LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 2

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Six more weeks they waited, then gave up their companions for dead. Despair and depression were balanced by the need to find ways to stay alive. They moved to another island and built a substantial house using materials left over from an abandoned Maori settlement. They learned to capture and kill the wild pigs and goats that roamed the island and began domesticating them.

Life was maintained but it was monotonous and hard, rescue constantly in everyone’s mind. They prepared signal fires, used Cape hens as messenger birds, forced written pleas for help into seal bladders which were then inflated and set afloat. Scraps of wood were carved with information for potential rescuers and cast into the sea. They made small boats of wood and metal with sails of zinc on which was scratched:

“Ship General Grant wrecked on Auckland Isles 14 May, 1866; 10 survivors to date. Want relief.”

As autumn chilled the air even more their situation seemed hopeless, Sanguily recalled:

… we were sorely afflicted with scurvy, or, as whalers call it, “the cobbler”. The entire party was attacked, and it was only later that we realized how severely our ankle and knee joints were stiffened, and the flesh so swollen that the imprint of a finger would remain for an hour or more. We had heard that the remedy for scurvy was to bury a man all but the head. This we tried in several cases, but it did no good. In closing our mouths our teeth would, on meeting, project straight out, flattened against each other. General weakness and despondency, with a longing for vegetables, was our torment. Severe exercise seemed to be the only remedy. This was our most trying time.

David McClelland, the oldest member of the group, cut his hand on a scrap of copper. The hand became infected and he passed away: ‘All cripples, we bore him to his grave.’ Who would last the longest, they all wondered?

On November 19 a sail was seen. They rushed to light the signal fire but the ship passed without seeing the desperate and despondent survivors. But two days later another sail appeared. They manned their remaining boat and’ pulled with might and main’ for the brig Amherst.

The boat reached the strange vessel, and through our savage appearance at first alarmed the crew, they received us on board. Then were we made welcome to all they could spare. The Amherst, Captain Gilroy, of Invercarghill, manned by Maoris, and bound on a sealing voyage, was the means of our rescue. Captain Gilroy beat up between the islands and anchored off the huts. We were all taken aboard, and treated in the most hospitable manner. No Persian monarch ever enjoyed such a treat as we when tobacco and tea were set before us.

The survivors remained with the Amherst for two months and eventually landed at Invercargill in January 1868. A private subscription was taken to send the Amherst out in search of the boat launched with such high hopes a year before. The search failed. The men in her had made the wrong guess about the direction of New Zealand from Disappointment Island. They sailed west into thousands of kilometres of empty ocean and were never heard of again.

The nine survivors of the wreck moved on with their lives. Some of the gold sunk with the General Grant belonged to Joseph Jewell. His life was saved but his fortune lost. He eventually became a station master on the Victorian railways. Fortunately, Mary was able to make a great deal of money giving lectures about their survival epic. Her ordeal probably accounted for her inability to bear children. In later life they were able to become parents through a surrogate arrangement.

Patric Caughey returned to Ireland and went into the insurance industry. He was known as a storyteller, often regaling people with yarns of his adventures, whether they wanted to hear them or not.

‘Yankee Jack’ was from the eminent French-Cuban family of Sanguily Garrite. He returned to Boston to follow a less adventurous but safer career as a shop keeper, later marrying an Australian. He and his wife returned to Sydney where she gave birth to several children. William died in 1909.

Two months after the survivors of the General Grant were safely back in New Zealand, the first salvage attempt put to sea. Accompanying the expedition was James Teer. He led them to the ‘cave of death’ where the barque had gone down but the waves were too powerful. They failed to find the wreck, as did the next few attempts in 1870. The first of these was accompanied by another survivor, David Ashworth. He disappeared with five others lost in a whaleboat as they tried to find the fatal cave.

At least a further eight expeditions are known to have searched for the General Grant’s sunken gold. Coins, cannon balls and a range of miscellaneous artefacts have been recovered, probably from a number of the ships wrecked on these bleak islands. But no one has come across 4000 ounces of gold and despite all these attempts, the General Grant herself has not been located.

They say.

LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 1

 

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Sailing from Boston to Melbourne late in 1865 the 1000 ton barque General Grant lost a man overboard in a gale. The young William Sanguily and others among the crew, thought this was an ill omen. Their ship reached Melbourne without further incident then loaded for London. But then:

By one of those coincidences, which sailors dread, we took aboard part of a cargo that had been intended for the steamer London. This ill-fated vessel had sunk in the Bay of Biscay on her voyage out, and there were many gloomy prophecies that no freight of hers would reach London in any ship.

The superstitious sailors also noticed that the rats had left the General Grant, a sure sign of doom in the lore of the sea. Nevertheless, the General Grant set sail for England on 4 May 1866 with a load of sixty men, women and children returning home from the diggings and a crew of 23 officers and men. Among the wool and hides in the hold was the unwelcome but hugely valuable cargo of gold – four thousand ounces.

