Belle Starr, The Bandit Queen

By Karen Vuranch

The phrase The Wild West describes a unique time and place in American history. There were many people who embodied the spirit of the Old West and one of those larger than life characters is Belle Starr. Known as The Bandit Queen or The Petticoat Terror of the Plains, Belle Starr has taken her place in history among the outlaws and desperados of what was then known as The Wild West.

It is difficult today to separate the fact from the fiction of Belle Starr’s life. Dime novels published at the time sensationalized her outrageous escapades and her name became synonymous with robbery, horse theft and outlaw gangs. She was reputed to have ridden with Frank and Jesse James, given birth to a baby by the notorious outlaw Cole Younger, and robbed stagecoaches. But much of this is simply myth, fueled by creative novelists and newspaper reporters. Yes, she enjoyed riding through towns shooting her six-gun and she played piano in dance halls throughout the region. And, she was the Black Widow of the West, when all three of her husbands, as well as several male admirers, met with violent death. However, the larger than life crimes that she was accused of committing most likely did not happen.

Clearly, she did endorse a lawless way of life, best expressed in a comment by her to a Dallas newspaper reporter, “I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw.” Her husbands and consorts were men notorious for their crimes. After marrying the outlaw Sam Starr, she lived on the Canadian River, near what is now the town of Eufaula, Oklahoma. Her home was refuge to outlaws and renegades. Indeed, many people gave eyewitness accounts of Belle’s participation in the crimes. However, Belle Starr was only ever convicted once and that was for horse theft. For this, she served nine months of a one-year jail sentence, ironically released early for good behavior.

Studying the lives of individuals such as Belle Starr allows us to glimpse the Wild West and bring it to life once more. Through it we can explore the development of a unique American spirit. We are challenged to sift through fact and fiction to try to understand a fascinating time and place. Indeed, much of Belle Starr’s life is clouded by fiction and ambiguity. Even her death created a  mystery. Just two days before her 41st birthday, in February of 1889, Belle Starr was returning home and was shot in the back by a shotgun. Her murderer was never identified.

In summarizing her life for a Fort Smith Elevator reporter about a year before her death, Belle stated, “I regard myself as a woman who has seen much of life.” It is what she has seen that fascinates us and captivates our modern curiosity. The life of Belle Starr gives us a glimpse of the rash and reckless spirit of the Wild West.


Karen Vuranch has presented at Chautauquas across the country and has performed internationally. In addition to Belle Starr, she recreates author Pearl Buck; labor organizer Mother Jones; humanitarian Clara Barton, Renaissance pirate Grace O’Malley, Chef Julia Child, beloved children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder and writer Edith Wharton. Karen has also written and performs one-woman plays based on oral histories she gathered: Coal Camp Memoires, about the West Virginia coal fields, and Homefront, about women in World War II.

Karen has been honored by many organizations including the Robert C. Byrd Community Service Award, the McWhorter Achievment Award from the West Virginia Storytelling Guild; Performing Artist of the Year for Tamarack, the West Virginia state arts center; the Spirit of West Virginia Award from the state tourism office and the Celebrate Women Award from the Women’s Commission of the West Virginia Legislature. And, in 1994, Karen and her husband Gene Worthington performed together at the Ellipse Theatre at the White House. She has releasted two CDs and a DVD of her performances.

Karen has an M.A. in Humanities from West Virginia Graduate College and teaches Introduction to Theater and Speech and Appalachian Studies for Concord University.

Huey Long, an American original

By John (Chuck) Chalberg

Huey Pierce Long was an American original. Fascinating and flamboyant, he shot across Louisiana and ultimately across the country before being shot to death in September of 1935. The political machine that he created was far less original. Designed to advance his interests, as well as those of his constituents, it was extraordinarily effective, even if it was shot through with corruption of the very ordinary sort. Payoffs and plunder were the order of the day. Nothing terribly original here. But the man giving the orders was.

Long’s career also raises extraordinarily important questions. In politics, to what extent does the end justify the means? In America, to what extent does democracy lend itself to demagoguery—and is demagoguery ever a good thing? Finally, in the sweep of American history just where does Governor/Senator Long belong?

Actually, this should be Governor and Senator and at the same time no less. When dealing with ordinary politicians, there ought not be anything necessarily unusual about a politician holding each of these offices at one time or another. After all, throughout American history there have been many instances of successful politicians who have served as both at one time or another during their careers. But Huey Long held both offices at the same time. Between 1930 and 1932 Governor Long of Louisiana was also Senator Long from Louisiana. Power occasionally does such things to people, especially if such people happen to be politicians who come to believe in their own indispensability. Or in Governor Long’s case, most especially politicians who have built state political machines which they are not quite ready to entrust to others before setting out for the national political stage that is Washington, DC.

The heyday of Long’s Louisiana years coincided almost perfectly with the 1920s. This was a decade of national prosperity amid large pockets of local poverty. One of those pockets encompassed a good deal of rural Louisiana. Thus the stage was set for someone of Huey Long’s considerable talents.

