August 16th, 2009

The Zombie

Great and Weird History


August...16 already?  Yowza! -  Yes, I've lapsed a bit again, but merely because of my inherent laziness.  I've meant to post several times, but, as you may know, the end of my day seems to be the only time that I can get to any extraneous writing, I always have to decide whether to sit at the WOMPuter, hunting-and-pecking out my groggy thoughts, or to acquiesce to the overpowering lure of sleep.  Ten times out of ten (percentage-wise), sleep wins.  The number of times when The WOMP-Blog wins is statistically insignificant, but that doesn't mean that I didn't want to post something.  I've been practically dying to tell you all about a bazillion things (more or less) that have happened recently.  Some of those are even interesting!  Still, I can't possibly talk about all of it, so I'll have to give you an old-school "Top Ten" List!  As preamble, I'd should probably reiterate that I live in a tiny community where great and weird history permeates every square inch.  Even in day to day life, reminders of what happened in the past intersects - and interplays - with every step.  Here, then, is...

The Top Ten Things I Wanted to Tell You and/or Stories From This Month in Prairie du Chien History

10) No Balloon Animals, Though -  For only the second time, I was hired to draw caricatures for a private party.  Shannon, a former co-worker of the lovely WOMP Staff, asked me to come to her daughter's sleepover birthday party so that I could draw the attendees.  That was fun, but a bit of a shock.  Instead of seeing the little kids I was expecting, the girls were all in the early teen range!  I guess a lot of time has gone by since I last saw Shannon's family!  In reality, there's no big difference in drawing older kids versus younger ones (they're equally squirmy, if for different reasons), except that - especially with girls - a great deal of emphasis is placed on the hair-styles.  So, now I suppose I should advertise that I hire out for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and Bar Mitzvahs.  Hmmm...

9) History On A Bun -  OK, OK.  I'll stop talking about the 100th Anniversary of Pete's Hamburgers...right after this.  This month marked the official anniversary of the first Pete's burger, an event commemorated with a special program at the Prairie du Chien Museum.  Unfortunately, I had to work at the dreaded "real" job, so I couldn't attend, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't there.  Apparently, an oral presentation of the history of Pete's even included mentions of my various artistic contributions to the local institution.  That's pretty cool.

8) Fun-Fast -  For the fourth (or fifth?) year, I drew caricatures for the Fennimore, Wisconsin, "Fun-Fest."  Even though I was there for five hours, I was kept so busy that the time seemed to just fly by.  And I had so much fun!  All such events have memorable highlights for me.  Sometimes those are experiences with difficult customers, but most stem from the unique people I meet while drawing their portraits.  Special challenges are also very memorable, such as the super-sweet mom who had a reconstructed face, or the developmentally challenged woman who sat with me for most of the day, watching as I drew, until she finally got the courage to sit for her own caricature.  Another challenge has now become something of a tradition (if traditions can be set with only two instances).  A young couple had me draw their oldest kid, now two-years-old, whom I'd drawn two years ago when he was an infant in a stroller.  Then I drew their new baby, sleeping in that same stroller.  Drawing babies is hard enough, but knowing that the two virtually identical pictures will always be compared?  That's definitely a challenge.  I was so happy with the result, but I have no photos of the event because I was there sans-assistants.  Sigh.  Maybe next time.

7) The Great Council -  On August 5th, 1825, a "Great Council" of Native Americans and white settlers was held at Fort Crawford here in Prairie du Chien. For days prior to the event, canoe-loads of attendees converged from all directions and included members of the Sioux, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Iowa, Sauk, and Fox tribes.


(This painting, by James O. Lewis, depicts the event)

The purpose of this gathering was to promote peace among the tribes and to establish boundaries for their territorial claims.  Thousands of native people, who by tradition considered the plain where Prairie du Chien now sits to be sacred neutral ground, met in the spirit of peace.  It's pretty cool to think that, right where I live, treaties between tribes, settlers, traders, and the government were signed, and great leaders from all camps professed their admiration and respect for one another.  Exactly six years later, though, that all changed
dramatically
...