After five days of good running, the ship was blown westward towards the sub-Antarctic Auckland Island. Several days of thick fog eventually lifted and land was sighted. But later, the breeze died. Despite the efforts of the captain and crew, around 1 in the morning of May 14 the General Grant smashed into the rocky shores of Auckland Island. She was forced further and further into the pitch darkness of a large sea cave. Crewman Joseph Jewell described the scene:

… such a night of horror I think was never experienced by human beings as we passed in the cave for seven long hours. It was so dark that you could not see your fingers before your eyes, and there we were with falling spars and large stones tumbling from the roof of the cave (some of which went through the deck), and so we remained until daylight.

The helpless crew and passengers huddled at the stern of the ship, still free of the cavern slowly sucking in their vessel. At daylight the mizzen top gallant mast collapsed through the ship’s hill and she began to sink.

The scene at this moment was one of such utter misery as few men ever see, and fewer still survive to tell of. Every sea washed over the stern and swept the deck. The long-boat was crammed with all who could gain a foothold. It was partly filled with water, and several poor creatures lying in the bilge were crowded down and drowned before she was clear of the ship. Women clinging to their children, and crazy men to their gold, were seen washing to and fro as the water invaded the upper deck.

One wretch saw his wife and two children driven by him in this way without making an effort to save them, while the last man who got aboard nearly lost his life trying to persuade the mother to be saved without her children.

The boats were launched into a swelling sea but only a few were able to reach them, most being trapped aboard the General Grant. The lucky few watched helplessly as men, women and children were washed away and the ship disappeared beneath the heaving water, her captain waving farewell from what was left of the rigging as he went down with his ship.

The two boats with their fifteen survivors, including one woman, spent two miserable nights and days in search of a place to camp. They had little food, few supplies and no water. Their clothes were inadequate for the climate and some were without shoes. A landing was eventually made at a place known as Sarah’s Bosom on the ominously named Disappointment Island. Here they confronted the possibility of cannibalism if they were unable to make a fire. Fortunately, they were. Albatross and shellfish made a welcome stew. From that time the fire was never allowed to go out.

The survivors split into two groups, existing as best they could in huts erected by earlier shipwreck survivors and a failed colony. They suffered greatly. There was dysentery, cold and a form of scurvy caused by their survival diet. Passing ships were sighted but they were unable to attract their attention. In October they decided to prepare one of the boats for a desperate attempt reach the New Zealand mainland, almost 500 kilometres away.

On Boxing Day 1866 they finished refitting their boat. Four men volunteered to sail her and they left on 22 January 1867. But without a chart or compass they would need to be both clever and lucky to reach safety.

Eleven souls watched their four companions depart. James Teer, Patric Caughey, Nicholas Allen and David Ashworth had all been passengers aboard the ill-fated ship. Aaron Hayman, Cornelius Drew, William Ferguson, William Newton-Scott, William Sanguily (known as Yankee Jack’) and David McClelland were all sailors, as was Joseph Jewell who was accompanied by his wife, Mary.

They waited hopefully. The weeks passed with no sign of rescue.

The anxious waiting which ensued told more severely on us than all the privation. The feverish excitement of hope caused a cessation of labour one day, and blank despair rendered us helpless the next. One man would accuse the unhappy crew of deserting us, and curse their selfishness. Another would, sobbing, deplore their cruel fate, and realise the noble men who ventured on a hopeless task.

Six more weeks they waited …. See Part 2

BANDIT LANDS 3 – CAPTAIN SILVINO –

antoniosilvino

Faked, but Silvino’s head is on the middle body

 

Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century. A strong sugarcane economy developed along the coast, while the more arid interior was largely ignored until land was required for food to feed a growing population. The serteao or ‘backlands’ were then opened up mainly for beef ranching on large landholdings. Over time, these were increasingly broken up into unviable smaller holdings through the inheritance system, a situation that formed the economic basis for the banditry that became endemic to the backlands. Other factors included the ongoing series of disastrous droughts between 1887 and 1919, together with the weakness of law and order throughout the backland states.

From the 1870s until the 1940s, Brazil experienced a form of rural banditry known as the ‘cangaço’, a term meaning the yoke of oxen, possibly a reference to the bandits’ habit of carrying rifles slung behind their necks. Endemic in the spare and arid northeast of the country the cangaço was characterised by armed bands of men who roamed the countryside robbing farms and travellers, sometimes abducting them for ransom, extorting from local businesses with ‘protection’ rackets and even invading regional cities. The cangaçeiros, as these bandits were known, were led by men to whom the gang members pledged loyalty unto death. Many of these leaders achieved notoriety and even celebration as outlaw heroes, including Jesuíno Brilhante, Adolfo Meia-Noite, Sinhô Pereira e Luiz Padre and Antônio Silvino.

