Archive for the ME Category

Family in 50 States #26: Oregon

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on February 14, 2017 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Oregon was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859. Serious settlement began with the opening of the Oregon Trail 1842-43. I had some relatives among the earliest settlers.


My first cousin 5x removed Nancy Hale (1823-1881) was originally from Jefferson County, Tennessee. She married a farmer named John Baker in Illinois, and they moved on to Oregon in 1848 where they raised their large brood.

Ephraim Stout (1775-1852), my first cousin 7x removed was a Quaker from the community at Cane Creek NC. He moved thence to Tennessee, where he was excommunicated for a time for bearing arms. Later he moved to Missouri, and finally to Salem, OR where he died in 1852.


Oregon Trail started in Missouri

Finally my (4th) great uncle Benjamin Harrison Hale (1809-1870) was originally from Tennessee and then moved to Arkansas with his family. He died in Oregon ca. 1870 but the rest of the family seems to have stayed behind in Arkansas. What brought him up there at the age of 61 remains a mystery.  It is tempting to think he was visiting Nancy (above) but they were not closely related.


Family in 50 States #25: Arizona

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Arizona became America’s 48th state on February 14, 1912 — the last of the “lower 48” to join. Long a part of New Spain, and then Mexico, its desert climate ensured a sparse population until well into the 20th century, explaining its late entry into statehood despite having been U.S. territory since 1848.

Still its legend looms large, mostly because of the disproportionate attention the state has gotten from western films and televisions shows. When I was a kid, like several generations before me, we played “Cowboys and Indians”. Our idea of “Indians” was invariably the Chiricahua Apache largely because of the fame of Geronimo and Cochise. In the scheme of things they were a minor tribe, but their final defeat came late in the game. The story captured the modern imagination. And the stark desert beauty photographs so impressively. Plus, when you’re telling a story it is helpful to exaggerate. When you want to suggest a harsh, extreme environment for your heroes to have an adventure in, there’s no sense in taking half measures. If you set your story in the Arizona desert, there is no question your hero is suffering an ordeal.

I researched Arizona quite a lot for a screenplay I am writing. I feel I know its landmarks, history and geography quite well. But I still haven’t visited, and I’m dying to!

So I was thrilled to learn I had some Old West relations there.


Ellison branding a steer on the Q ranch.

My first cousin 4x removed Colonel Jesse Washington Ellison was a substantial Texas cattleman, former Texas Ranger and Confederate veteran who moved his operation to Arizona in July, 1885. From the book Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest by Douglas Preston:

…he arrived in Bowie Station, Arizona with a line of railcars containing two thousand head of cattle and horses…He found a good-looking ranch just west of Cherry Creek, which he purchased from the owner. Ellison’s cows had come from Texas with his brand, a “Q”, and his ranch became known as the “Q” ranch. The fact that the previous owner and many of his neighbors had been ruined by cattle rustlers meant nothing to Ellison: it was just one more fight he was willing to undertake – which he did with devastating effectiveness.


George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first Governor, married my 2nd cousin 3x removed Duett Ellison

Ellison had mostly daughters, of which he was very proud. “They were all good ropers and good shots,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1887. “They drove cattle instead of playing bridge and they lived on beans when we could get ‘em.” One of his daughters, Duette, married Arizona Territory’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt becoming the first of Arizona’s First Ladies. She liked to be photographed with a gun.

Here’s another good description of Colonel Ellison.


Hosea Stout, Jr.

My 3rd cousin 5x removed Hosea Stout, Jr (1851-1918), was the son of the more famous Mormon figure we’ve written about a couple of times. The younger Stout was originally from Salt Lake City. He moved to Pima, Arizona between 1884 and 1886. His occupation on the census is given as “teamster”. He’s also the gent in this other photo, next to the “x”:


My 1st cousin 3x removed Clara Cady and her husband James Pritchett moved to Tempe, AZ from Nevada  between 1891 and 1903. As we wrote here, the mines at Tuscarora, NV had played out, necessitating a move to greener pastures. But the fact that Clara died at 39 indicates that life in Arizona wasn’t a bed of roses either.

In the 1920s, Arizona started to become a tourist destination, with the proliferation of spas and dude ranches. My great grand father went out there for his health at that time, an indication that he was doing well financially. (His son, my grandfather didn’t fare as well.)

Tribute to a Teacher

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, ME, OBITS with tags on February 7, 2017 by travsd


I learned this weekend the devastating news that a pivotal person in my life was near death. Even hearing that it was close in these raw, heartbreaking days was enough to double me over with grief. I cried myself to sleep at four in the afternoon. I just now got the news that she had passed — how perfect to hear it at the same time I learn the news about Betsy Devos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education. For my friend Lee Mania was a schoolteacher. She must have been so distraught at the developments of the past few weeks. I hate to even think of her witnessing the country we’re about to become. Her passing now is merciful.