And what were those talents? An ability to talk and persuade. An ability to organize and count. And an ability to sweep people, both black and white, along with him. On this last score, Huey Long was also a southern original—at least a southern original for his time and place. Race-baiting was standard operating procedure for white politicians of that time and place. But not for Huey Long. If elevating Long and the Long machine was primary, elevating the lot of poor people, black and white, was also of prime importance.

But ultimately, something else was primary for Huey Long. This Long longed for the national stage. Senator (and no longer governor) Long’s debut as a national political figure coincided almost perfectly with the depths of the Great Depression. It also coincided with the arrival in Washington of the man who would be his great rival. That man was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. No discussion of Huey Long would be complete without reference to this fellow Democrat who regarded a certain Louisiana senator as a threat to American democracy, nay as one of the two potential leaders of an American fascist movement. (The other was Douglas MacArthur.) And no portrait of Huey Long would be complete without coming to terms with how one American original dealt with another. After all, one was the president, and the other one wanted to be president..

Huey Long may have been dubbed the “Kingfish,” but the title he would have settled for was “President Long.” His plan, such as it was, was to defeat Roosevelt in 1936 by running a third party candidacy against him. His thought was that a third party candidacy would elect a Republican in that year. His further thought was that the new Republican would fail to solve the depression, thereby opening the way for a Long victory in 1940.

Had Huey Long achieved that victory in 1940 and acquired elevated status he sought, he would have put an extraordinary large exclamation point on an already extraordinary political career. And who knows? But for an assassin’s bullet delivered on the steps of the Louisiana state capitol building in September of 1935 the man who wanted to make “every man a king” might have at least made himself the president in the process.


Dr. John C. “Chuck” Chalberg is a native Minnesota. He holds a B.A. from Regis College of Denver and an M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from the University of Minnesota. He teaches American history at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota. He has also taught at Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota. He had a Fulbright lectureship in Hungary in 1992.

In addition to Huey Long, Chuck has performed in various Chautauqua events across the country as Teddy Roosevelt, H.L. Mencken, Patrick Henry, Bobby Jones, and Branch Rickey. He has written a biography of Emma Goldman and a dual biography of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. In addition, he has written reviews and essays for The Weekly Standard, Commentary, Chronicles, Touchstone, and National Review. He is married, the father of five and a grandfather of two.

Guess Who’s Coming to Chautauqua? Belle Starr

Outlaw, supposed gang member and notoriously known as “The Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr’s life is a study in separating the facts from the fiction. The mystery surrounding her continues to this day: her murder has never been solved. How did a well-bred lady by the name of Myra Maybelle Shirley become such a Wild West woman?

As a student at the Carthage Female Academy, Myra was well-educated, well-read, and became an accomplished piano player. She also excelled at horseback riding, was comfortable handling guns and loved being outdoors. Although she started life as a lady, it seems that events throughout her early life may have conspired to lead her in an entirely different direction. Her mother, Elizabeth Hatfield Shirley, was related to the infamous feuding Hatfield-McCoys. Her father, John Shirley, was a Confederate sympathizer and often had meetings with Rebel fighters at their home. Myra also grew up with future outlaws, including Cole Younger, and later met Frank and Jesse James. The James brothers would sometimes hide at the Shirley’s farm after robbing trains, stagecoaches or banks. Myra herself enjoyed riding into town and shooting her guns into the air, making people scatter in all directions. These were dangerous and exciting times surrounding her family and her life.

Myra married James Reed, a noted outlaw whom she loved, and they raised a daughter Rose Lee, called “Pearl,” and a son, Edwin. Jim tried farming, but found himself more successful working with the Cherokee Starr clan stealing horses, cattle and running whiskey. He and Myra were both accused of robbery and fled. Jim was eventually killed trying to escape, and Myra was left to fend for herself and the children.

Several years later, she married Cherokee Samuel Starr, another outlaw, and became “Belle.” From that time on, it was the name by which she would be known. She named their property Younger’s Bend and it soon became a destination for their outlaw friends on the run. Belle and Sam were caught stealing horses, and they found themselves facing sentencing from Judge Isaac Parker better known as the “Hanging Judge.” They were found guilty and, fortunately for them, sentenced to a year in prison. When Belle got out, she felt she had been redeemed and worked to change her wild reputation. Sam, however, continued stealing and was eventually shot and killed.

Belle was widowed once more and without a Cherokee husband, she would lose Younger’s Bend. Her solution was to marry Jim July. She had July, 15 years her junior, change his last name to Starr. She put out the word that outlaws were no longer welcome on their property, and she tried to settle into a quieter life, which was difficult, since her new husband was a horse thief.

The majority of Belle’s life had been anything but quiet and Belle had made many enemies, so it isn’t entirely surprising that her life would end violently. Accompanying her husband to a hearing on stealing horses, Belle decided to head home on her own, when she was ambushed, shot right off of her horse and then shot again at close-range. She died before anyone could get to her. There were multiple possibilities as to who murdered her, including Edgar Watson, a possible tenant, a former lover, her husband, her son Edwin or possibly even her daughter Pearl, but due to the lack of evidence, no one was ever brought to trial. Though she strove for a quieter life, Belle’s murder at 40 years old helped perpetuate the stories from her wilder days when she was known as “Belle Starr, The Bandit Queen.”

