Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Month: June 2017

Why Am I Already Covering My Ears?

It’s true I’ve gotten older, slightly neurotic, and more than a little cranky, but in my opinion, some Fourth of July festivities have gotten out of control.  Count me in for parties and eating and watching parades, but other things are better observed from afar. Loud explosions and fiery particles landing on trees, grass, and rooftops do not fill me with joy.

Unfortunately, many of my neighbors don’t share this opinion. Fireworks have been exploding for several days now, and if history is any indication, the hoop-la-la will continue (with varying degrees of intensity) well beyond the Fourth. The noise terrorizes pets who run away to flee the scary sounds, burning embers are a fire hazard, and people sometimes lose a few fingers when they forget to run after lighting a fuse.

Another issue is my own dog, Winston, who would rather sneak a pee on the floor than go outside in the middle of World War III. No way, no how is he leaving the house when it sounds like the world is coming to an end.

Do you hear what I hear?

Bogey is less fireworks-challenged than Winston, although he does resent losing the entertainment value provided by watching birds and squirrels in the yard. I’ve often wondered what the woodland creatures must be thinking as they pack their nests and skedaddle from the area huffing, “There go those humans again, ruining the neighborhood. They sure know how to make property values decrease.”

When did Americans enter this love affair with blowing things up?

According to an article in Smithsonian.com, one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Philadelphia threw an enormous party.

One of the most elaborate celebrations in 1777, and the first organized celebration of its kind occurred in Philadelphia. This event had all of the elements of typical future celebrations-the discharge of cannon, one round for each state of the union, the ringing of bells, a dinner, the use of music, the drinking of toasts (it would subsequently be traditional to have one toast for each state of the union), “loud huzzas”, a parade, fireworks, the use of the nation’s colors, in this case the dressing up of “armed ships and gallies” in the harbor. 

Although my neighbors aren’t shooting cannons (at least not yet), my house is shaking from firecrackers and cherry bombs. However, reading about the first celebration did give me an idea on how to cope. If I drink a toast to each state of the union – all fifty of them! – most likely I won’t care what’s happening around me or puddling on my floor.

Bang! Sizzle! Kapow!

It’s true that we each must develop our own methods of getting by. From what Winston is showing me, it looks like one of mine will include a bottle of professional strength Resolve and a great big sponge.

Please follow and like us:

Sharpshooter, Chameleon, and Rival

Years ago, I wrote a short story featuring Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank. I had a great time reading about her and the life she led, and it was fun imagining and penning a tale where Annie’s shooting skills dazzled a crowd of onlookers.

Annie Oakley preparing for an over-the-shoulder shot. I’m betting she didn’t miss her target. (Bettmann/Corbis)

In the course of gathering information, I ran across a young woman who was a major competitor of Annie’s named Lillian Frances Smith. With my focus on Annie, I didn’t pursue any in-depth facts on Lillian. I finished my story and moved on to other things, forgetting all about Annie’s rival.

Until a few months ago.

I discovered a new biography – in fact, the only biography – on Lillian Frances Smith, America’s Best Female Sharpshooter, written by Julia Bricklin. I couldn’t resist it, and ordered the book.

Lillian turns out to be a fascinating character in her own right.

Known as “The California Girl”, Smith amazed crowds at the age of fourteen, performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. As time changed circumstances, she was shrewd enough to reinvent herself in the public eye, becoming “Princess Wenona”. Chameleon-like, she used dark makeup and wore Native American dress, to bill herself as a Sioux sharpshooter. While she invented her Sioux heritage, her sharpshooting skills were real. Records credited to Lillian by the time of her death included such accomplishments as: breaking 71 of 72 glass balls thrown in the air while on the back of a running horse, hitting 300 swinging glass balls in 14 minutes and 33 seconds, and making 24 of 25 8-inch bull’s-eyes at 200 yards. Not shabby shooting at all.

A publicity shot of “Princess Wenona”. (Library of Congress via Smithsonian.com)

This biography not only brings Lillian Smith to life, but discusses the rivalry between Smith and Oakley in a way that helps us understand the differences and similarities between these two women. A look at how the Old West shows were operated by Buffalo Bill and other such entrepreneurs is a bonus.

Julia Bricklin is certainly qualified to tell Lillian’s story. She’s written for Wild West, Civil War Times, Financial History, True West, Smithsonian.com, and History.net. She edits California History.

If you’re looking for a well-researched biography about a strong woman from America’s past, I’d suggest picking up a copy.

Attention historical novelists! Wouldn’t “Princess Wenona” make a fabulous heroine for your next book?

Please follow and like us:

© 2017 Pat Wahler

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Pinterest