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A Rapist and Murderer Hanged, 1937

This post is a little off my beaten path because it deals with crimes-murder and rape, to be more specific-the murder and rape of three little girls.

I recently purchased two 1937 copies of Life Magazine for $1.00 each. The purchase was a departure from my usual purchase of old magazines because 1937 was not of the World War Two war years of 1939-1945. But for a $1.00 each I could hardly go wrong.

While paging through both magazines I could not help to contrast the content between the 1937 editions of Life and the war years editions. It raised in my mind the observation that Life through its photo journalism specialty emphasized what was important to Americans at the time. The War in Europe would dominate from 1939 to 1945 but prior to those years and after Life was more domestic in outlook.

So here we are in 2014 and sadly we are getting used to mass murder and serial killers. In 1937 both seemed rare and so were big news. Below is the sad story of three little girls and an enraged community.

Below is the cover of of the July 19th, 1937 edition of Life. The picture is of a little black girl in Harlem cooling off in what was apparently a very hot summer.


The picture that caught my eye and raised my curiosity is the one below.


The first paragraph of the caption reads like this:

“This is the face of the worst kind of criminal-the kind whose acts turn civilized men and women into lynch mobs. It belongs to commonplace-looking men who move unmolested through the streets of U.S. cities. It reveals itself at last, in cellars and alleys and by lonely roads, to the most innocent and defenseless of humans. It is the face most hated and feared by police and parents throughout the world. It is the despoiler of children.”

The man’s name was Albert Dyer. Dyer was convicted late June, 1937 of raping and murdering  Madeline Everett, 7, her sister Melba, 9 and their playmate, Jeanette Stephens, 8. The crime occurred near Los Angeles.

According to  Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murder, Dyer, who was employed as a WPA crossing guard and volunteer policeman lured the girls into an isolated ravine where he raped and killed each one. After the murders he ritually cleaned the bodies and prayed over them!

Dyer was an unlikely suspect because he was a WPA crossing guard and volunteer policeman. He was caught because after the bodies were discovered he showed up at the scene. His bizarre behavior at the scene of the crime made the police suspicious.

Part of the back story to the Dyer case was that in order to get Dyer to confess the police told him he could explain himself to the angry mob who wanted to lynch him. It would not work today but at the time it did and Dyer confessed.

As the grandfather of a five-year-old girl I could identify with the angry mob anxious for vigilante justice. Even today with our soft on crime mindset child molesters and child murderers are thought to be worst of the worst and worthy of only death.

Dyer was hanged at San Quentin Prison in 1938.

The link above at Murderpedia gives more detail as to what happened, Dyer’s statements at the time and much more background information.

Life Magazine noted this:

“In New York City arrests for sex crimes average one every six hours. Most offenders get off with fines or short jail terms, are then turned loose to commit new crimes. The only remedy for this alarming evil, say psychiatrists, is to make the punishment fit the crime but the criminal, to keep such men locked up for life, or until their abnormality has been cured.”

We live in a society and culture that seems to believe that mankind is getting better-more good, if you will. A child murderer like Dyer is deemed “sick” or as Life put it, “abnormal.” Far too easily we attribute “mental illness” to crime and in some cases, if not most it mitigates against a harsher punishment for just plain evil.

We are not getting better as these stats from FBI Crime Statistics show. An optimistic view of mankind is certainly not the Bible’s view of mankind’s sorry state.

Dyer was hanged as a deterrent for others who might be considering a heinous crime Some argue that the death penalty has not proven to be a deterrent and given the rising crime rates even in states that have the death penalty perhaps they are right.

One thing is certain-by hanging Dyer the State of California insured that he would not be raping and murdering any more little girls and that’s good enough for me.




New Cars for 1940!

“Hitler sure made a mistake fighting us. Every kid from age 14 on knows how to drive a car or a truck. We are a nation on wheels!” (line in a movie from a US tank driver somewhere in France in 1944.)

