This Day in History, March 25th

By Jim Turner

Canal_Grande_Chiesa_della_Salute_e_Dogana_dal_ponte_dell_AccademiaThe World

421 CE – Legend has it that the Republic of Venice was founded on this day. The traditional belief is that authorities from Padua created the state at noon on Friday, when they established the church of San Giacomo (St. James) on the island of Rialto in the city. The area already existed as a collection of lagoon-dwelling fishing communities, as well as communities of refugees from nearby Roman cities fleeing from repeated invasions. Venice has often offered asylum to deposed leaders and the persecuted. Venice began trading with the Islamic world in the 9th century, but by the late 1200s, the “City of Canals” rose to prominence because of ties to the Byzantine Empire. Home of Marco Polo, Titian, and the beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice is the quintessential Renaissance city.

The United States

Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_19111911 – A fire at the Triangle Shirt Waist factory killed 145 workers, leading to a series of laws and regulations to protect factory workers’ safety. The factory was a sweatshop on the top three floors of a ten-story building in downtown Manhattan. It was a cramped space filled with poor immigrant seamstresses, mostly Italian and Jewish teenaged women who did not speak English. Only one of the four elevators was working, and it could only hold twelve people at a time. One of the two stairways to the street was locked from the outside to prevent employee theft. The other door opened inward only.

Triangle protestThere were six hundred workers at the factory on Saturday afternoon when the fire broke out in a rag bin on the eighth floor. The fire hose was rotted, and the valve was rusted shut. Panic broke out, and the elevator broke down after four trips. As women began to jump out the windows, falling bodies crushed firefighters hoses. The fire was out in half an hour, but not before 49 were killed by fire and another hundred were piled up dead in the elevator shaft and on the sidewalk. More than 80,000 people attended a protest on April 5th. The owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were tried for manslaughter but acquitted. As a result of the protest, the Sullivan-Hoey Fire Prevention Law passed in October, and the Democratic Party became known as the reform party from then on.

The West

Little_Wolf_(Ó'kôhómôxháahketa_of_the_Cheyenne,_circa_1902)1879 – Little Wolf, chief of an elite Cheyenne military society called the Bowstring Soldiers, surrendered to his friend Lieutenant W. P. Clark. In conflicts with other tribes like the Kiowa and later with the U.S. Army, Little Wolf led or assisted in many Cheyenne battles. In addition to believed participation in the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, he was also a leader in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Tribal mapAs with many of the other Plains Indian warriors, Little Wolf was finally forced to make peace during the army’s major offensive following the massacre at Little Bighorn. In 1877, the government sent Little Wolf to a reservation in Indian Territory. Disgusted with the meager supplies and conditions on the reservation, in 1878 Little Wolf determined to leave the reservation and head north for the old Cheyenne territory in Wyoming and Montana. Chief Dull Knife and 300 of his followers went with him. A U.S. Cavalry force in Wyoming overtook Little Wolf and his followers in the spring of 1879. His force diminished and people tired, the Cheyenne leader agreed to surrender. Little Wolf served briefly as a scout for General Nelson A. Miles, and then lived out the rest of his life on a reservation.

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Week Two Winner!

Cook Bank Building Ruins, Rhyolite, Nevada by JT Dudrow

Cook Bank Building Ruins, Rhyolite, Nevada by J.T. Dudrow

Congratulations to our winner this week, J.T. Dudrow! We’ve seen many images of the Cook Bank ruins in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada, but his night sky background  gives this particular photo an eerie beauty that made it stand out from the other excellent entries in this week’s contest.

J.T., please email aarond – at – and we’ll send one of our great books to you. Your photo is also in the running for the grand prize awarded at the end of the contest.

Thanks to all of you who entered and voted on your favorites. This week the theme is rivers, so post your photos and keep an eye on the entries to vote for those you like best.

