Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cowboy Sidekick

"A sidekick is a stock character, a close companion who assists a partner in a superior position. Don Quixote's Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes' Doctor Watson, and Batman's companion Robin are some well-known sidekicks in fiction.

The sidekick has the literary function of playing against the hero, often contrasting in skill or performing functions not suited to the hero. By asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition.

It may also be argued that the comedy sidekick's apparent stupidity makes a non-intellectual hero look intelligent. An openly flamboyant effeminate sidekick may make an unimposing hero look more masculine. A strong, silent and modest hero may have his fighting qualities revealed to the other characters and the audience by a talkative sidekick." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidekick

So, get a beat-up cowboy hat, let your whiskers grow, mess up your hair, wear a tattered vest or coat, speak with a "twang" and say or do some goofy stuff to make the real cowboy hero look good, and you're probably a perfect cowboy "sidekick."

A good cowboy sidekick was George "Gabby" Hayes (top) who was sometimes Roy Rogers' sidekick "Windy Halliday." Walter Brennan (left) had some starring roles of his own, but he was often cast as a sidekick to others, such as John Wayne. Sometimes he was a bad guy.

My favorite was "Festus Haggan" on Gunsmoke, played by Ken Curtis for years. He was a perfect sidekick-- he rode a mule, not a horse. If he had to think about something, he said "I'm a studyin' on it." Perfect.

Another Roy Rogers sidekick was gravel-voiced Andy Devine, who played "Cookie."

Another favorite was Slim Pickens, who was particularly good in the 1973 movie "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" in the scene when he's dying to the music of Bob Dylan's song "Knockin' On Heaven's Door."

It's been said that the original cowboy sidekick was Lester "Smiley" Burnette, who played opposite Gene Autry. I don't remember him. He was just a little before my time.

It takes a lot of talent to be a good sidekick.

Walden Pond

Another stop during the Boston visit was at Walden Pond just outside of Concord Massachusetts. Author Henry David Thoreau made it famous.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was an author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, surveyor, philosopher, and transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden (1854), a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience (1849), an argument for individual resistance to civil government on grounds of moral opposition to an unjust state.

Thoreau was born in Concord Massachusetts. After attending college Thoreau moved back home to Concord where he met writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) (below left)(essayist, philosopher and poet, best remembered for leading the Transcendentalist movement of the early 19th century).

Emerson introduced him to a number of other local writers, which appears to have included Louisa May Alcott (1833 – 1888) (a novelist best known for the novel Little Women), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) (seated below) (novelist and short story writer) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) (below right) (educator and poet whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", "The Song of Hiawatha" and "Evangeline").

On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into a small house he built himself on land owned by Emerson in a forest around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was not in the wilderness but at the edge of town and within walking distance to his old family home, so his existence at the pond wasn’t exactly a test in raw survival. Thoreau earned money by surveying and was able to walk into town for meals. His mother also lived nearby in the old family home and would provide food.

Thoreau spent a little over two years at Walden Pond. He would later publish Walden, or Life in the Woods in 1854. In the book he compressed the two years into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. In it, Thoreau explores natural simplicity, harmony, and beauty as models for just social and cultural conditions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau

Thoreau was an early advocate of hiking and canoeing and conserving natural resources on private land and preserving wilderness as public land.

He was not a strict vegetarian, but preferred that diet and advocated it as a means of self-improvement. He wrote in Walden:

“The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth."

While living at Walden Pond, Thoreau ran into the local tax collector who asked him to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. Thoreau refused (as opposing slavery and the Mexican-American War) and spent a night in jail. He was freed the next day after his aunt paid his taxes. While it wasn’t very long, the incarceration appears to have made a strong impact on Thoreau. The incident started him thinking, lecturing and writing about civil disobedience. His essay entitled “Resistance to Civil Government” (also known as “Civil Disobedience) was published in 1849.

The essay argues that people should not permit governments to overrule their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing their implied consent to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.

“That government is best which governs least.” This statement is sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, but its essential wording appears to have been first found in Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Disobedience_(Thoreau

Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience is said to have influenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Henry David Thoreau was a Transcendentalist, a philosophy advocated by Emerson, which holds that an ideal spiritual state transcends, or goes beyond, the physical state and that a person achieves that insight through personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paul Revere

As mentioned, we were recently in Boston to see the historical sights. A number of incidents preceding the American Revolutionary War, including the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party, happened right there in Boston.

In the North End of Boston we saw Paul Revere's house, as well as the Old North Church. Remember the words from "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)--

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . .

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light--

One if by land, and two if by sea
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore. . .

British soldiers planned to head west to seize arms and gunpowder stored at Concord. The British would have to pass through Lexington on their way to Concord, five miles further. It was uncertain whether the British would start from Boston by marching south over the narrow isthmus or by first taking a short boat ride to the west across the back bay of the Charles River.

The guy in the church was going to signal which way the British were going. The signal would be either one or two lanterns hung in the steeple of the Old North Church. Revere would be watching from Charlestown, which was north across the river from Boston.

Paul Revere was known by Longfellow's poem as having warned all the citizen soldiers in the surrounding area that "the British were coming." According to Arthur B. Tourtellot's book "Lexington and Concord, The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution" (1959) --

Paul Revere made arrangements for the sexton of the North Church to display the signal lanterns long enough to be seen across the Charles River but not long enough to be seen by the British as a signal. (We visited the Old North Church and I sat in the church pew which may have been used by Paul Revere).

Then he had two friends row him across the river to Charlestown, where he walked into town. He saw that two lanterns were hung as a signal and borrowed a horse and started riding the 11 miles towards Lexington, which could have been done in about an hour on a fast horse.

Revere was spotted by two British officers on horseback, so he had to turn around and head north and then back towards Lexington about midnight.

Samuel Adams (right) and John Hancock (below)and their party were staying in Lexington at the house of Reverend Jonas Clarke. Revere arrived to warn them that the British were coming through Lexington on their way to Concord, where the British intended to seize the local armory of weapons. Alarm was given to the Lexington minutemen.

After warning Adams and Hancock in Lexington, Revere set out for Concord about 5 miles further. Half way to Concord Revere and two companions were surrounded by British officers and were forced into a pasture. The two companions eluded capture, but Revere did not. With some other prisoners, Revere was taken back towards Lexington by the British. Close to Lexington the British confiscated his horse and set Revere free on foot.

Revere walked back to the Clarke house and met up with Adams and Hancock again. Sam Adams hated to ride horseback, so a carriage was brought to take him, Hancock, Revere and the rest of the party away from Lexington before British troops arrived.

British soldiers arrived at the Lexington Common after Revere and the others had left town. There was a battle there, which common is now called the Battle Green.

The British then went on towards Concord where they were repulsed by the assembled Minutemen at the North Bridge.

Not surprisingly, actual events weren't exactly like the Longfellow poem. Yet, pretty close. Paul Revere played a major role in the American Revolution. He lived after the war and was buried in Boston.

At least Paul Revere is remembered through the Longfellow poem, (as well as the rock-n-roll band "Paul Revere and the Raiders") while Sam Adams is remembered as a beer maker, and John Hancock as an insurance salesman.