Manuel Batista de Morais was a member of a respected ranching family with a history of cangaçeiros activity. This included the Robin Hood figure of the early outlaw hero, Jesuíno Brilhante, and that of Manuel’s great uncle, Silvino Aires de Cavalcanti e Albuquerque, who eluded the authorities for a quarter of a century. In 1897 Manuel murdered two men in revenge for his father’s death. Revenge murders were a common element of backland society. These were a product of the exaggerated sense of personal and family honour mixed with machismo that characterised the culture, aggravated by perennial disputes over land tenure and ownership of stock, a common frontier tension point that also played an important part in American and Australian outlawry. These murders meant that Manuel became a cangaçeiro and he joined his great uncle in the bandit life. After Silvino’s eventual capture in 1899, Manuel took his great uncle’s name as his own bandit pseudonym and also took over as leader of the gang that he had once commanded.

Good-looking, strong and an expert marksman, ‘Captain Silvino’ as he was popularly known in standard outlaw style, operated until his betrayal in 1914. He was known during his time as a ‘gentle cangaçeiro’ who mostly robbed the rich, including the British-owned Great Western Railway Company that became a major feature of the backlands economy from 1900. His raids on this enterprise were widely, if probably inaccurately, regarded as attempts to defend the backlands from the incursions of yet another colonising power. He was careful to distribute some of his booty amongst the poor, he righted wrongs related to boundary and domestic disputes and was usually seen to be scrupulous in respecting the honour of women.[i] Like many successful outlaws he was careful to maintain his image as a noble robber, both in his more public actions, such as burning the captured mailbags of the Great Western Railway, and in his considerable and considered dealings with the press. His legendry included a supernatural ability to disappear and reappear in order to escape pursuers. He was also portrayed, and largely seen as, a friend of the poor, as a contemporary newspaper account put it:

‘… he protects the people, the anonymous masses with whom he divides his pillage and in whose bosom he does his best source of support … . He does not dishonour families and he has a mania for harming the public authorities …’[ii]

After his capture Silvino was imprisoned, spending the next twenty-three years in gaol. He was pardoned in 1937 and given a government position, returning to the Paraíbo backlands, where he died in 1944. Despite his unromantic post-outlaw life, such had been his fame as a cangaçeiro that his Robin Hood legend continued during these years and developed further after his death, celebrated in cordel – small, cheap and very popular booklets –in ballads and in Brazilian oral tradition. He was also the subject of romanticised fiction and popular biography until at least the 1960s.[iii]

NOTES

[i] On this point, see Lewin, L., ‘The Oligarchical Limits of Social Banditry in Brazil: The Case of the ‘Good’ Thief Antônio Silvino’ in Slatta, R. (ed.), Bandidos: The Varieties of Latin American Banditry, Greenwood Press, NY, 1987, pp. 85-86. (Originally published in Past & Present 82, February 1979, pp. 116-46).

[ii] Quoted in Lewin, p. 77.

[iii] Lewin, note 5, p. 92, notes 10 and 19, pp. 93-4.

REBECCA AND HER DAUGHTERS

RebeccaRiots

By Illustrated London News, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8007931

 

In rural west Wales, a woman known as ‘Rebecca’, together with her ‘daughters’, violently resisted paying toll fees. From 1839 to 1843, and sporadically for long after, gangs of mainly tenant farmers, dressed in women’s clothing and with blackened faces, responding to the call of a hunting horn, attacked and often destroyed toll booths and other infrastructure on the many privately-owned toll roads. To get their produce to market, the farmer needed to pass back and forth along these roads and also traditionally collected lime from them to improve their soils. As well as the toll road issue, many Welsh farmers and those who depended on them for employment were experiencing hard times and the payment of tithes, or taxes, to the Anglican church, while most Welsh people were chapel-going Methodists or other ‘dissenters’.

‘Rebecca’, or just ‘Becca’, was the name of the mythical leader under which they united. ‘She’ was often mounted on a horse during the toll gate attacks, an acknowledgement of the connection between the Rebecca movement and the traditional custom of the Ceffyl Pren (wooden horse). This was a form of public humiliation of wrongdoers by a local community, involving the parading of the miscreant through a village tied to a wooden frame, or ‘horse’. A ‘jury’ and ‘Foreman’ of men dressed in women’s clothes and with blacked faces administered the ceffyl pren, which was used as the organisational structure for the Rebecca riots. The symbolism of the connection was clearly one of righting perceived wrongs.