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This week’s photo contest theme: rivers

Autumn on the South Platte, Littleton, CO

Autumn on the South Platte, Littleton, CO

The American West has been shaped by rivers — geologically, historically, and culturally. This week we want to see your interpretation of what rivers mean to the West.

Post your photos ( no more than three per person, please) to our Facebook page any time between now and midnight on Wednesday, the 25th. We’ll announce the weekly winner on the 27th. And don’t forget to ask your friends to visit our page and like your entries. The one photo with the most likes by the end of the contest will win the people’s choice award.

Good luck!

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This Day in History, March 18th

By Jim Turner

In the World

back-to-africa1895 – On this date, two hundred former African slaves left Savannah, Georgia for their new homes in Liberia, Africa. Much of the aid for the trip came through the American Colonization Society (ACS). Founded in 1816 by Robert Finley, the Society consisted of philanthropists, clergy, and abolitionists, whose goal was to free African slaves and help them return to Africa. Slave owners, who feared free blacks, joined the effort. The first African American volunteers established a colony on the Pepper Coast in 1820. By 1867, the ACS had helped more than 13,000 African Americans in moving back to Africa. Free American black colonists in Liberia issued a declaration of independence and created a constitution in 1847.


In the United States

Alexander's_Ragtime_Band1911 – Irving Berlin published “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” the most popular song in the early 20th century. Although the phonograph came on the market in the 1880s, it didn’t become a common household item until the 1920s. The early music industry grew on sales of sheet music. Known for its syncopated beat, similar to jazz, ragtime was first introduced to the American masses at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Based on sheet music sales, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” topped 1.5 million copies in the first 18 months it was on the market. It helped turn American popular music into an international phenomenon. U.S. involvement in World War I added to that cultural shift, and suddenly American music, especially ragtime and jazz, spread throughout Europe.

Unlike Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” “Ragtime Band” was simple to play, even by an amateur, and since sheet music was purchased by amateurs, it sold more than more difficult songs.

In the West

Wells Fargo from LOC1852 – Henry Wells and William G. Fargo gathered investors in New York City to found their famous stage line. The California Gold Rush of 1849 caused a huge demand for cross-country shipping, and these men were there at the right time. They shipped their first load of goods to the mining camps in July, 1852. The company hired independent stagecoaches to provide the fastest possible transportation and gold delivery. Wells, Fargo, and Company also became a bank, buying gold dust, selling bank drafts, and providing loans.

Butterfield-OverlandKnown for their famous Concord coaches, they merged with the Butterfield Overland Stage Company in 1857. Wells, Fargo and Company also merged with several pony express and stagecoach lines in 1866 to become the largest transportation company in the West. They began to ship by rail when the first transcontinental railroad was complete three years later, and by 1910 its shipping network connected 6,000 locations.

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Tucson Festival of Books photos


Thanks to all who came out to the Tucson Festival of Books! We had a great time mingling with thousands of book lovers! Thanks also to our authors who came to sign books and talk with readers. Gregory McNamee is pictured below, author of The Ancient Southwest. See you next year!image4 Sylvia Rio Nuevo booth 2015 Aaron

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And the winner is…

Week one Winer Hoekman

Pond on the top of a petrified sand dune. Snow Canyon State Park. Ivins, Utah. Feb. 23, 2015. 9:28 AM.

Wow, what a beautiful assortment of entries to choose from this week! While the rest of the country is anxiously awaiting spring and the melt of massive amounts of snow that have made winter miserable, those of us lucky enough to live in the West have been out enjoying the unexpected beauty of winter.

After much deliberation, our winner this week is Chuck Hoek’s photo taken in the aptly named Snow Canyon State Park in Utah. Our eyes were drawn not only to the mystery of the fog in the background, but to the textural quality of the snow on sandstone in the foreground.

Congratulations, Chuck! Please email aarond – at – and we’ll mail you a book.

Our theme this week is historic places, and we’re looking forward to your entries. Don’t forget to remind your friends to like your entries on our Facebook page — the peoples choice award goes to the entry with the most likes.


