Monday, April 20, 2009

Pony Express

A lone rider gallops through the sagebrush, his horse’s hooves pounding rhythmically on the dry ground. Bulging leather mailbags strapped to his saddle show why he is traveling so fast: He works for the Pony Express, a private service that carries mail fromn Missouri to California in just eight days.

Before April 1860, when the Pony Express was founded, mail bound for California went by stagecoach and took three weeks to arrive. Pony Express riders took a more direct – and dangerous – route across praries, deserts, and mountains. They covered the 2,000 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, in relays. Each rider traveled up to 75 miles, changing horses at stations built 10 to 15 miles apart along the route.

Along the daring Pony Express riders were some of the West’s most famous figures, including “Buffalo Bill” Cody. They faced blizzards, flash floods, mountain lions, bandits, and Indian attacks for a salary of $50 a month. Their bravery captured the hearts of Americans. But the Pony Express lived only about 18 months. The click of telegraph keys replaced the pounding of horses’ hooves on October 21, 1861, when the first transcontinental telegraph line was completed.

The Pony Express charged $5 to deliver each half-ounce letter. Each rider carried 20 pounds of mail.

Monday, April 6, 2009

John Philip Sousa

With drums pounding and trombones flashing in the sun, a brightly uniformed marching band marches down Main Street. This is a common scene in America on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and other occaisions that call for the snap and flourish of a military band. And such bands usually play at least one rousing march by John Philip Sousa, the composer and bandleader who is known as the “March King.”

Studying the violin at age six, Sousa showed his flair for music early. When he was 13, he began a two-year apprenticeship with the U.S Marine Band. Then he spent several years with theater orchestras. He began composing music – waltzes, orchestral suites, and even operettas. But it was his marches that made him famous. They included “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post March,” “El Capitan,” and “Semper Fidelis.”
Sousa developed a tuba that rested on a player’s shoulders and could be carried in a march. Called the sousaphone, it is used in marching bands today.

In 1880, Sousa rejoined the Marine Band as its leader. Under Sousa, the band became famous around the world. Many of his best-known marches were written for this band. In 1892, he left the Marines to form his own group, the Sousa Band, which toured America and the world, cementing Sousa’s reputation as the greatest composer-bandmaster of his day.

Here is an example of Sousa's "El Capitan":

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wyatt Earp

In legend, Wyatt Earp was a brave lawman who cleaned up western towns such as Dodge City, Kansas, and Tombstone, Arizona. In fact, he was not a heroic character. The real Earp was a professional gambler. He worked as a peace officer in a few places, but he broke the law as often as he enforced it. He was arrested at least twice, once for stealing a horse.

Earp is famous for the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” in Tombstone in 1881. In the O.K. Corral legend, Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday saved Tombstone from the Clantons, a gang of cattle rustlers. But the real gunfight was not about rustling. It resulted from a feud between the Earps and the Clantons. Some accounts of the famous gunfight claim that the Earps killed three of the Clanton gang in cold blood. Wyatt Earp was later involved in other gunfights, and he left Arizona with a posse in pursuit. Eventually he moved to California, where he put away his gun and invested in real estate.

Perhaps because he was the only participant unhurt in the O.K. Corral gunfight. Earp was glorified in popular fiction. Later, movies and television made him a hero. As the idealized lawman, Wyatt Earp became one of the enduring legends of the Old West.

The famous Earp-Clanton gunfight didn’t take place at the O.K. Corral. It broke out in an empty lot around the corner.