The Captain and the Critic

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Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

Sheep rancher Joe Emge woke up fast from a fitful slumber late on a chilly night in early April 1909 near Spring Creek, Wyoming. There was no light inside the wagon where he and one of his ranch hands had bedded down. When the darkness around him began to break up and his eyes slowly adjusted, he saw the dim, blurred outline of a man standing over him. Joe squinted and strained to focus on the object the imposing figure was pointing at him. When he realized the object was a six-shooter, it was too late.

Cattleman George Saban pulled the trigger back on his .35 automatic and fired a shot into Joe’s face. He quickly pulled the trigger back again and slapped the hammer with his left hand; it was the fastest way to get off several more shots. The objective was to not only kill Joe but also the other man in the wagon. It was a job the gunman dispatched with ease and no regret.

George jumped out the vehicle and stood in a pool of firelight cast by a smoldering campfire. He heard gunfire erupting inside a second wagon close by, and he turned to see what had happened.

Joe Allemand, a sheep rancher with a bullet hole in his back, stumbled out the wagon, picked himself up, and staggered away from the scene, his hands in the air. Two gunmen, Herb Brink and Ed Eaton, stepped out of the wagon behind him. Herb leveled his Winchester at Joe and fired. Joe lurched forward and fell hard in the dirt, dead. “It’s a hell of a time at night to come out with your hands up,” Herb quipped.

Herb marched over to a stand of sagebrush, gathered a handful, and placed the end into the campfire. The brush crackled and snapped as it burned. He held it up in the air and watched the flame grow then tossed it under the wagon nearest him. In a matter of moments the vehicle was engulfed in fire. George followed Herb’s lead, grabbed a fistful of dry vegetation and dipped it into the flames licking the wheels of the wagon.

As the three men watched the fire burn and consume the vehicles and the gear around it, the report of a series of gunshots in the near distance was heard. Four of George and Herb’s cohorts had unloaded their weapons into a large herd of sheep. The few animals that managed to escape scattered, bleating loudly as they ran away.

George walked over to his horse which was tied to an old, rain-bleached post and lifted himself into the saddle as though he hadn’t a care in the world. He nudged his ride away from the chaos and trotted off into the shadows of the landscape, leaving the others to follow after him.

Death Row All Stars

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 To learn more about the All Stars and the games they played to save their lives read

The Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

 

A Fast Game

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Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

A blinding, hot sun pushed its way out from behind a few clouds and stretched across a baseball diamond above Overland Park in Rawlins, Wyoming, in the summer of 1911.1 A crowd of people in the stands of the shade-free arena carved into the center of town waved cardboard fans in front of their faces in a futile attempt to push the merciless heat away from them. All eyes were trained on Thomas Cameron, a cherub-faced, overly tired baseball player on the pitcher’s mound. He backhanded beads of sweat off his forehead as he stepped away from his position and looked over the fielders behind him.

Some of his teammates slapped their fists into their rough, well-worn gloves, and all shouted words of encouragement. Thomas adjusted his cap and pulled it down far over his forehead. He kicked the dirt under his feet, and a haze of powdery dry dust rose in the air around his ankles and settled on his grimy uniform. He stepped back onto the mound and readied himself to pitch. His arms rose high over his head as he started his wind up. Rearing back on his left leg he fired a wild, high fastball. The alert batter turned away from the plate while fading backwards to avoid the out of control pitch, but the ball ricocheted off his left shoulder and bounded back into the stands.

A fat, unkempt umpire shouted for the batter to take his base. The spectators hissed at the rattled Thomas. He cast a glance at the team captain, George Saban, near the dugout and noticed the grim expression on his face.* It was an unfortunate error. Thomas’s shoulders sagged under the weight of what he knew could happen because of the mistake.

To learn more about the All Stars and the games they played to save their lives read

The Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

Death Row All Stars

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Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

Enter to win a copy of the book

Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

“No thrill equals that which comes when a home player sends the ball ringing off his bat safely to the outfield. As the number of bases gained by such a hit increases, so does the excitement mount. When one of those drives wins a game, its maker is a hero.”