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Review of The Ancient Southwest

Jim Burnett of National Parks Traveler wrote a nice review of The Ancient Southwest: A Guide to Archaeological Sites, by Gregory McNamee with photographs by Larry Lindahl.

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Spring Photo Contest Week Two: Historic Places

Historic stage stop outside of Denver.

Historic stage stop outside of Denver.

One of the great things about living in the West, besides the beautiful weather and spectacular scenery, is that the dry climate preserves buildings. Ancient cliff dwellings, ruined mining towns, empty roads, and trading posts dot the landscape. We know many of our friends are drawn to historic places, so send us your shots.

Post three of your favorites on our Facebook page before midnight on Wednesday, the 18th. We’ll announce the winner the following Friday. Don’t forget to ask your friends to like your entries — the peoples choice winner is the one with the most likes at the end of the contest.

Good luck!

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To Build A Nest: Hummingbirds and Elasticity

(In honor of spider strands and tiny birds)

“There is another World, but it is in this one.”  W.B. Yeats
A nest in my yard from a few years back.

A nest in my yard from a few years back.

By Linda McKittrick

(Reprinted with permission from Savor the Southwest.)

Aunt Linda here on a very gusty March morning. Good thing that spiders provide their silky webs to the world, or the tiny nest right outside our door and its contents might have been catapulted into oblivion. The full moon is setting in the West, the direction I am facing as I write. Its white light is being thrown about as it passes through mesquite branches in a still beautifully dark sky. We can practically taste Spring on our tongues here in the Old Pueblo. The ancient call of regeneration is in the air. Plants and pollinators alike are in full swing. Native and non-native bees are at the stone fruit trees; birds are wooing one another with their lyrical mating songs. It is easy to forget the function some birds play in pollination. Pollination by birds has its own name: “ornithophily.” Hummingbirds, orioles, and nectar-seeking birds are but a few types of birds that pollinate native plants, trees, and crops and that animals (including humans) 2

What re-focused me on ornithophily was the hummingbird nest right outside the front door that a female hummer built about nineteen or twenty days ago. Watching her secure the nest was fascinating. For about five days, she brought gathered materials, using beak, chin, wings, and her little bird rump to form and secure the nest inside and out. When she was ready, she laid her first egg. The second was the laid the very next day. Throughout this process, I watched her bring materials such as spider webs to the nest. Intermittently, she would feast on the offerings of tubular flowers as well as upon tiny insects (that move in small, but visible, insect-clouds) high in the air. Her graceful, skillful movements allowed her to move easily among the flowers and to pick insects out of midair.

This whole episode opened my eyes and interest WIDE OPEN. I began researching the hatching time for baby hummers, which is approximately fifteen to sixteen days. I stayed well away from the nest. Until yesterday, day sixteen. When she left to forage, I carefully approached the nest, skillfully built higher than many a predator can reach and higher than my eye level. Careful not to touch the nest or any leaves around it, I held my camera higher than the nest, and saw via photo that the first baby bird had hatched. (Note: It is not because of the birds “sense of smell” that I am careful not to touch around the nest and leave a scent, but because of predators!)

A nest under construction near my front door.

A nest under construction near my front door.

Anatomy of a Nest

I have been studying up on hummingbird nests. The bottom and the wind side of the nest are often thicker than the downwind side. The thinner sides allow for breezes to pass though on warmer days, when cooling is needed. Interestingly, hummingbird nests built in the earlier and cooler springtime are thicker and deeper than those built in the warmer summer months. She camouflages the outside of the nest with materials from the immediate environment. Here in Tucson, many hummingbird nests have tiny mesquite leaves and strips of bark from native trees. The insides are made soft with gathered materials – over the years I have seen in this yard alone nests made from cotton swiped from cotton plants that we had hung on the porch from the winter, wool from a mask made of sheep hair, stuffing gathered from outdoor furniture that had seen better days. You can clearly see in these photos the innovative use of spider webs in nest construction. She uses them to secure the base, as well as to build the capacity for elasticity into the nest – so it remains intact even as the babies grow.