As a kid I think I watched every World War 2 movie ever made (mostly produced in the 1950’s). Most were of the “B film” variety and had lame dialogue like the lines above that I vaguely remember.  The movies also conveyed the overall message that the USA pretty much won the war all by itself.

This of course was nonsense since Britain and the Commonwealth countries had been fighting against Germany and Italy since 1939-40 and the US didn’t get into the war until late 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

American automotive productive production not only put own armies on wheels but also the Soviet Union in the Lend-Lease program. Consider these production figures:

During WW2 the US produced 108,410 tanks and 2,382,311 other motor vehicles. The Soviet Union produced 106,025 tanks and 197,100 other motor vehicles.

Russia today downplays the Allied contribution to their war effort but the facts below speak for themselves (and these facts say nothing about the enormous number of tanks and motor vehicles supplied to Soviet Russia by Britain and Canada.)

The US sent to the Soviet Union during WW2 44,000 jeeps, 375, 883 trucks, 8,071 tractors and 12,700 tanks. (lend lease to the Soviet Union)

All of it came from the US automotive industry.

In 1940 the US was still at peace and the ads and stories in Life Magazine reflected the calm before the storm to come. On October 23, 1939 Life Magazine ran a huge story on the City of Detroit-headline and first page pictured below. Detroit in 1940 and for many years after was the US powerhouse for the manufacture of cars and trucks. This went virtually unchallenged until the 1970’s when Japanese imports began to make their appearance in American markets.

Nevertheless, in 1940 Detroit was the king city of the automobile industry and the ads below reflect perhaps the last opportunity Americans would have to purchase a new car (until 1946 when domestic production resumed). The ads are all from the October 23, 1939 issue of Life Magazine.

Detroit 1939

The caption reads, “The big men of Detroit” and lists who they are. One is the the CEO of Chrysler and another the CEO of General Motors. 

Plymouth 1940

The line on the bottom reads, “The Low-Priced Brand with the Luxury Ride.” A top of the line Plymouth in 1940 went for about $1,000.00.  According the National Archives the average yearly wage in 1940 was $1368.00.

Ford 1940

A top of the line Ford also went for around $1000.00 and on the low end you could get a Ford for a little under $700.00


According to American Cars.com a 1940 DeSoto went for between $850.00 and $1000.00. DeSoto was a division of Chrysler and the brand disappeared by 1961. 

Studebaker 1940

Seeing Studebaker advertise a new car for $660.00 prompted me to try and find out what the others on this page went for. It seems that Studebaker was targeting the economy class with their two page ad that ran in October, 1939. My dad worked as an auto mechanic after he got out the Army in 1946. He loved the Studebakers and bought one in the early 1950’s. He was always sorry he sold it. 



Life Advertisements, 1943

Below is a collection of World War Two ads from the same issue of Life Magazine, September 13, 1943. Most if not all US industries were on a war footing and produced equipment to be used in various weapon’s systems and support systems. The goal was to inform the public as to what they were doing to help win the war.

If you look carefully, some of the ads have a line encouraging the purchase of war-bonds. Warbonds was how the US financed the war. The idea was to by a bond at such and such a price that could be redeemed later as interest was accrued. If memory serves me I think there were 8-9 war-bond drives. A military hero was usually the main attraction at the public events.

I selected mostly large color adds that have a military connection.


Here General Motors is advertising “nose cannons” using a real Army Air Force logo. The airplane looks like a drawing of a P-39 Airacobra. The nose cannon would have been a 37mm and the aircraft itself would have been used mostly for ground attack by 1943. Huge numbers of P-39s went to Soviet Russia as part of Lend-Lease.