–Jennifer Murrell, Mesa County Libraries


Titles Recommended by
Karen Vuranch:

Belle Starr and Her Times, by Glenn Shirley, 1990.

Belle Starr: The Bandit Queen, by Burton, Rascoe, 1941.

Starr Tracks: Belle and Pearl Starr, by Philip W. Steele, 1989.

Strategic Planning Update

“New Name, New Mission, New Vision–

‘Where people will bring their guests to—FIRST!’”

We are pleased to report that The Museums’ Strategic Planning has made wonderful progress. The process started when we determined that the current Institutional Plan has come to its end. It was also time for us to take a look at each of the facilities, assess our opportunities and challenges, establish a vision of where we want to be as an institution and then lay out a road map of how to get there.

Through focus groups, interviews and surveys, we engaged our members, friends and community asking them what they perceived as our strengths and weaknesses. We also wanted to learn what people wanted in a museum. Through studies conducted in cooperation with Colorado Mesa University, we also learned more about our visitors’ habits and wants. All along, we have also been researching several opportunities that are before The Museums.

With this information in hand, the board and staff went into a series of intense planning sessions. The goal was to establish a strategic framework that provided a foundation for future planning. We reassessed our goals, mission, promises we make to the community and even looked at the institution’s name. The intent was to create a vision to work towards and the overall objectives of how to get there.

Name: The group wanted to clarify to the community that we encompass more than one facility and one story. We wanted to acknowledge that our community’s heritage is larger than just one building. Instead of the singular “The Museum” we are now the using the plural “The Museums” — a small change with a big meaning.
The Museums of Western Colorado

Mission: The group wanted a simplified mission statement that demonstrated The Museums’ desire to work closer with the community in enhancing our strong preservation and program tradition.
Through strong stewardship and relevant programming, the Museums of Western Colorado strive to inspire the community to preserve its heritage and tell its story.

Promises, Goals and Vision: The group then thought hard on what promises The Museums will provide to the community and visiting public. Out of these promises they derived the overall goals the museum will work towards and the vision of what the museum will look like in the future.

•    In the area of Preservation – “ Stewardship”
•    In the area of Education – “Relevance”
•    In the area of Engagement—“Inspiration”
•    In the area of Entertainment—“Enjoyment”
•    In the area of Trusted Expertise—“Quality”

•    Develop staff, volunteers and partnerships to deliver on the MWC Promises.
•    Create the right facilities at the right locations to fulfill the MWC Mission.
•    Build the financial strength of MWC to control our own destiny.
•    Establish a strong and recognizable brand.

MWC Vision: By 2020…
•    The MWC will have sustained, reliable and diversified funding; will be sustainable; and will be able to invest in itself.
•    The MWC will be strongly engaged in the community as exemplified by having effective strategic public and private partnerships.
•    The MWC will present maintained, technologically up-to-date, safe, “green” and quality facilities that are right-sized for fulfillment of the Mission and Promises.
•    The MWC will have a strong and effective staff, volunteers and board that will enable the Museums to fulfill its Mission and Promises.
•   The MWC will have the capacity (with its facilities and human resources) to proactively address challenges and take advantage of appropriate opportunities.
•    The MWC will continue to increase visitation and have high levels of returned participation
•    The MWC will have a strong recognizable brand as a heritage leader in our community.
•    The MWC will be re-accredited by AAM for the 5th time.
•    The MWC will be that place visitors bring their guests to—FIRST!

Objectives: To reach the vision, the group highlighted some specific objectives we need to address in order to move forward.
•    Branding, Marketing and Communications
•    Exhibitions and Education
•    Effective Business Plan
•    Human Resources
•    Community Engagement
•    Evaluation and Re-Accreditation
•    Growth Planning

The staff is now developing the “Work Plans” that are laying out the specifics on how we will fulfill our promises, reach our goals and make our vision a reality. These “Work Plans” will be renewed annually, thus ensuring that this is a living document.

Thank you for your assistance in this process. As we near the end of the project, we feel strong that “The Museums” will be that place people will want to bring their guest to — FIRST!


Aimee Semple McPherson, Hope and Love

By Doris Dwyer

Aimee Semple McPherson was a singular force in the cultural milieu of the interwar period. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1890. She was consecrated to the Lord at the age of six weeks. Her mother raised Aimee to love Jesus in the tradition of the Salvation Army. Aimee’s rural childhood was transformed when the Pentecostals came to Ingersoll, Ontario. She married Irish evangelist Robert Semple at the age of 17 and became a widow and a mother two years later. A second marriage followed in 1912 but the evangelical impulse instilled by her beloved Robert Semple prevailed over more traditional roles and she began her ministry in earnest in 1915. The religious fires unleashed by the irrepressible Aimee continued undaunted until her death in 1944.

Aimee Semple McPherson is a perfect figure to illuminate this year’s Chautauqua. She came of age as an evangelist during exciting and trying times. