors, the main group led by Black Hawk himself. This war provided the only military experience for a young Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.

The war itself elevated Black Hawk to the status of a major leader of Native Americans. His name, during his lifetime, became a symbol for conflict with the white settlers.

The war finally ended with the capture and imprisonment of Native American leaders including Black Hawk. They were brought to the eastern United States by then President Andrew Jackson, and they toured several cities in the east, where large and interested crowds gathered to see them. Jackson’s purpose was to impress these leaders with the power and might of America and to help them to understand that opposing the government was a losing battle.

Before they were released from custody and were able to return to their homeland, Black Hawk told his personal story to an interpreter, Antoine LeClaire. LeClaire’s notes were then edited by a local newspaper reporter, J.B. Patterson, and in 1833 they were published as Black Hawk’s autobiography. The publicity that Black Hawk’s tour of the eastern United States generated meant that the public was ready for such a book, and it helped make his memoirs a best-seller. The accounts in those memoirs have come under some dispute by critics, some of whom believed Black Hawk enhanced his own actions and others who believed that the white men who wrote and edited the memoirs did not do justice to what Black Hawk had said.

When Black Hawk finally made it back to his lands along the Iowa River, he was more than 50 years old and was determined to live in peace with his new white friends. In a speech given a year before his death, Black Hawk said:

I thank the Great Spirit that I am now friendly with my white brothers, and we are here together, we have eaten together, we are friends. It is His wish and mine, and I thank you for your friendship.

I was once a great warrior. I am now poor. I am now old. I have looked upon the Mississippi since I have been a child. . . . I love the great river. I have dwelt upon its banks from the time I was an infant. I look upon it now. I shake hands with you, and as it is my wish, I hope you are my friends.

Black Hawk died in 1838, but his legacy lives on in many ways today. His name in particular has been attached to many elements of American society including a military helicopter and the nickname of several sports franchises, including the Chicago Blackhawks professional ice hockey team.


The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Habeas Corpus, Habit, Hades, Hag, Half

HABEAS CORPUS. A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime.

HABIT, n. A shackle for the free.

HADES, n. The lower world; the residence of departed spirits; the place where the dead live.

Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in a very comfortable kind of way. Indeed, the Elysian Fields themselves were a part of Hades, though they have since been removed to Paris. When the Jacobean version of the New Testament was in process of evolution the pious and learned men engaged in the work insisted by a majority vote on translating the Greek word “Aides” as “Hell”; but a conscientious minority member secretly possessed himself of the record and struck out the objectional word wherever he could find it. At the next meeting, the Bishop of Salisbury, looking over the work, suddenly sprang to his feet and said with considerable excitement: “Gentlemen, somebody has been razing ‘Hell’ here!” Years afterward the good prelate’s death was made sweet by the reflection that he had been the means (under Providence) of making an important, serviceable and immortal addition to the phraseology of the English tongue.

HAG, n. An elderly lady whom you do not happen to like; sometimes called, also, a hen, or cat. Old witches, sorceresses, etc., were called hags from the belief that their heads were surrounded by a kind of baleful lumination or nimbus—hag being the popular name of that peculiar electrical light sometimes observed in the hair. At one time hag was not a word of reproach: Drayton speaks of a “beautiful hag, all smiles,” much as Shakespeare said, “sweet wench.” It would not now be proper to call your sweetheart a hag—that compliment is reserved for the use of her grandchildren.

HALF, n. One of two equal parts into which a thing may be divided, or considered as divided. In the fourteenth century a heated discussion arose among theologists and philosophers as to whether Omniscience could part an object into three halves; and the pious Father Aldrovinus publicly prayed in the cathedral at Rouen that God would demonstrate the affirmative of the proposition in some signal and unmistakable way, and particularly (if it should please Him) upon the body of that hardy blasphemer, Manutius Procinus, who maintained the negative. Procinus, however, was spared to die of the bite of a viper.


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


Mozart’s transcription genius: did he really do it?