The American West of the early 1900s was the scene of great change. The trans-continental railroad cut a swath through the country, pulling the population away from the East, bringing progress to and signs of the coming industrial age. Boomtowns were turning into cities; the ways of the west were disappearing and giving way to the inevitable intrusion of change.

But as life became more sophisticated and industrial, a simple and pure game captured the attention of a nation. It would become a national pastime, but in Wyoming in 1910 baseball was an obsession.

Every town, every camp had leagues or teams of their own. Every team had stars that could easily play alongside Honus Wagner or Ty Cobb. But there were no baseball stars as unique as the Wyoming State Penitentiary Death Row All Stars of Rawlins, Wyoming.

And the star of the All Stars, Joseph Seng.

From the moment he arrived at the penitentiary, Seng was known more for his baseball prowess than his murder conviction. Within moments of his incarceration, prison officials got around to the task of creating a team and building a place to play.

The concept of prison reform and prisoner welfare was nonexistent in 1910. Time on the field was a precious escape from day-to-day life that could be both extremely hellish and (for some) lavishly privileged. Corruption and graft ran rampant. Prisoners were forced to work for little or no wages in the prison broom factory, denied basic necessities, fed rancid food, and forced to work road crews. Others were allowed to openly wander the streets of Rawlins, hunt rabbits outside the prison walls, and reap the monetary windfall of betting on the All Stars.

For the players, baseball was their life, their saving grace. Inside their cell, they were rapists, robbers, burglars, and thieves. But on the playing field, they were fast, hard, and possessed an inside fast ball no one could hit.

Primarily off the strength of Seng’s arm (and his bat), the Death Row All Stars quickly became the talk of barrooms, brothels, and even political circles. Fortunes were being made by wagering in exchange for promises of time taken off their sentences and, for Seng, the possibility of a death penalty commutation.

For one cloudless Wyoming summer, residents of Rawlins boasted one of the finest baseball teams in the country. Scores of baseball fans came from all over the state, creating an abstract grandstand fan base. Socialites, merchants, and politicos sat alongside prospectors, ranchers, and drifters cheering for the men in the dark uniforms with “W-S-P” sewn on their chests.

Death Row All Stars

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To learn more about the All Stars and the games they played to save their lives read

The Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

 

Zack

Yesterday was one of those days. Most business calls I made turned out to be disastrous. Is the average person stupider than they were a generation ago? Or do you just run into more stupid people because fewer stupid people are getting eaten by bears? The work day blues followed me to Bible study last night and parked themselves right next to me as I began to teach a class of seventeen kids about the importance of loving one another. Just as the lesson started a five year old boy named Zack asked if he could lead the class in a song he learned to play on his small, Mickey Mouse guitar. Everyone happily agreed and he proudly came to the front of the room carrying his instrument and ready to serenade us all in a chorus of “Jesus Loves Me.” No sooner had we started to sing than Zack stopped us because he needed to tune his toy guitar. Wearing a serious expression he carefully turned the knobs on the handle of the guitar and strummed until he achieved just the right sound. The class respectfully watched him as though he were a classically trained musician preparing for a recital. No one laughed or cracked a smile. This was serious business for Zack. We began the song again and he beamed with pride. After an encore he returned to his seat and carefully laid his guitar next to him on the floor. That sweet, unassuming act of praise hung in the air for the duration of the class. Any irritation I was feeling when I arrived at Bible study left the minute Zack played. It made me happy and humbled me in the process. I’ve thought about Zack and his kind offering many times since yesterday. It made me realize how ungrateful and stupid I am at times. I’m praying today that I won’t get eaten by a bear. Play on, Zack!

 

And the Winner Is…

Congratulations to Linda Cosick. 

Linda is this month’s book giveaway winner!

  She has won a copy of Object Matrimony: 

The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier. 