This is an ad for the famous Willy’s Jeep-an all purpose utility vehicle. From WikipediaWillys (English: /ˈwɪlɪs/ or /ˈwɪləs/[1]) was a brand name used by Willys-Overland Motors, an American automobile company best known for its design and production of military Jeeps (MBs) and civilian versions (CJs) during the 20th century. (I believe the word “Jeep” was derived from GP, the letters used to designate the vehicle in the first government contract. The company later merged with Kaiser, then American Motors and then Daimler Chrysler and then Fiat. The Jeep was the predecessor of the Humvee.


The use of helicopters in WW2 was in its infancy. This ad must have seemed like Science Fiction in 1943.


Prior to WW2 tanks communicated with each other by the commander standing in the hatch giving hand signals. The Russians used that system well into the war with only 1 in 10 tanks having a radio. American tanks each had one enabling communication with tank commanders at the platoon level-the level where tactics were the most important. Belmont Radio went out of business in 1952 and the radios are now collector’s items. The tank appears to be an M4 Sherman of which over 50,000 were built.


I love the black and white artwork with this ad and had to use it. It features a “White M3 Halftrack” mounting a 75mm field gun. The field gun was used as a light howitzer and anti-tank weapon. The half-track was manufactured by White and Autocar was their halftrack division. Half-tracks were used primary as armored personnel carriers but also in a number of other roles serving as anti-aircraft platforms, mortar carriers and ambulances. American made half-tracks served in most allied armies in WW2 and survived in the Israeli Army well into the 1970’s. My dad worked for Autocar briefly after the war.


World War Two like most wars brought technological improvements as each side tried to gain military advantage. The U-boat threat to allied shipping was very real and whole classes of warships were used to chase down the wolf-packs. This ad is all about improving speed and range with improved diesel engines. The ship is probably a destroyer-escort which was a smaller version of a destroyer and used primary to escort convoys. As a 17-year-old Sea Cadet I was able to take a short cruise on Lake Michigan on a WW2 vintage DE. The smell of diesel on the lake that day was overpowering as the ship pitched back and forth in a “mildly rough sea.”. Many a sailor (not me) lost their lunch over the side.


Aluminum was a vital component in the manufacture of aircraft and Alcoa (still in business today) did their bit. According to the ad 95,000 people were employed by Alcoa in 1943. The artwork is interesting as it features a sergeant of the ground crew. Those were the guys that kept the airplanes patched up and flying. Pilots loved their ground crews for good reason since their lives depended on their mechanical skill. The airplane appears to be a B-24 Liberator Bomber. The B-24 is less well known than the B-17 Flying Fortress. He had a longer range than the B-24 but had many drawbacks. The Aviation Online Museum 


H.M.S. Aboukir

Illustrated London News October 21, 1914


The Illustrated London News, Oct.21st, 1914

Dead on the Filed of Honor: Naval and Military Officers who have been killed on active service

In the October 3, 1914 issue of my London Illustrated News there is a two page photograph record of the British Army and Navy officers killed in combat in the preceding month.

The second page is made up predominantly of naval officers. All are from three ships; the H.M.S. Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy. All three ships were armored cruisers of the Cressy class and were in Navy lingo, “sister ships.”

I discovered that the ships were sister ships when I searched for the H.M.S. Aboukir. I also discovered that all three ships were lost on the same day and were sunk by the same German submarine, the U-9 commanded, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Aboukir_(1900)


According to the Wikipedia article cited above the Aboukir was torpedoed first. The Hogue moved to the Aboukir’s aid and it to was torpedoed as it tried to rescue crewmen from the rapidly sinking Aboukir. The Hogue sank in ten minutes.

The Cressy attempted to ram the U-Boat but failed and it to was torpedoed and sank in thirty-five minutes.

Dutch and British fishing trawlers rescued a total of 837 men from the three ships. Sixty-two officers and 1, 397 enlisted men were lost. About a third were lost from the Aboukir which was torpedoed first.

Here is the list of officers pictured in the October 3, 1914 issue of The London Illustrated News.