As with many other forms of protest and revolt, threatening letters were often sent to those the rebels identified as the source of their problems. This one was addressed to the people of St Clears, Carmarthenshire, in December 1842:

Take Notice

I wish to give you notice especial to those which has sworn to be connstable in order to graspe Becca and her children but I can sure you that it will be to hard matter for Bowlin and company to finish the job that they began and that is to keep up the Gate at Llanengel and [?] gate. Now take this few lines as information for you to mind yourselves, you that had any conection with Bowlin Messrs M. C. Lics, Mr Thomas Blue Boar, all thine property in one night shall be in conflagration if they will not obey to this notice. And that to send them vagabons away wich you are favourable to. I alway like to be plain in all my engagement – is it a reasonable thing that they impose so must on the country only picking poor labours and farmers pockets, and you depend that all the Gates that are on these small roads shall be destroyed. I am willing for the gates on the Queens Road to stand it is a shamefull thing for us welchmen to have the sons of Henegust have a dominion over us. Do you not remember the long knives which Henegust hath invented to kill our fore fathers and you may depend that you shall recieve the same, if you will not give up, when I shall give you a visit and that shall be in a short time, and now I would give an order to leave the place before I will come, for, I do determin that I will have my way all through. As for the constable and the policemen, Becca her children heeds no more of them than the Grass-hopers which fly in the summer there are others which as marked with Becca, but they shall not be named now but in case they will not obey to this notice she shall call about them in a short time.

Faithfull to Death
with the county
Becca & children

Trwn [?]
Dec, 16th 1842

Sometimes serious violence occurred during these midnight visitations, though nothing on the scale promised in the letters that usually preceded them. William Rees, toll collector on Trevaughan Turnpike Gate described his visit from Rebecca and her daughters in August 1843:

… between one and two o’clock on Sunday morning last he was disturbed by a man knocking at his door who enquired the way to Llanvallteg Bridge, which he told him and that immediately afterwards he heard the sound of horses, when about twenty five or thirty men disguised, (having white frocks on and their heads tied on with coloured handkerchiefs under their chins) came to his house and compelled him by threats, pointing at the same time three Guns at his breast to deliver up his Books, which they carried off. The Books contained among other accounts, the names of several persons who had refused to pay toll at the said Gate, he is unable to identify any of them, but the person nearest to his house window rode a grey horse.

This was a typical Rebecca visitation. The wise toll keeper did as he was told and did not interfere if the rioters pulled down his toll booth. In this case, Rebecca and her daughters seem to have been mainly interested in removing evidence of those who had refused to pay their tolls and who would otherwise have been prosecuted.

The authorities mounted mostly ineffectual attempts to forcibly put the riots down. Eventually, the toll gate system and problems with the poor laws were modified and the general economy improved. Nevertheless, some Rebaccaites were imprisoned and others transported.

Later in the century, and even into the early twentieth century, the name Rebecca and similar tactics were used by those protesting against restricted fishing rights along inland streams.

 

Rebecca_Riots_-_Punch1843

Unknown author – http://www.ngfl-cymru.org.uk/vtc/rebecca_riots/eng/RebeccaRiots/
Punch cartoon from 1843 depicting events inspired by the Rebecca Riots of South Wales

 

SOURCES

National Archives, Rebecca letter, 16 December 1842 (HO 45/265 f1

National Archives, Statement of William Rees, toll collector, 15 August 1843 (HO 45/454 f.415)

 

UNPLEASANT LETTERS FROM NED LUDD AND CAPTAIN SWING

Ned Ludd

 

The businessman who received the following note from Ned Ludd would have been in no doubt that the writer intended to do serious harm.

Mr H

at Bulwell

Sr,

Sir if you do not pull don the Frames

or stop pay [in] Goods onely for work

extra work or m[ake] in Full fashon

my Companey will [vi]sit yr machines

for execution agai[nst] [y]ou–

Mr Bolton the Forfeit–

I visitd him–

Ned Lu[d]

Kings [illegible]

Nottinghm—Novembr 8 1811

It was one of many similar semi-literate threatening letters sent to factory owners and employers of weavers by Ned Ludd. The letter commands Mr H to stop paying his weavers in ‘truck’, meaning in poor quality goods instead of cash, one of the frequent complaints of the workers. Or else…

Another letter from a Nottinghamshire knitter was sent to Richard Dennis, farmer and framework knitter, in 1819:

Richad Denniss

If you keep that Rouge in you house Ned shall viset you and we shall be acpt too give you A little could led and you cattle too if you dont get shoot ove him very soon and Need will set you all on Fire And you Promess Need will send them too Hell and Hall ove you too and you sheep Ned will ham string And if you don thay will send me word in the course ove of day

March the 12

I GENRALL LUD.

But Ludd, also sometimes titled ‘General Ludd’, as here, and ‘Captain Ludd’, did not exist. He was a mythical leader of a diffuse group of mainly northern English insurrectionaries angry at the threat to their livelihoods posed by the introduction of labour-saving machines into the framework knitting industry. ‘Luddites’, as they came to be known, formed clandestine groups who swore secret oaths and destroyed and damaged the feared new machines that were taking their jobs. The sabotage tactics of the Luddites failed, many were executed, imprisoned or transported. But their actions, and consequences, did bring their plight to the attention of the wider public.

In 1830, much the same situation, this time in agriculture, triggered the most serious rioting, mostly across southern England. Led by a ‘Captain Swing’, rural workers rose in large numbers to break threshing machines and to demand what they thought were their rights. They also said so in caustic correspondence, such as this note delivered to King’s College, Cambridge on December 8, 1830:

Dr Agnus

The college that thou holdest shalt be fired very shortly. Thou shalt here further from me when it is in flames.