Lee was my best friend’s mom, and she came into my life when I was about 11 or 12 years old, at a time in my life when she was the IDEAL person to have nearby. The way some kids sprout up like bean poles, or suddenly grow beards, or bulky biceps, I felt the thoughts in my head, the words on my tongue expand and multiply with terrifying, dizzying swiftness. And with my home life I could have gone in so many ways — I kid you not, I could have been Timothy McVeigh. There was anger and violence and alcoholism and dark, dark discourse behind the walls of my own house. And there was real danger of my echoing it, perpetuating it. But I had a number of great teachers. Including Lee, who wasn’t my teacher, but taught me. To this day, I think of her as one of the most brilliant people I ever knew. She was incredibly articulate, erudite and funny. She bantered. And she talked to young people (she taught fifth grade) with the kind of respect most grown-ups reserve for other adults. She was the first adult in my life who seemed to sense who I was and knew how to talk to me, how to converse in such a way so to include ALL of me, and in so doing, she catalyzed my transformation into who I am right now. That’s not too strong to say.

Lee was kind and patient and the most rational person I had ever met. In fact, her parenting style was so calm, I didn’t even recognize it as such at first. They used to have this little Japanese car; I’d slam the lightweight door shut when I got in, adolescent fashion, and she’d say “You know, you really don’t have to slam that.” She must have had to say it 50 times before I understood that she was asking me not to do it. That was not how behavior got corrected in my house.

Her son Matt was my best friend from grades 7 through 12. When I was about 13 she brought the pair of us to the JFK Library up in Boston soon after it opened. A small thing for them, to have me along. For me, it was the sort of thing that changed my life. And so much that she valued, like her love of Bob Dylan, got transmitted to me by hanging out with her son.

Yeah, I’m an absolute fuckin’ wreck right now. But there’s something just kind of perfect about her leaving us just now. Just perfect. All I got at the moment besides sorrow is a world of gratitude and a determination to deserve the investment she made in me. Lee, you were a really, really good teacher.

Why Ronald Reagan Is Turning In His Grave

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on February 6, 2017 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004). Reagan has to be one of the most polarizing figures in American history. People tend to either love him or hate him. Personally, as is typically the case when I weigh historical figures, I am a “neither/both”. I’ve written some about this polarizing leader in my all-the-Presidents post, and in this one about the movies of the 1980s. There are some particular reasons to talk about him at this political moment.

I used to say, diplomatically, to my children, “Overall, history will look kindly on Reagan.” This was phrased carefully so as not to imply that I approved of everything he did, but that on balance, the virtues would outweigh the negatives. Today, for reasons I’ll get to, I’m not so sure. That I would ever have ANYTHING positive to say about Reagan I imagine will hurt and outrage plenty of my friends. There are so many black marks against him. His refusal to lift a finger to combat AIDS amounts to a passive gay holocaust; the War on Drugs and racist demonization of the mythical “Welfare Queen”; his Faustian bargain with religious Fundamentalists who, though a minority, have monopolized American domestic policy for close to four decades; and his enormous increases in military spending combined with an unconscionable lowering of taxes that resulted in the metastasizing of the national debt. I believe in small, prudent government. But I also believe in paying what you owe. Reagan changed America into a nation where it was now okay to pursue profit at any cost and in doing so to shirk your duty to the government, your employees, and your fellow man. And he also brought a new bellicosity to the culture; somehow violence became patriotic and sanctioned at the highest levels. In many ways, Reagan gave birth to millions of monsters, the most monstrous of which is our current president. Trump was the absolute embodiment of the soul-sickness of the ’80s. He was (and is) the poster boy for all the Deadly Sins.

"Some day I will turn American into a banana republic!"

“Some day I will turn America into a banana republic!”

So what’s good about Reagan? Even this will be qualified with criticism, but at bottom it’s this: when it comes to leadership, clarity is a virtue. For Reagan, the over-riding American idea was Freedom, and while he applied it too selectively, he made that idea the drumbeat of both his domestic and foreign policies in a manner that everyone understood. Do you know what Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton stood for? Frankly I don’t. While I feel like I do know what JFK and LBJ stood for, Carter and Clinton not so much. I offer them up as contrasts. In foreign policy, Carter and Clinton seemed to be more in the Nixon mode, a slippery ethic of realpolitik. But here’s what we unambiguously know about Reagan: he was anti-socialist and anti-Communist. That may be said about many, but normally with far less clarity. It defined Reagan so much he became a lightning rod for both the left and right. Domestically, while I am in favor of lean government, I am less a fan of his many of his policies. But in terms of foreign policy: his hard line ended the Cold War. And while, like any war it was not unmarred by atrocities, I have come to see the Cold War overall as a moral undertaking in the mold of the War to Free the Slaves and the two World Wars (none of which was perfect either).