H.M.S. Aboukir

Lieut-Com T. E. Harrison

Lieut B.H.M. Bradford

Lieut J.G Watson

Lieut O.W. Tottie

Engr-Com A.E. Everitt

Midshipman G.B. Barchard

Midshipman A.V.G. Allsop

H.M.S. Hogue

Lieut-Com H.E. DE P. Rennick

Lieut-CM C. Phillips-Wolley

Midshipman G.C. Harold

H.M.S. Cressy

Lieut-Com E. P. Gabbett

Lieut-Com B.M. Harvey

Lieut S. Wise

Lieut P.A. G. Kell

Lieut-Com Watkins Grubb

Surgn A. E. Turnbull

Midshipman J.A. Proude

Midshipman F.G. Matthews

Since the total number of officers pictured is considerably under the 62 officers lost I’m assuming future issues of the News would list the remainder if possible.

My friend Martin Gibson has supplied me with this link that lists the names of all the UK and Commonwealth naval casualties in WW1.

Otto Weddington, the commander of the U-9 sank the three armored cruisers in about an hour. For the feat he was awarded the Iron Cross, first and second class as well as other medals. In 1915 while commanding another U-Boat Weddington and his entire crew were lost when rammed by the H.M.S. Dreadnought-a battleship! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Weddigen


German U-Boat WW1

At the outbreak of World War One the Royal Navy still ruled the waves. The technology associated with naval vessels was advancing at a rapid pace. This can be illustrated in that the Aboukir had been completed in 1902 and put into the reserve fleet by 1912-an active service life of only ten years. It was reactivated in 1914 at the outbreak of the war but was no doubt considered a useful but second line type ship.

Germany sought to challenge Britain’s dominance of the waves by constructing it’s own High Seas Fleet. It fought one major battle at Jutland in 1916 and failed to achieve much of anything. The High Seas Fleet stayed in port bottled up by the Royal Navy as the Royal Navy blockaded Germany eventually bringing the country to the brink of starvation.

As a result of the blockade the Germans relied more and more on U-Boat warfare in an effort to starve Great Britain first even as Germany began to starve due to the Royal Navy’s blockade.

Most of the dramatic successes that the U-Boats enjoyed were in the earlier parts of the war. The allies reacted to the U-Boats by building and employing many more destroyers and other sub-hunting craft. Transports became part of convoy systems escorted by destroyers and the U-Boats suffered fearful losses of their own.

As the war went on Germany became more desperate to break the British blockade and reintroduced unrestricted submarine warfare-meaning that the U-Boats would sink neutral ships suspected of supplying Britain.

This is what brought the United States into the war in April, 1917 thus sealing Germany’s doom in the Great War.

But before that would happen there would be many Aboukir’s sunk and thousands of lives lost on both sides. The list of officers in my issue of The London Illustrated News is sadly just a sampling of the terrible cost that was the First World War.


The Illustrated London News, Oct. 17, 1914 and CH Collett

This past summer I found what I consider an amazing find-a World War One copy of The Illustrated London News. It’s marked on the inside, Sante Fe Reading Room and somehow it made it to an obscure antique store in SW Wisconsin.


I picked it up for the sum of $10.00.

The Illustrated London News appeared first on Saturday 14 May 1842, as the world’s first illustrated weekly news magazine.[1] Founded by Herbert Ingram, it appeared weekly until 1971, then less frequently thereafter, and ceased publication in 2003. The company continues today as Illustrated London News Ltd, a publishing, content and digital agency in London, which holds the publication and business archives of the magazine.  (Wiki-The Illustrated London News)

As described in the above paragraph the magazine can still be viewed in digital form and given that it dates back to 1842 that’s something any history buff could enjoy. Nevertheless, I obtained a hard copy in fair shape that dates back to the early days of World War One.

The magazine seems to be a cross between a magazine and a newspaper. It features numerous pictures and art work as well as good articles to support the pictures and illustrations. You certainly get a feel for the period reading through it! (The ads are fascinating and give an excellent idea of what products were popular 100 years ago.)