Swing

Head Quarters

A more detailed and oddly polite letter detailing the rioters’ grievances arrived at the Goodwood estate of the Duke of Richmond in December 1830:

We beg to say that if the sentences of the men in kent & all others for rioting is not reduced to 3 months imprisonment & all those taken heairafter to 1 months ditto all the woods to a hedge stick on the duke of richmans estate with that of the other ministere [of] the crown lands magestrates constables &C engaged in takeing & triing the said men shall be all burnt up even to a furse bush but we promis faithfully if you comply with our request we will refrain from it all we want is Work & fair wages don’t think that the reward will induse our party to split we have all put our hands to the match so we cannot fear each other and are determind to carry on or have our starveing Contramen at liberty there is only 2 things to be done & then we shall have pease & plenty that is machinery put down and the Clergy paid out of the publick revenew and an income tax put on to take this burden of the farmer in lieu of the tithes’

swing 2 goodwood-mss-1446-fa18-backThese revolts were all put down with the ruthless force usually unleashed by the British establishment against those who dared challenge it. Rioters were perceived and presented as dangerous revolutionaries and criminals rather than starving workers. Some were shot, some hanged, many imprisoned and transported. Mechanisation of their livelihoods proceeded apace.

Neither Ned Ludd or Captain Swing existed. They were convenient fictions drawn from the traditions of underclass revolt stretching back to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 in which a shadowy character named ‘Jack Straw’ appeared. At least one of the rebels in this revolt took this name, but historians are uncertain if such a person ever existed. His name is certainly suspiciously folkloric!

To some extent, the threatening letters, the dressing up and the blackened faces of the rioters can be seen as part of the ‘theatre of protest’. This does not mean that the rioters’ issues were not genuine and serious, but that there was an underlying assumption that the societal ties between workers and their employees would deliver justice. Naïve as this seems, a ‘moral economy’ as historian E P Thompson famously perceived, underlay the economic transactions between workers and employers.

The tragedy of this perception by the rioters – weavers or farm labourers – was that it was no longer true (if it ever was in any effectual rather than symbolic sense). Their bosses had moved on from the traditions and assumptions that underlay the moral economy ideal and embraced the improving agrarian mode of capitalism. Now, workers were no longer essential parts of a rural community but simply one element in a broader, more predatory economy in which calculations were made on the basis of profit and loss and not any obligation that the better-off might once have had towards their less affluent neighbours.

 

SOURCES:

Home Office archive (HO 42/118

The Nottingham Review 6 August 1819 – the sender of the letter had a grudge against the ‘Rouge’ mentioned

National Archives Catalogue ref: HO 52/6

‘Swing Riots letter’, 2 Dec 1830, West Sussex Record Office, Goodwood Mss 1446 fA18

 

 

 

BANDIT LANDS 2 – WITH HIS PISTOL IN HIS HAND: GREGORIO CORTEZ

Gregorio_Cortez_Pictured_in_1901

Gregorio Cortez Pictured in 1901

 

Perhaps the most surprising fact in the extensive folklore that surrounds the figure of Cortez is that his outlawry lasted only ten days. Action-packed though those ten days were, they would perhaps only have given rise to such a legend in a region like the Border. While the existing legendry of Cortinas was strong in the years immediately after the earlier bandit’s death, the discontents and tensions that originated the legend and kept it alive were also still smouldering.

The incident that turned Gregorio Cortez from an obscure small farmer and vaquero was not unlike that which had set Cortinas upon his influential path. Nor was it unlike the situation in other places, such as Australia, where stock theft was the background to many bushranging outbreaks. Cortez and his family had been involved in stealing horses, which explains why Sheriff W Morris and two deputies wanted to question him about a missing horse one day in June, 1901. The lawmen arrived at the small plot Cortez and his brother, Romaldo, rented near Kennedy. According to the court evidence there were language difficulties during the questioning which led the Sheriff to draw his pistol and fire on the brothers, wounding Romaldo. Cortez returned fire and killed the Sheriff.[i] Cortez fled on foot and began walking towards Austin, eighty miles away.

A manhunt was quickly initiated and Cortez’s wife and children, his mother and sister-in-law were illegally gaoled, a tactical error frequently made by authorities during episodes of outlawry. During the manhunt Cortez shot and killed another two lawmen and embarked on another walking feat, this time a 100-mile journey from Belmont towards Laredo. With the newspapers referring to Cortez as ‘an arch-fiend’ and a $1000 reward on his head, Mexican-Americans instead saw Cortez as one of their own making a heroic stand against American oppression and injustice. At the same time, Anglos in a number of towns rioted and a number of Mexican-Americans were killed. Despite this there was some admiration in the English language press for Cortez’s endurance and his ability to elude pursuers through his excellent knowledge of the country. Eventually he was captured on June 22, 1901 when a friend led the posse to his hiding place. The Judas in this case was the ironically named Jesús González, later vilified by some Mexican-Americans as a traitor.