Usually, a female hummingbird will build and fasten the nest onto the part of a tree or bush where branches overlap, crossing each other or making a “Y”  for stability. This is so the eggs or baby birds do not get catapulted off in one of springtime’s storms or gusty winds like we have had here over the past few days. Note in the photo above how the spider webs are woven into the nest, as well as how they fasten it to the base branches. I have read that hummers will actually test and retest the site by repeatedly landing on it to see how it will hold. This skillful construction has helped the nest stay secure during the past few days of wind, whereas this little egg (a robin egg perhaps?) did not fare so well. The broken egg photo was taken a three minute walk from the hummer nest. (Note: A reader knowledgeable about birds wrote me to say she thinks the broken eggs are a curve-billed thrasher! Thank you!!!)

photo 4


About eighteen years ago, a docent at the Desert Museum shared a story that opened up the way I thought about the interconnectedness of things in nature. After meticulous research into the types of hummingbirds, plants, and their habitat requirements, the Desert Museum built a beautiful state-of-the-art hummingbird sanctuary/exhibit. Once the hummingbirds were introduced, all appeared to be well – they fed and flew contentedly, living the lives hummingbirds do. All appeared fine in hummingbird paradise – except that no nest building was going on.

As you can imagine, this was taken very seriously, and after thorough research, it was discovered that no spiders had been introduced into the ecosystem of the site. When spiders were introduced to the hummer system, and webs were spun and thus available, the hummers began building nests. For me, this is very profound, this deep interconnectedness of spider and baby hummer. It gives practical meaning to the idea of the web of life. It is also quite a gorgeous thing to behold – this gathering of spider webs by agile hummers. The first time I saw it, it was only because the shiny silver strands were backlit by the sun. The female gathered them in her beak with a kind of sweeping motion of her body.

Recipe – Tiny Egg Salad Nests (formally known as Deviled Eggs)

photo 5

Like tiny hummer nests in and of themselves, hardboiled egg whites are well built and can hold precious cargo. Packed with protein, eggs are a healthy and tasty treat. Use herbs from your own garden or local surroundings to flavor your tiny nest-snack.

Use your favorite deviled egg recipe; most people have one. In case you have not made them in a while, here is a basic recipe.

6 eggs, hard boiled

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons mustard

salt and paprika to taste

Herbs from the garden – I used cilantro, parsley, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), even chiltepin. If you use tea eggs, you can enjoy the spider web-like pattern motif on the outside of your tiny nest!

I often chop up the egg whites that break as I am preparing them and add them to the deviled egg mixture – it makes it more like a true egg salad within the tiny egg white nest.

Make sure to “weave in” your version of silk silver spider strands of elasticity into whatever you are incubating.

Recipe to Make Your Own Yard/Surrounds Hummer-Friendly:

*Provide nectar by planting their favorite plants (find out what is local to your region). Here in Tucson that includes wild and domestic tubular flowers such as penstemon, a desert wildflower. Hummers likely co-evolved with long, tubular flowering plants (think the length and shape of their beaks and tongues) and move deftly to such crimson red flowers in the herb garden as salvias, trumpet vine, penstemon, ocotillo blossoms, and chuparosa tubes. They are also insect eaters and pick the tiny, only to be seen if back lit insects right out of the air.

*Leave spider webs – and lichen (!) if you live in a region with lichen, for nest building.

* Avoid the use of harmful chemical sprays and poisons on your plants as the hummingbirds do rub up against blooms as they seek nectar and eat insects (for protein).

* Make sure there is a water source for them.

The new hatchling in the nest.

The new hatchling in the nest.

I am happy to share that the nest rode out a very gusty night and morning just fine.