Virtually the entire issue is dedicated to World War One. Bt the time this issue was published Great Britain had been involved for about three months declaring war on Germany following the German violation of the Belgian border as they advanced on France.

The first article is a lengthy article divided into smaller articles titled The Great War. On the first page it mentions an aviator by the name of C. H. Collett, an officer of the Royal Marine Artillery. (Aviators were recruited from all others branches of service since no country had yet organized an Air Force as we know them today.) Finding out more about C. H. Collet became a bit of an obsession.

I ran a Google search for Flight-Lieutenant Collett. Th search turned up his picture in two places on the Web and one of them is on eBid as a reprint from a 1917 Imperial Tobacco Card and the other is on Wiki.

So, how did Flight-Lieutenant Collett get his picture on a 1917 Imperial Tobacco Card?

Collett was a bit of a celebrity before the war because he made a non-stop flight between Plymouth and Grimsby, both in the UK. Grimsby is about 350 miles from Plymouth and today its takes about 5 1\2 hours by car to make the trip. I can only wonder how long it took in an early biplane (actually an early monoplane-see below)  since they didn’t go much faster than today’s cars. I’m guessing it took about the same amount of time. Ironically, Collett performed the feat in a German airplane.

Collett gained further fame during the early days of World War One because he bombed a German Zeppelin hanger in Dusseldorf, Germany. The History Channel did an article on the raid which took place on September 21st, 1914. The article can viewed here. Collett received the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the raid.

Collett was regarded as one of the best naval airmen in those days of early aviation.

Collett’s unit was part of the terrible Gallipoli Campaign where his unit flew bombing missions and performed reconnaissance duties. By August 1915 his unit was back in Britain where sadly, Collet was killed in a flying accident. You can see what else we have of Collett’s history and record here.

A couple of pages later in the magazine there is a two page spread titled; Dead On The Field Of Honor Naval and Military Officers Who Have Been Killed on Active Service. The spread has small pictures of each officer along with their name and unit or ship. There is about 50 pictures and although limited to officers it does give a glimpse into the terrible carnage of World War One. I wonder if Collett appears in future issues of the The London Illustrated News?

On the bottom of the page it lists other officers killed and it ends with this line: The death-roll of our Army and Navy grows day-by-day, but, while we deplore the sorrow which casualties bring, the names will live for all time in the chronicle of the world’s greatest war.

Little did they know that the war to end all wars would last another four years killing millions. Little did they know that the war to end all wars would not be the last “great war” for another wold be fought twenty-five years later and that too would kill millions.




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The Ghosts of Cannae_Book Review

The Ghosts of Cannae-Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

by Robert O’Connell


Imagine if you will being one of the few survivors of perhaps the worst military disaster  of all time-a disaster that saw 90% of  your comrades killed!

Then imagine your government blaming you and the other survivors for the disaster while your leader\general who got you into the disaster in the first place suffered no consequence and was in fact rewarded with another command while you and your fellow survivors were exiled.

Your exile would be to a far away place and you would be cut off from family and friends. Although you still are a soldier you would not be paid and yet be expected to do whatever duty you and the other survivors are ordered to do.  To your government and to your family and friends you are a living ghost-someone who should have died in the disaster but did not.

This was the fate of the 10,000 survivors of the Battle of Cannae and the worst military disaster Rome would ever suffer. Your exile and the exile of fellow survivors would have dire consequences for the Roman Republic although that would be in the future. (You’ll have to read the book to see what O’Connell says about those consequences.)

O’Connell has written a brilliant book that comes in at a little over 300 pages. It includes notes, references and a helpful glossary to help the reader wade through the names of the major personalities involved in the 2nd Punic War.

Chief among those personalities is the general who inflicted the catastrophe at Cannae- Hannibal Barca. Carthage’s military genius and truly one of the greatest military geniuses of all time.