 

Next week’s book giveaway will be The Death Row All Stars. 

 

 

The Murderous Mail-Order Bride

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When Carroll B. Rablen, a thirty-four year old veteran of World War II from Tuttletown, California, advertised for a bride he imagined hearing from a woman who longed to spend their life with him hiking and enjoying the historic, scenic beauty of the Gold Country in Northern California. The ad he placed in a San Francisco matrimonial paper in June 1928 was answered by Eva Brandon. The thirty-three year-old Eva was living in Quanah, Texas when she received a copy of the matrimonial publication.

If Carroll had been less eager to marry he might have noticed the immature tone Eva’s letters possessed. If he’d taken the time to scrutinize her words he might have been able to recognize a flaw in her thinking. According to the July 14, 1929 edition of the Ogden, Utah newspaper the Ogden Standard-Examiner, one of Eva’s first correspondences demonstrated that not only did she seem much younger than thirty-three years old, but she also had a dark side. “Mr. Rablen, Dear Friend,” the letter began. “You wrote about a son I have. He has had no father since he was a month old. The father left me. I haven’t seen him. If a man leaves me I don’t want to see them. And I’ll make sure I can’t.”

Eva left Texas for California in late April 1929. She and Carroll were married the evening of April 29, 1929. The dance that followed the nuptials at the Tuttletown school house was well attended by Carroll’s friends and neighbors. They were happy he had found someone to share his life. Eva twirled around the room dancing with anyone who wanted to join her. She was elated with her situation. Carroll on the other hand chose to wait outside for his new bride in the car. According to the Ogden Standard Examiner, Carroll was slightly deaf and despondent over the other physical ailments that kept him from fully enjoying the festivities.

When Carroll’s father, Stephen Rablen began regaling guests with his rendition of the song “Turkey in the Straw” on his fiddle, Eva excused herself and went outside to visit with her husband. She took a tray of sandwiches and coffee to him. He smiled proudly at her and commented on how thoughtful it was for her to bring him some refreshments. Carroll helped himself to a cup of coffee, blew across the top of it to cool it down then took a sip. He made a bit of a face as if the coffee lacked something. He took another drink to determine what it needed.

 

Object Matrimony

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To learn more about how mail-order bride Eva Brandon killed

her husband read

Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier.

 

 

 

 

 

A Wife Wanted

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“I am a man of wealth and position,” said the widower Shyon Brane to the marriage broker, “and I seek a suitable mate. She must be handsome, cleanly, economical, industrious, and virtuous, a good cook she must be, a thrifty buyer, a capable housekeeper, and not easily stressed. She must know something of music and the arts, dance well and be able to discourse intelligently on history and philosophy withal, she must be cheerful and of affectionate disposition.”

“Lo,” said the marriage broker, “you come too late. One thousand years ago there was such a paragon but the gods took her to keep house for them. There is no wife for you, but the employment agency can supply you with a dozen domestics, who, in a measure, may meet your demands.”

Article placed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico, March 9, 1920.

Object Matrimony

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To learn more about mail-order brides and their potential husbands read

Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier.

 

 

Destined for Disappointment

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Deacon Joe Sleet’s correspondence with the widow Nellie Wallace was full of promise for the future. When they began writing one another in late 1925, Mrs. Wallace had hoped to find a man who would love and care for her as her deceased husband once had. When she placed an ad in the Get Acquainted section of a western magazine and the deacon responded, she believed he was the answer to her heart’s longing. “I’m not a flapper,” her advertisement read, “but I would like to exchange letters with a man between the age of twenty-five and thirty-two. I want a husband good and true, there is a chance it might be you,” the notice concluded.

Twenty-two-year-old Nellie Wallace lived in Tchula, Mississippi, 1,500 miles from Joes Sleet’s home in El Paso, Texas. Of all the letters she received in reply to her ad, Joe’s struck her fancy completely. In a short time Nellie was writing Joe to the exclusion of anyone else. Through his letters she learned that he was a deacon in the Baptist church and that he was a widower. Nellie confided in him that she too was the victim of a sad romance, her husband having died some years ago.