There followed a number of trials and verdicts and a lynching attempt on Cortez. He eventually began serving a life sentence for the murder of the Sheriff in 1904. Cortez had become a cause celebre, his case attracting attention throughout the Hispanic world. Agitation for his release continued until 1913 when he was freed on a conditional pardon. He then fought in the Mexican revolution and died of pneumonia in February 1916.

The legendry of the man ‘with his pistol in his hand’ is extensive and still powerful in the folk traditions of the Border. Américo Paredes documented and interpreted these, noting his Robin Hood-like attributes:

In some of his feats the Cortez of the legend resembles folk heroes like Robin Hood. Like Robin he surprises his enemy and provisions himself from them, taking food, arms, and other necessaries and letting them go unharmed. In a way reminiscent of Robin Hood, Pancho Villa, and the Saxon King Alfred, Cortez comes into town in disguise while the chase after him is on, mingles with the townspeople and listens to the tales told about him.[ii]

The corrido of Gregorio Cortez, in its numerous variants, concentrates mainly upon the bravery of Cortez in the face of the hated Texas Rangers, the rinches:

Then said Gregorio Cortez,

With his pistol in his hand,

‘Don’t run you cowardly Rangers,

From a real Mexican.’[iii]

In 1982 a feature film on the outlaw’s life and legend reached the silver screen, as the mass media picked up on another suitable storyline. This was just another stage in the evolution of the Cortez legend, one that graphically demonstrates the interaction of fact and folklore, as noted by Paredes:

            … one of the most striking things about Gregorio Cortez is the way the actual facts of his life conformed to pre-existing legend. In his free, careless youth, in the reasons for his going outside the law, in his betrayal, his imprisonment, and release and even in the somewhat cloudy circumstances surrounding his death – the actual facts of Cortez’s life (so far as we know them) follow the Border-hero tradition that was already well established before Cortez made his celebrated ride.

Paredes goes on to describe how the facts of Cortez’s life fitted the outlaw hero legend, and vice versa:

It was as if the Border people had dreamed Gregorio Cortez before producing him, and had sung his life and deeds before he was born.[iv]

The brevity of his outlaw career meant that Gregorio Cortez had little time to generate and nurture a Robin Hood reputation for himself. Nevertheless, his legend developed quickly among his supporters and sympathisers. He is compelled to go outside the law by unjust treatment; he acts only against the representatives of the oppressive American laws; he skilfully eludes his pursuers and is finally betrayed by a friend. He is certainly brave, even though he does not die game. In the circumstances of his time and place, even his ten-day defiance of authority was sufficient to turn him into an outlaw hero among the disaffected Mexican-American population of the border region.

 

SOURCES

[i] Mertz, R., ‘No One Can Arrest Me: The Story of Gregorio Cortez’, Journal of South Texas 1, 1974.

[ii] Paredes, A., With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero, University of Texas Press, Austin, (1958), 1990, p. 120.

[iii] Paredes, p. 164 (variant C)

[iv] Paredes, p. 125.

BANDIT LANDS 1 – CORTINAS

Juan_Nepomuceno_Cortina

Juan Nepomuceno (Cheno) Cortina (1824-1894), aka ‘Cortinas’

 

Bandit lands are places where outlaws can base themselves and their confederates, operate their criminal enterprises and also hide from the law or other antagonists. These secret spaces can be mountains, forests, river valleys, marshes, or along borderlands – wherever access is difficult and solitude assured. They have existed everywhere since ancient times. Some still do.
 
Quite a few of the outlaws who have inhabited these wild areas have become, rightly or wrongly, popular heroes, celebrated in rousing songs and fiery stories. Here’s the first of an occasional Gristly History series about them titled ‘Bandit Lands’.

 

CORTINAS – ALONG THE RIO GRANDE

The ‘Border’, being the contested land between America and Mexico, has a long, unsettled history. Incursions, lynchings, riots, wars, smuggling and ongoing antagonism between Anglos and Mexican-Americans have produced some celebrated outlaw heores. The earliest of these was a well-born man who became known as ‘Cortinas’.

Juan Nepomuceno (Cheno) Cortina (1824-1894) was known from the time of his outlawry as ‘Cortinas’. His family had aristocratic origins and a large landholding in the lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly around the south Texas city of Brownsville, across the border from Matamoros. After fighting in an irregular unit during the Mexican American War of 1846-1848, Cortinas returned to the family farm which he appears to have used as a base for rustling. He was twice indicted for these offences but was able to escape arrest through the family political connections.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially declared the border between Mexico and the United States in 1848, relations between the Anglos and Mexican Americans in the Brownsville area deteriorated. One of the major issues was the belief that Americans were using their superior knowledge of the legal system to enable them to procure ever-greater amounts of land at the expense of Mexican-Americans new to the country.