Carthage was humiliated in the 1st Punic War by Rome-a situation made worse because the opportunistic Romans did not have any qualms by kicking the Carthaginians once they had won. Among other insults the Romans took the opportunity to seize Sardinia from the Carthaginians while the Carthaginians were busy putting down a mercenary revolt in Africa.

Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father and one of the few successful Carthaginian commanders in the first war developed an insatiable hatred for Rome. It is thought (with reasonable conjecture) that Hamilcar passed on this hatred to his three sons; Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. It was Hamilcar who carved out an empire in Iberia (modern-day Spain) after the loss of Sardinia and Sicily to the Romans. It was from the Carthaginian holdings in Spain that Hannibal would launch his invasion of Italy through an epic journey through the Alps.


Once in Italy Hannibal would defeat every Roman army sent against him. In three major battles, Ticinus, Trasimene and Trebia Hannibal would show his genius and humiliate one Roman army after another.

After these defeats Q. Fabius Maximus (wisely) devised a strategy of avoiding battle with Hannibal and relied on attrition instead. Although the strategy would become THE strategy after Cannae it was unpopular when first devised.

In addition to being the type of people who never gave up the Romans were aggressive to point of recklessness. The aggressive party lost patience with the Fabian refusal to face Hannibal in the open and instead raised a massive army of 80,000 infantry (Romans and Italian allies) and 6,000 cavalry.

It was thought with some good reason that this massive army would smash Hannibal’s outnumbered Carthaginian polyglot army that included Iberians (from Spain) Gauls and a core of African spearmen and end the invasion once and for all. The aggressive party failed to factor in Hannibal himself who was not apparently intimidated in the least.

Instead Hannibal took a huge risk with an unorthodox battle formation. Instead of the usual placement of the best troops in the center of a battle line he placed his veteran Africans in columns on both flanks supported on both flanks by the one advantage the Carthaginians had over the Romans; their cavalry, light horse in the form of Numidian’s and heavy horse supplied by the Iberians and Gauls. In the Carthaginian center he placed his Gauls the most expendable of his troops and the more easily replaceable. To stiffen the Gauls who could become fickle after their first fierce charge he placed his trusted Iberians to provide that stiffening.


The idea was for the Gauls and Iberians to engage first and then slowly give ground. As the Romans advanced in the center and the Carthaginian cavalry gained the flanks the Romans would be subjected to getting surrounded once the Romans pushed into the center far enough to allow the African spearmen to box them in on both flanks.

The plan was risky because it relied upon the Gauls and Iberians in the center to give ground slowly in the face of the Roman juggernaut. Retro movements in an ancient battle often meant a recipe for a rout.


Miniatures from my war game collection-a Roman Legion from the period of Cannae.

But the Iberians and Gauls held just long enough for the Carthaginian cavalry to rout the Roman\Allied cavalry on both flanks and then return to attack the Roman infantry in the rear. At the same time the columns of African spearmen wheeled into phalanxes and boxed the Romans in on both sides while the resurgent Gauls and Iberians contained the Romans from the front.


Gauls or Celts. Thousands of Gauls joined Hannibal to fight their hated enemy the Romans. This base is from my miniature collection.

The Romans were actually too numerous to maneuver or even fight. Once they realized their predicament many tried to surrender or simply allowed themselves to be killed where they stood. It was a bloodbath that frankly exhausted the victors as they butchered the trapped legions.


Celtic warband

The Romans lost upwards of 50,000 men. Approximately 10,000 survived because they held the Roman camp. A few thousand others must have managed to cut their way out as did some of the cavalry who escorted the Roman General Varro off the field.


Carthaginian war elephant

It is likely that any other ancient state would have sued for peace after such a disaster, but not Rome.  If there had been a chance Rome would give in it would have occurred right after the battle had Hannibal threatened Rome itself while the Romans were still in shock.