In doing my family history posts, I found myself a bit stymied when it came to the 20th century. I had ancestors and relatives who’d fought in the French and Indian war, the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, but none really in the World Wars. But then it occurred to me that so many people close to me served in the Cold War: my brother, my father, every single one of my uncles, some cousins, and even both of my in-laws (my late mother-in-law was one of the first female marines). I am proud of what they did to help check expansionist, totalitarian aggression. (I almost enlisted myself, but caved at the last second, a story for another day)

Read it. Know it. Try not to live it.

Read it. Know it. Try not to live it.

There are things about the Cold War to be decried, yes, and because of that the issue has become murky for some people. Reagan was far too forgiving of right-wing dictators. And as for the early Cold War, I am not a fan of HUAC any more than you are; I can’t think of anything less American. But some people seem awfully confused, creating a false equivalency between America, where some screenwriters were forced to use pseudonyms, and the Soviet Union were tens of millions were killed at the whim of the state. Castro, who jailed and killed political prisoners, homosexuals, and others, dies and “boo hoo hoo!” While I bet — I just know — that trying to get certain people to admit that Ronald Reagan was better for humanity than, say, Gorbachev, would be like pulling teeth. My question for them: “Are ya cuckoo?” You need to look at history from an imaginary height to get any perspective. At this moment, Gorbachev happens to be a huge fan of his current president, Vladimir Putin. What does that tell you?

Which brings us closer to the title of this essay. Reagan is of course turning in his grave because President Trump has sold America to the Russians. He’s pals with Putin, who called the fall of the USSR “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century”. At this very moment, Trump’s taking heat for making a claim for moral equivalency with Russia the wrong way, outright saying that America is no better as a nation than Russia has been! And Trump’s in the pocket of Russian oligarchs, and this is ultimately the largest reason why I say history will no longer smile on Ronald Reagan. The greed of the ’80s ultimately gave us a president who’s a Russian puppet, thus potentially making the Cold War a Pyrrhic Victory, one in which the ultimate winner may turn out to be our former rival. So much for 40 years of staring down Russia. The irony is astounding.

Worst karaoke singer

Worst karaoke singer ever!

Those of you on the left: I think most of you realize that the anti-Trump movement has some allies among the admirers of Ronald Reagan, people like George Will and Bill Kristol and Evan McMullen. If you can’t wrap your head around it, I’ve recently latched onto a useful concept. It’s the idea of having people who are allies in some things. Not rejecting people with whom you partially disagree with in toto. I’m sure this is the only way many members of Congress keep sane. Practically everyone has at least one issue they degree with their own party on. The people in the other party are their ally in that one thing. And really — look at almost any historical figure. Most great figures in history, given the less enlightened attitudes of the past, are our allies in some things. Jefferson wrote “All Men Are Created Equal” but he kept slaves. We deplore the slavery but we admire those words. And right now there are many conservatives who believe in the United States Constitution and hate autocracy, and hate Vladimir Putin plenty. These guys — these Ronald Reagan fans — are my allies in these things.

Family in 50 States #24: Massachusetts

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on February 6, 2017 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

February 7, 1788 was the day the Commonwealth of Massachusetts signed off on the Constitution, becoming the sixth state to join the union.

Massachusetts is easily the U.S. state in which I have the greatest number of ancestors; all of my mother’s ancestral lines enter America in Massachusetts. I wrote here about my significant forebears in the Plymouth Colony (including most of the Mayflower passengers), and here about many of the early Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Several of my ancestors were involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Several relatives fought at Lexington and Concord. Because of the mutual descent from the Puritan Founders, I am distantly related to a long list of Massachusetts natives of note: John and Abigail Adams, John Hancock, Sam Adams, Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louis May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Endicott Peabody (founder of Groton, as well as his grandson the governor), Edward Everett Hale, Henry Cabot Lodge, right up to recent figures like Massachusetts Governors William Weld and Mitt Romney. 