Let’s all send some appreciation to spiders for their webs, even when we might find them a little creepy – and to the skillful nest building of female hummingbirds.

Linda is both an urban and a rural food producer. She ranches in the Sierra Madre foothills in Northern Mexico. She also keeps honeybees and fosters native bee habitat in the urban Southwest. She enjoys raising poultry, with a special fondness for heirloom breeds. She sees herself as an extension of the hives, flocks, and herds among which she lives. A version of this post originally appeared on her blog, Savor the Southwest.

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This Day in History: March 11th

By Jim Turner

In the World

Frankenstein_poster_19311818 – Twenty-one-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. One rainy afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland, her friend the poet Lord Byron convinced Mary and her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, that they should each write a gothic ghost story. She had journeyed down the Rhine River in 1814 and passed the Frankenstein Castle, where an alchemist had engaged in experiments two centuries before, which gave her a spark of an idea.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The trio had recently discussed Galvanism, the theory that electricity can generate life, which was a popular topic at the time. After thinking for days, Mary Shelley came up with the idea of a scientist who created a living being and was horrified by the results.


In the United States

(King1893NYC)_pg047a_THE_BLIZZARD_OF_MARCH_1888_(PHOTO_BY_LANGILL)1888 –The Blizzard of ’88 began. Temperatures plunged as cold Arctic air from Canada collided with southern Gulf Stream air, creating one of the worst blizzards in American history. By midnight, 85-mile-an-hour winds were reported in New York City. Citizens awoke to a complete whiteout. Elevated trains were out of commission, as were trains, telegraph lines, water mains, and gas lines. Repair crews could not reach the problems. The blizzard dumped fifty-five inches of snow in some areas and killed more than four hundred people. At that time, about 25% of Americans lived between Washington D.C. and Maine.

“It was as if New York had been a burning candle upon which nature had clapped a snuffer, leaving nothing of the city’s activity but a struggling ember.”

New York Sun, Tuesday, March 13, 1888

Mark_Twain_by_AF_BradleyMark Twain, stranded at his New York hotel, later wrote, “The … storm, a true Nor’easter, rolled down the Atlantic seaboard burying cities and towns from Maine to Washington, D.C. and as far inland as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania beneath a deep blanket of snow. Walking, well walking any distance was simply out of the question. If you could get out of your house that is…. Fire-fighters and their equipment were practically stranded inside their stations. If you got sick or injured there was no way doctors could get to you, or for you to get to them. Until the roads were cleared anyway. Nothing moved during that storm.”


In the Wild West


Ben Thompson

1884 – Texas gunslinger Ben Thompson was shot and killed from behind at the Vaudeville Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Knottingly, West Yorkshire, England in 1843, he and his family immigrated to Austin, Texas in 1851. He served in the Confederate 2nd Texas Cavalry in the Civil War, and then joined Emperor Maximilian’s forces in Mexico until the fall of the empire in 1867. He then became a Texas gambler, earning a reputation as a fast gun.


Wild Bill Hickok

Thompson opened the Bull’s Head Saloon in the cattle boomtown of Abilene, Kansas in 1870 with a partner, Phil Coe. There they recruited John Wesley Hardin to rid the town of town marshal Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok then killed Coe in a gunfight, and both Thompson and Hardin left town. The legendary Wyatt Earp told biographer Stuart Lake that he had arrested Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, but modern researchers have found no substantiating evidence to that effect.

After serving prison time for various shootouts from 1868 to 1878, Ben Thompson was hired by Bat Masterson as a security agent for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. He opened a gambling hall in 1880, and was elected city marshal of Austin, Texas. Thompson shot and killed prominent sportsman Jack Harris in a card game quarrel in 1882, resigned his marshalcy, and returned to the life of a professional gambler. In 1884, when Thompson approached Harris’s former gambling partners, Joe Foster and Bill Simms, their two hidden accomplices shot him.

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