One day in July 1859 Cortinas witnessed the Brownsville Marshall, Bob Spears, arresting and pistol-whipping a man who had worked on his mother’s farm. There was a confrontation in which Cortinas shot and killed the Marshall and escaped with the prisoner. Cortinas was outlawed and from then on became a guerrilla, fighting the Americans and also operating in the politics and conflicts within Mexico itself. In September 1859 he and his men attacked and occupied Brownsville, shooting five locals. Cortinas eventually retreated to the family ranch from where he later issued a proclamation defending the rights of Mexican-Americans and demanding that any who infringed them be punished.

There was ongoing violence between Cortinas’ men and various groups of Texas Rangers sent against him. Cortinas issued a second proclamation, calling on Governor Sam Houston to recognise and protect the legal rights of Mexican-Americans. By this time the outlaw’s numbers had expanded to around 400-armed men. There was further fighting with Texas Rangers in December which resulted in Cortinas retreating to Mexico and finally to the Burgos Mountains where he holed up for a year.

He returned to the American side of the Border during the Civil War, fighting against the Confederates. He then became embroiled in the politics and turmoils of Mexico, returning again to the Border in 1870. Despite attempts to have him pardoned for his crimes, based on his support of the victorious Union during the Civil War, Cortinas was forced to return to Mexico in 1871.

In later years the cattle ranchers of the Nueces Strip accused him of being the ringleader of a large rustling operation and he was eventually removed to Mexico City through American diplomatic pressure. From this time Cortinas passes from the large events of his time. He spent the sixteen years between 1877 and his death from pneumonia in 1894 in prison and under house arrest.

Despite obscurity, neglect and vandalism of his grave, Cortinas’ legend among Mexican- Americans is firmly established.[i] He is the subject of a famous corrido, or ballad, that portrays him as a great hero and friend of the Mexican people, whose death caused the gringos to celebrate:

That famed General Cortinas
is quite sovereign and free,
the honor due him is greater
for he saved a Mexican’s life.
The Americans made merry,
they got drunk in the saloons,
out of joy over the death
of the famed General Cortinas.[ii]

Cortinas was, and still is, a hero of the Mexican-American people. Stories and songs of his real and fanciful actions remained strong in oral tradition and prepared the way for the greatest of all the Border outlaws, Gregorio Cortez.

NOTES

[i] Thompson, J. (ed), Juan Cortina and the Texas-Mexico Frontier 1859-1877, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, Southwestern Studies 99, 1994, pp. 93.

[ii] Hispanic American Almanac, Gale, 1997.

MYTH-MAKING IN THE TIME OF THE VIRUS

 

Virus ok

Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAMS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ID 23312, 2020

 

In general usage, a ‘myth’ is a statement or fact believed to be true, a falsehood. Myths are given credence and spread by rumours and, increasingly, as ‘fake news’ or ‘memes’.

They usually arise as misunderstandings of historical events, statements, and sometimes as deliberate lies invented and spread for political, commercial or religious purposes

A well-known example of a misunderstood statement is an observation once made by the eminent anthropologist, Franz Boas, about the Inuit words for snow. The myth is that the Inuit people of Southwestern Alaska have more words for snow than any other language.

What Boas actually observed, in relation to the linguistic complexities of Inuit and its dialects, was that there were four root words for snow that might be vastly expanded by their use in a variety of linguistic combinations, or lexemes, that might also include individual semantic flourishes.

This fundamental subtlety was subsequently misunderstood by many to mean that the Inuit did have one hundred distinct words for snow. In fact, they might have one hundred or more lexemes for snow but not one hundred individual words, as the myth has it.

A more significant issue than the number of Inuit words for snow is this: what was it about the Inuit people (then termed ‘Eskimo’), their language and its cultural meanings, that led to the spread of this misstatement and its perpetuation to the present day?

The answer is that it’s all about ‘us’, not ‘them’.

When Boas and others were studying the Inuit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a widespread fascination with these indigenous people and their inconceivably hard way of life. For a few decades, the Inuit, and other indigenous groups in polar regions, were the darlings of folklorists, anthropologists, filmmakers and journalists. In short, the Inuit were seen through western eyes as ‘exotic others’. ‘Their’ lives were so drastically different from the western norm that something that so clearly and conveniently represented that difference made sense to ‘us’. Of course, such different people somehow surviving in perpetual ice and snow would have lots of words to describe their situation. Makes sense. Mmm.

This small popular delusion is pretty harmless, unlike many other prejudiced and pernicious myths western culture has evolved about exotic others. Perceptions of black people as monkey-like have a long history and have not gone away, for the same reason the Inuit words for snow myth has not. ‘They’ are not like ‘us’ whites.

One popular perception of human evolution is that non-Europeans are further down the evolutionary scale and therefore closer to the apes. Obvious, isn’t it? That’s what Darwin said.