Instead, Hannibal moved in a different direction hoping to shatter the alliance Rome had with their Italian allies. It was the kind of fortunate break the Roman Senate needed to recover and raise even more armies. One of the remarkable things about the 2nd Punic War is the seemingly inexhaustible reserve of manpower that Rome and her allies could draw upon. Although desperate at times by enlisting slaves it didn’t take the Romans long to field multiple legions (over two dozen at times each numbering around 4000 men) and dispatching them to multiple fronts in Italy, Cisalpine Gaul, Illyria, Iberia (Spain) and Sicily.


Roman Command Stand for a war-game army

Prior to Cannae the Roman government took the unusual step of forcing an oath on the Roman Army that would fight at Cannae. The oath made them swear they would die fighting rather than retreat or surrender.

The 10,000 left to hold the bag in the Roman camp as well as the few thousand who managed to escape were thought to have broken that oath and thus were worthy of disgrace and exiled to Sicily The Roman General Varro did not share their fate (being a fellow aristocrat had much to do with it).

The survivors  became the “ghosts of Cannae” and for them (and the Romans that survived the two Battles of Herdonea who were also exiled) their redemption would wait many years until a general named Scipio (who also survived Cannae as a young man) put them to good use understanding that they were not cowards and the defeat at Cannae was not they’re doing.

Meanwhile, the Fabian strategy of avoiding Hannibal in battle was put into good effect with a few exceptions. Hannibal and his army became contained to a small area on the Italian boot and eventually recalled to Africa to defend Carthage itself from the same Scipio who used the ghosts to good effect by invading Africa. Scipio was finally the Roman general who was the equal of Hannibal and it was Scipio who gained the name Africanus after defeating Hannibal at the Battle of Zama with the ghosts of Cannae.

O’Connell is no dry historian and boring to read. Instead he weaves a story line that uses Polybius and Livy (the two main resources for the 2nd Punic War) to great effect. The book almost reads as a novel as O’Connell tells the story not only of the ghosts but Hannibal and Scipio as well.

I was familiar with the Battle of Cannae and the background of the 2nd Punic War but O’Connell’s book gave me fresh insight and easily became one of those books hard to put down even though you knew how it ended-it was getting there that was all the fun.


Hannibal. Despite his military genius Hannibal fought a war he could not win against the ancient world’s first super power.


Scipio Africanus the Roman general who would finally defeat Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, 202 BC.


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The Last Indian War-The Nez Perce Story_book review

“War” said Yellow Wolf of the Nez Perce,” is made to take something not your own.”

That simple statement summed up what is now referred to by author Elliot West as The Last Indian War. West is referring to the war against the Nez Perce of what is now Idaho in 1877. The statement could be equally applied to any Indian tribe in North or South America.

What makes the Nez Perce story unique is the remarkable journey that about 800 Nez Perce made in their flight from Idaho to within 50 miles of the Canadian border in 1877 fighting against the US Army (and usually winning) all the way! To give some perspective their journey took them over 1500 miles all the while being pursued by the US Army. The word “epic” is over used today by their journey was truly epic.


The map illustrates the epic journey of the Nez Perce. Although I was familiar with the Nez Perce War I was reminded in August of this year as my wife and I visited Yellowstone National Park. The Nez Perce trail is right outside of the park and as you can see from the map the Nez Perce traveled through the park itself.

West tells the Nez Perce remarkable story with great detail which never bogs down the narrative but rather enlivens the narrative to give greater insight to the Nez Perce culture and the events leading up to the war. From the time of Lewis and Clark to the out break of the war in 1877 the Nez Perce had always sought peace with the whites even when the whites changed the rules and cheated them. (West gets into the clash of civilizations and the prevailing white attitudes that the Indians had to change their traditional way(and become Christians) or they would become extinct.

West also takes apart some myths especially in regards to Chief Joseph the fascinating leader of the band of Nez Perce that fought their way nearly to Canada.