Gregorio Allegri’s (1582-1652) setting of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, is a choral work of unsurpassed beauty and delicacy that the Catholic Church commissioned in the 1630s for exclusive use in the Sistine Chapel. It was played only once a year sometime during the Easter season. Writing it down or performing it without authorization could get you excommunicated from the Church.

It is a piece that you are likely to hear today, especially during Lent.

But, if the Church kept such a tight hold on it, how did it go public? There’s a good story that may—or may not—be true. In any event, it’s a story worth repeating, with disclaimers.

When he was 14 years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard one of the rare performances. (The work is about 14 minutes long.) He was accompanied by his father, Leopold. Later that day, they returned to the rooms where they were staying in Rome, and the young Mozart sat down and transcribed the entire piece.

He returned for a second performance two days later and afterward made some minor corrections.

His manuscript was later given to a British historian, taken to England, and published in 1771. Thus, the world got to hear the music that was once such a closely guarded treasure by the Catholic Church.

It’s a good story, and it may be true. Several of Mozart’s biographers believe it to be so, citing “family letters” that recount the incident. But other music historians are skeptical. One reason is that the “family letters” were written by Leopold, a man who recognized the musical genius of his son and never ceased promoting it.

Another reason is that transcriptions of the music were known to exist outside the Vatican for decades before Mozart supposedly heard it for the first time in the Vatican. It is not impossible—in fact, given its popularity and fame, it’s likely—that he had heard it previously.

Still, it’s a good story, and the music is certainly worth listening to. If you have never heard it, get yourself into a quiet place, give yourself 15 minutes without interruption, and immerse yourself in the music of this video.


Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing

This is an item that is repeated from last week:

The father of modern true crime writing is back.

William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.

His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.

Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.

In addition to attending the trials of his day, Roughead was a lawyer in Edinburgh with an active practice and raised a family. Not only did he attend trials, but he also did meticulous research on famous trials that had happened before he was born.

He wrote about many of these trials in local Scottish journals. As he did so, his audience grew, and his accounts became popular on both sides of the Atlantic. By the 1930s he had a large and enthusiastic following, readers who included Alexander Woollcott and Franklin Roosevelt.

This new series features some of his best and most famous cases, including the trial of Oscar Slater, scheduled for Volume 2, in which he teams up with Arthur Conan Doyle to free a man who was falsely convicted of murder.

The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include “Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery,” “The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story,” “The Ghost of Sergeant Davies,” and “The Parson of Spott.” Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style.

“We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers,” Stovall said.

“We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.”

During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.

Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.


Group giveaways

Murder Most Criminous is part of a group giveaway, Your Lucky Day, facilitated by The giveaway includes more than 35 books of all genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway, which runs from March 17-31 is

Kill the Quarterback is part of another group giveaway, Ominous Omens, which runs from March 15-29. This giveaway is exclusively for mysteries and thrillers. The link for this giveaway is


Check out last week’s newsletter

Marcia D.: I remember standing in a very long line around the block to see The Godfather. Great movie. My favorite is Casablanca.

Eric S.: The William F. Buckley story from the 1960s mirrors a similar murder case involving renowned author Norman Mailer. In 1981, Mailer helped John Henry Abbott get released from prison by using his clout as a famous writer to draw attention to a man he believed had been wrongfully convicted of murder. Both Buckley and Mailer were not only contemporaries, they were celebrities with magnetic personalities and a weakness for corresponding with convicted killers. Their prison pen pals eventually tarnished the authors’ reputations. Shortly after being freed from prison, Abbott killed again. Moral of the story: stick to your day job, writer.

Vince V.: A lot of murderous reading ahead for me. Thanks for an interesting newsletter.

Favorite line from The Godfather: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

I had forgotten about Buckley’s embarrassing dalliance with the psychopath. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer conservative.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Smyth Chapel

Best quote of the week:

The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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: The return of William Roughead, The Godfather’s 50th, and a strange story from the Sixties: newsletter, March 18, 2022



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