6) Edutaining Fun With Uncle John -  Remember my assistants from the caricature drawing I did at Pete's Hamburgers 100th...er, I mean That Food-Stand Celebrating a Special Anniversary?  My nephew Colton and niece Alanna (who was named after Adam Strange's wife, by the way) were great helpers that day, and we all had lots of fun together, so, when they asked to spend another day with me recently, I gladly capitulated.  They're such great kids, how could I not?  So, with Colton again taking photos, we first went for a fun nature hike in Pikes Peak Sate Park in McGregor, Iowa. 


(...that's when we heard a voice in the woods say "oil can"...)

We then trudged out onto the remnants of the old 1930's bridge in the middle of the Mississippi River between Marquette, Iowa, and Prairie.  I blogged about it sometime in the past, but the kids had never even really realized that such a bridge existed before the current, modern one.  Colton especially was excited to find actual artifacts -
bolts, lengths of support cable, tarmac chunks, etc.
- of the bridge that he could take home with him.  He is planning to research the old bridge, find a photo of it, then frame everything in a shadow-box with a brief history.  Neat idea!

5) A Fight to Remember -  Sometime in August of 1900, the world famous Buffalo Bill Wild West Show came to Prairie du Chien for a performance.  As the elaborate production - complete with Main Area events, an Indian village, sideshows, and even horse racing - was being set up, several of the show's performers, cowboys, and other roustabouts wandered downtown to check out...well...to check out the local girls.  This, as you might imagine, did not sit well with the local boys, who soon banded together to confront the out-of-towners.  Voices raised, tempers flared, and, within minutes, a massive all-out brawl broke out, right in the city's main intersection (then called Church and Bluff Streets, now called Beaumont Road and Blackhawk Avenue, respectively).  As the dust kicked up, and the flying fists were beginning to transition to knives, something happened.  Some heard a single gunshot.  Some heard a loud voice shouting "Halt!"  Whatever it was, it caused everyone to stop in their tracks.  As they looked up, there, astride a glowing white steed, was Buffalo Bill Cody himself. 


(Buffalo Bill as he appeared in 1875)

A distinguished man with long white hair and trademark mustache and goatee, Cody dramatically rode directly into the center of the fray, commanding everyone to cease.  Whether because of the force of his presence or his signature on their paychecks, everyone calmly dispersed.  Disaster was averted, and no-one was seriously hurt.  In fact, even the later presentation of the show itself was OK.  In spite of the scrap (or because of it?), it was a sell-out.  The event has become legend, and may even seem to you like a tall-tale from long ago.  And I might agree with you, if I hadn't known a man who was
actually there
when it happened!  Yep, the same man who would also tell me of his experiences in World War One (as readers of The WOMP-Blog may remember), was there that hot August day.  His accounting of the fight has always sparked my imagination.  Oh, there are the newspaper reports of the time that corroborate everything, but, for me, hearing it from a participant is so much better...and one of the greatest privileges of my life.

4) More Adventures of Comics -  Hey!  I'm going to be in Montfort, Wisconsin, on Monday to give my The Adventures of Comics presentation at the Montfort Public Library.  I'm scheduled to speak at 2:00PM (until 3:30 or so).  Stop in for a visit if you're going to be nearby. 

3) A Stearns Warning -  I wanted to send a shout-out to freshly anointed Official Fish of WOMP, Brian Stearns.  Hi, Brian (and, sorry about the inexplicable "Fish" thing...it's sort of a tradition that...uh...really, it's too silly and confusing to even explain)!  Brian, who lives in New Hampshire, is a writer who contacted me about a month ago about using one of my avatar illustrations (Mind's-Eye) for his blog.  Since then, we've conversed a few times, striking up a bit of a friendship.  We're even planning some collaborations over the next few months.  Keep an eye out for those!

2) Happy Landon -  An updated, second edition of John Garvin's The Landon School of Illustrating and Cartooning is about to be published.  Readers of The WOMP-Blog (both of you) may remember my month-long investigation of the life and influence of cartoonist and educator C.N. Landon.  I passed all of that information on to Mr. Garvin, who was able to incorporate most of it into his new edition.  In fact, he's kind enough to give me this credit in the preface; "John Mundt, Esquire, provided a wealth of information from his own research on Landon’s early history, and forwarded additional research done by Henry R. Timman of Norwalk, Ohio. Mundt’s informative and entertaining home on the Web can be found here: http://www.johnmundtesquire.com/"  Pretty cool, huh?  I'm happy that something came of my weird fascination with comics history.  Now, if only I can get my own such book off the ground....