For example, in Joseph’s lifetime he was referred to as another “Napoleon” given the incredible victories the greatly outnumbered Nez Perce were able to pull off against the pursuing US Army. (The Nez Perce probably never fielded more than 150 warriors.)


Peo Peo Tholekt (Bird Alighting), a Nez Perce warrior who helped capture the mountain howitzer at the Battle of the Big Hole

While Joseph was certainly a brave warrior and at one point saves the vital pony herd he was not the military genius he still is thought of today.

West points out (with detailed documentation) that the Nez Perce like other Indians were led moment by moment (especially in battle) by men of influence and war experience. This meant depending on the circumstances that one leader could lead one day only to be replaced the next day by another leader if the first leader failed in some way or circumstances changed to favor the second leader.

Indian warriors were highly individualistic in combat and would usually gather around an experienced warrior and pretty much do what they wanted. This was in contrast to the pursuing US Army whose soldiers were under orders, army discipline and authority within a defined command structure. No such structure existed among the Nez Perce or other Plains Indians.

Warriors like Yellow Wolf, Ollokut ( Joseph’s brother) and Looking Glass (and many others) seem to have had intrinsic tactical sense as they fought amazing rear guard actions that protected their young, wives and infirm as well as a vast pony herd that they needed to escape. The point is these actions were not controlled by a “Napoleon” like figure but rather by remarkable warriors doing remarkable things without a Napoleon like figure to tell them what to do!



The fact is the Nez Perce embarrassed the US Army time and time again. After the disaster on the Little Big Horn in June 1876 the army needed to find a Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse like figure with Napoleonic qualities of extraordinary skill to explain their losses and frustration with an enemy that always seemed one step ahead even when surprised.


Oliver Howard the unlucky and sometimes incompetent pursuer of the Nez Perce. Howard lost an arm in the American Civil War and was the unlucky general at Chancellorsville when General “Stonewall” Jackson outflanked the Union Army in a stunning victory. Howard also commanded the 11th Corps at Gettysburg and was (unfairly) blamed for the rout of his Corps. 

Chief Joseph was more the diplomat than military genius. While Joseph and his band wanted to be left alone on their own land he and they resisted the idea of war even as whites continued to steal their land and change the rules. Joseph only joined the war when some young men of his tribe reacted to the murder of one of their friends and in turn murdered some whites.


Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Joseph was admired even during the war as many whites recognized the injustice(s) done to the Nez Perce

The fact is the Nez Perce had been lied to repeatedly and government promises were never met. The frustration among the young men grew and grew until they lashed out at those exploiting them. All that and more is documented in The Last Indian War.

Another area of some debate is what Joseph actually said to Colonel Nelson Miles when the band eventually surrendered after being hopelessly surrounded and losing their pony herd just short of the Canadian border.

Joseph is widely noted for saying, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever” and he probably did say that or something close to it.

However, Joseph did not speak English and the surrender was negotiated with two Nez Perce interpreters (who did not go to war) and one white interpreter. Whatever he said had to go through three interpreters and that’s problematic. The surrender was witnessed by a number of Army officers, one of whom became a well-known writer/poet as well as an admirer of the American Indians and of the Nez Perce in particular. This writer may have embellished the “fight no more forever” speech reproduced below.

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are dead; He who led the young men my brother, Alikut is dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

Nez perce - removals

Book cover are from the The Last Indian War by Elliot West

To some extent it doesn’t matter whether Joseph actually said all that at the surrender or not for it certainly must have summed up exactly how he felt.

The book is divided into three main parts.

Part I deals with the prewar situation starting with the Lewis and Clark expedition that first made contact with the Nez Perce in 1805 and ending just before the start of the war in 1877.

Part II deals with the war itself.

Part III deals with the surrender, the Nez Perce removal to Indian Territory in Oklahoma (an ordeal in an of itself) and their partial return to Idaho (although not to their original land).

The book was hard to put down and for this reason I give it 5 stars.