Of course, Darwin said no such thing, but his biological ideas were applied to culture in the perversion usually called ‘social Darwinism, and it was asserted by experts that just as the plant and animal kingdoms evolved through natural selection, popularly understood as ‘survival of the fittest’, so did people. Obviously western culture was the preeminent result of this process and any culture that didn’t have our technological, religious, organisational and (supposedly) moral attainments was obviously at a lower stage of evolution and, therefore, inferior. Closer to monkeys than clever us. Science proves it. Mmm.

Despite the overwhelming abundance of evidence to the contrary, this apparently authoritative explanation provided an expert validation of a prejudice that had existed in European society since at least the medieval era. *

As well as the story itself, mythmaking also depends on those who tell the tale. The role of the ‘expert’ in confirming and spreading myth has recently expanded. Unqualified celebrities, politicians and those with usually fringe political agendas have increasingly taken over from experts as arbiters of opinion, masquerading as ‘fact’. The reasons for this are complex and include the erosion of trust in civil institutions and traditionally prominent influencers since the 1960s. In this century, the internet has accelerated and amplified this trend to its currently dangerous levels.

Right now, we are seeing the influence of the new storytellers in the context of the Corona virus pandemic. Large numbers of people prefer to believe random commentators and opinionists in the mainstream and social media about medical and scientific matters, particularly those related to so-called ‘cures’.

Alongside this we have another example of negative perceptions of exotic others, in this case, the Chinese, who have been blamed for the outbreak due to their culinary habits, alleged poor hygiene, incompetence or, the conspiracy theory version, by deliberately manufacturing and spreading the virus.

There are many other prejudicial myths that originate, evolve, and proliferate through these complex processes of history, ignorance and delusion. They persist because they fill a cultural and psychological need to perceive otherness in usually negative terms.* The particular combination of the progressive erosion of trust, the proliferation and consequences of new communication technology, and the always existing compulsion for humans to see things in terms of ‘us and them’, has now reached a potentially disastrous moment for us all.

 

* For a useful overview of this process see https://theconversation.com/comparing-black-people-to-monkeys-has-a-long-dark-simian-history-55102

* For a more detailed look at the complex psychological and cultural processes involved in mythmaking, see David Robson’s The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes https://davidrobson.me/the-intelligence-trap/

 

CACKLING FARTS, TALLYWAGS AND OTHER GROSE WORDS

 

1920px-Captain_Francisa_Grose,_FSA

Captain Francis Grose, antiquarian, some-time soldier and all-round roisterer used his knowledge of lowlife to compile a dictionary of eighteenth-century slang. Assisted by Tom Cocking, Grose frequented and enjoyed the fleshpots of London, eating, drinking and taking notes of what was said and by whom. The fruits of this devoted study appeared only three decades after Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary but, unlike that great work, documented the unofficial, earthy and bawdy language spoken by the workers of the era.

Grose was so fat – a gundiguts, according to his own dictionary – that his assistant, Tom, had to strap him into bed each night to make sure he didn’t roll out. But he was an apparently amiable man who was able to move easily in different social circles, putting his inquiring mind to good use wherever he went and with whoever he met. His encounters included one with the Scots poet Robert Burns, who contributed prose and poetry to one of Grose’s many antiquarian works on castles and other ancient buildings.

Not only does A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) present a vast number of raffish and often amusing words and phrases, but it also gives some idea of those who spoke them. Many of these were criminals who, as in earlier and later periods, found considerable use for linguistic obfuscation. Others were those who followed more or less respectable trades and occupations. Grose’s dictionary is crammed with the speech of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, soldiers, sailors, gamblers, cockfighters, horse traders and a range of other dodgy operators.

Grose also includes terms related to trades, professions and callings, including:

Draper, an ale-housekeeper;

Duck fucker man in charge of poultry aboard a war ship

Fart catcher – a valet

Finger post – parson

Knight of the rainbow – a footman, from the gaudery of his apparel

A maggot-boiler was a tallow merchant

Monks and friars, printers’ terms describing blotted or dark printed sheets and faint sheets, respectively

Nimgimmer a doctor, especially one able to treat venereal diseases

Pontius Pilate  a pawnbroker

The dictionary includes multitudinous names for different kinds of alcohol, especially gin and is also good on insults, including Captain queernabs, a shabby ill-dressed fellow; Dicked in the nob meaning silly, crazed; a dog booby is an awkward lout and Just-ass was a punning name for a justice [judge], an official who many of Grose’s speakers often encountered.

A few of the words and terms immortalised by Grose and Cocking are still in use today, including screw, to copulate; bum fodder for toilet paper and to kick the bucket, meaning to die, which Captain Francis Grose did in 1791. His legacy is a magnificent compendium of everyday talk that people used as they went about their business, whether that was respectable or otherwise.

Oh, and a cackling fart is an egg and tallywags are testicles.

Enjoy more online at https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-classical-dictionary-of-the-vulgar-tongue-1788