1) Bad Axe -  On August 1st, 1832 - just six years after the Great Council - as a clumsy, bloody war swept through the area, an armed steamboat (the ironically named Warrior), sent from Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, reached fleeing warriors of the Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo Nations (called the "British Band" for their attempts to ally themselves with Britain) on the banks of the Mississippi, where the native force had hoped to cross the river to escape American troops. After being guided by a Sioux Indian, the boat, with its prominent artillery piece, dropped anchor, making an escape virtually impossible. Black Hawk, leader of the British Band, attempted to surrender to the Warrior by waving a white cloth, but the crew either did not understand or, more likely, chose to ignore the message. The boat and its men opened fire, killing a number of unprepared Indians before they could scramble away into surrounding bluffs. 

         (Black Hawk as he appeared circa 1835)

The next day, on August 2nd, Black Hawk split his band, leading the American troops away to the North with a small group of men, while the rest of the Indians constructed rafts and canoes to facilitate an escape across the Mississippi. The plan was successful initially, but eventually General Atkinson, commander of the American troops, realized the ruse.  The Americans broke their pursuit of Black Hawk, converging instead on the bulk of the band.  In the ensuing "battle," women, children and the elderly hid behind rocks and logs, but the American soldiers often could not or did not differentiate between warriors and the obvious noncombatants. Atkinson even sent Wabasha and his Sioux warriors, enemies of the Sauk, in pursuit of the approximately 150 members of the British Band that had made it to the Western bank of the Mississippi. The Sauk, "escaped the best they could, and dispersed", but, of over a thousand souls, only 22 women and children were spared. Black Hawk escaped, but the Battle of Bad Axe marked the end of the war that still bears his name.  Days later, he surrendered to the troops of Fort Crawford, and was temporarily held in the fort's dungeon.  The bars of his cell are still on display at the Prairie du Chien Museum.  As you've guessed, this sad episode still reverberates through P.d.C., not only in the community's many eponymous tributes (Blackhawk Avenue, for example), but also in our general reverence for a great local leader who found himself on the wrong side of history.  In fact, his likeness was the first to be erected in Prairie's life-size sculpture park.  In fact, just a few days ago now, almost under the radar, a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln (who was one of the pursuing American troops back in 1832, although he never saw action) was held near the grounds of the old fort.  Special programs were presented throughout the day by re-enactors and others, including George Thurman, who is currently Principal Chief of the Sac (Sauk) and Fox Nation...
 
and is a direct descendant of Black Hawk!  Even though many generations separate the two, Mr. Thurman's resemblance to Makataimeshekiakiak is uncanny! 


         (Principal Chief Thurman, circa 2007)

Moreover, the fact that he could be invited - and would then accept such an invitation - to visit the site of his great-grand-ancestor's defeat and imprisonment, speaks volumes to how far we've come in a short 177 years. 

 So, there you have it; a little history, a little cartooning, and a little nonsense.  That's what has been occupying my mind these last few weeks.  If I could expand the parameters of the list a bit, I'd add an eleventh (unranked) bit of odd local info.  August 15th marks the seventieth anniversary of the premiere of the film The Wizard of Oz.  Sort of.  You see, three days before the red-carpet, star-studded opening in Hollywood, The Wizard of Oz was actually first shown in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  No one knows why, but, for some odd reason, that's where it actually premiered.  In fact, over the next couple of days, the now classic film was shown on several area movie screens, including - as legend has it - here in Prairie du Chien.  I have tried to prove the early P.d.C. screening, but to no avail (our local newspapers were not dailies, so they're not much help), and, without real proof of any sort, I can't really call it "history."  Still, it's a cool legend, so I thought I'd pass it along.  Hmm.  Speaking of "passing along," I'm about to pass out from all of this typing, so I should be getting along.  Here, for absolutely no reason other than my obsessive-compulsive need to complete even the most inane tasks once I've started them, I present the last of my list of Comic Book Father Characters of The Day - Stone (as in "Turok, Son of..."), Kong (as in "Son of..."), Magneto, Scott Summers, Richard Rich, Sr., Zeus, Bruce Wayne, Homer J. Simpson, Mildew Monster, Goliath, Fred Flintstone, and Jonathan Kent!