I think of Massachusetts and Virginia as the twin mothers of America; as most of my mother’s forebears started in the former, most of my father’s started in the latter. From the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies radiated Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine (Vermont actually split from New York). Growing up in Rhode Island, my entire notion of patriotism is intricately tied up with Boston, New England’s regional capital. I was ten years old during America’s bicentennial; Boston’s role especially was dunned into us. Imagine my indignation one day when President George W. Bush used Massachusetts as a punchline in front of some western or southern audience. It seemed at once unpresidential, unpatriotic, ignorant of history, and dishonest (the Bushes were New England people until the time of his father, who transplanted the family to Texas). To me Massachusetts is Paul Revere and Bunker Hill, John Adams, Sam Adams, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, on and on and one. And John F. Kennedy, so close to my own time and yet so far; I could only look backward in history with envy.

Bershires, Western Mass., which we seldom think of, but ought to

Bershires, Western Mass., which we seldom think of, but ought to

For my mother’s people in Woodstock, Connecticut, which was part of Massachusetts until 1749, the effective local capital is Worcester (birthplace of Abbie Hoffman, who always saw himself as an American patriot in the tradition of Sam Adams, and I agree). I’ve been there and to Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston and Plymouth and Salem of course and the Connecticut River Valley towns of Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Amherst. But there are many parts of the state I still aspire to visit and never have, despite having grown up so close: the former whaling centers of New Bedford and Nantucket, Fall River (home to Lizzie Borden), Walden Pond, the northern fishing village of Gloucester (so hard hit by The Perfect Storm and present home to playwright Israel Horovitz), Pittsfield (home to Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s house), and North Adams (home to MASS MoCA). And Jack Kerouac is from Lowell, although I don’t know that I need to go there.

Fisherman's Memorial, Gloucester

Fisherman’s Memorial, Gloucester

Keith and Albee founded their vaudeville empire in Boston; Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Benny Rubin are the top vaudevillians from that town. And too many actors to name, although some particular favorites who fill me local pride for some reason include Ruth Gordon, Walter Brennan, Bette Davis, and Roger Bowen. But really I could sit here and make long lists of Massachusetts excellence all day, and I have other posts to write.

This Friday: A Piece of My Rat Opera at “Opera on Tap”

Posted in Classical, ME, Music, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2017 by travsd


This Friday, February 3 at 8pm, at Barbes in Park Slope, Opera on Tap will be showcasing a small section of Curse of the Rat-King, the opera-in-progress I’m developing with David Mallamud (with direction by Beth Greenberg). It’s part of their New Brew Series, 15-Day Hangover Edition. Also on the bill, world premieres by Daniel Felsenfeld and James Barry/Tim Braun. This program will include special guests Jenny Lee Mitchell and Maria Dessena.

Featuring Opera on Tap company members: Anne Hiatt, David Gordon, Kamala Sankaram, Sara Noble, Cameron Russell, Krista Wozniak, Seth Gilman & Christopher Berg. 

$10 suggested donation. Barbes is at 376 Ninth Street, Brooklyn. See you there, I hope!

A Series of Posts for Black History Month

Posted in African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on February 1, 2017 by travsd


February is Black History Month.

This year it arrives at a time of deep sadness. The Black Lives Matter movement was picking up momentum last year, but with the election of X%$FR#@ to the Presidency, as always seems to happen, that movement has been overtaken by a tsunami of “greater priorities”, becoming just one of a seeming thousand fronts people of conscience need to do battle on. Justice for the black community ought to remain a priority even as injustice for all becomes the general law.

I have done close to 450 posts on subjects relating to African Americans, beginning with profiles on scores of black vaudeville performers, jazz and blues musicians, the problematic issue of blackface minstrelsy, numerous black writers and more. Over the last couple of years, I have done an increasing number of pieces on race relations and pieces on African American history, spurred on by revelations by my own family’s past…and present. I have black nieces and nephews; they deserve every opportunity and advantage I’ve had, and frankly more.

The African American Interest section of Travalanche is here.  Also, there is a search function in the right hand section of this blog; enter keywords like names or “black” + “vaudeville” to narrow in on specific subjects. And below are some links to past posts I thought might be of special interest today. We’ll be adding several new pieces as the month goes on:

In Which I Learn My Family is Not Unsullied by America’s Original Sin 

A Post Touching on Indentured Servitude, Slavery & Labor

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Juneteenth Message (on the Stars and Bars) 

Slavery and Racism in the North 

The Civil War Never Ended 

Black Vaudeville

A Bert Williams Feature

More on the Import of the Bert Williams Feature 

Zora Neal Hurston 

Reviving the Genius of Zora Neal Hurston 

Let America Be America Again

A Gallery of Great Blues Artists

The Meaning of Dr. Martin Luther King 

Amiri Baraka

The Black Panthers 

Richard Pryor

Crash Course in August Wilson 

Daughters of the Dust 

A Black Lives Matter Protest

Godspeed, Obama 

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