The correspondence was hardly a month old before Joe had been granted permission to call his fair correspondent “Sweetheart.” Another week and respective photographs were exchanged; still another and a row of x’s appeared at the bottom of their letters. Another month passed and more letters were delivered at the Sleet home. In one of those letters Nellie admitted there was a “spark of love aglow” in her heart.

Object Matrimony

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To learn what happened to Deacon Sleet and Nellie Wallace read

Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier.

 

 

The Belle and the Businessman

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The SS Continental pitched and rolled as it traveled over the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean en route to the northwestern section of the United States. The nearly three dozen women on board were violently ill with seasickness and desperate for the waves to subside. They were either lying on their bunks in their berths or hanging over the railing of the vehicle heaving into the sea. The tormented females were part of a unique group headed west in search of a spouse.

In 1860, Asa Mercer, a twenty-one-year-old educator and entrepreneur, conceived the idea of bringing eligible females to the Washington Territory in hopes of settling the area and making it fit for societal advancements. The Pacific Northwest was known as a man’s paradise. Everything a young man ever dreamed of or wanted was there, except young women.

Life without the presence of a woman to share a home and life grew monotonous-so much so, in fact, that a big percentage of single men vowed they could pull up stakes and seek a new place to settle unless someone did something in a hurry. Enter Asa Mercer.

Mercer organized an expedition of prospective brides to go west in 1864. He recruited dozens of young ladies (mostly teachers) to journey to a place where their talent and gender were in high demand. The Mercer Belles, as the primarily Massachusetts-born females became known, welcomed the chance to accompany the businessman on his second voyage to the growing coastal town of Seattle. In addition to offering the chance to meet and marry ambitious, hardworking bachelors, Mercer promised the eager, single passengers honorable employment in schools and good wages.

Object Matrimony

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To learn more about the Mercer Belles and the other mail-order brides who came West read

Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier.

 

 

The New Plan Company Catalog for Matrimony

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Matrimonial clubs date as far back as 1849. Lonely hearts from Syracuse, New York, to San Francisco, California, joined such organizations in hopes of finding a suitable mate with whom to spend the rest of their lives. The New Plan Company based in Kansas City, Missouri, was a matrimonial club that claimed to have more than thirty-two thousand members during its existence from 1911 to 1917. According to the New Plan Company’s handbook, printed in the fall of 1910, the plan and method of the club were simple and easy to understand and follow.

“Our time and money is devoted entirely to the interest of the unmarried. We are dedicated to elevating and promoting the welfare of marriageable people and furnishing them with a safe, reliable, and confidential method at a nominal cost, whereby good honorable people of sincere and moral intentions, may better enable themselves to become acquainted with a large number of such people of the opposite sex as they may deem worthy of consideration, which may lead to their future happiness and prosperity.”

The follow are a sample of some of the ads placed in The New Plan Company catalog:

American; widow by death, age 38; weight, 135; height, 5 feet 6 inches; brown eyes; brown hair; Methodist religion; occupation, housewife, income $700 per year, business education and musician. Have means of $10,000. I am considered very good looking and neat. Will marry if suited.

A nice little blue-eyed Miss from North Carolina, with brown hair, age 18, weight 125, height 54 inches, fair complexion; can sing and plan piano; have a fine home, also have means of $50,000; my occupation is trained nurse; would like to hear from a nice young man of suitable age, rich or poor, but must be good-hearted and true; will marry a true love only.

Am not considered good looking, but make a nice appearance; plain, and neat dresser; immaculate character; quiet, loving disposition; Christian religion, age, 22; weight, 135; height 5 feet 4 inches, blue eyes; blonde hair; light complexion. Would like to hear from gentleman interested in missionary work.

Object Matrimony

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To learn more about the mail-order bride business in the Old West or to read exciting tales about mail-order brides read

Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier.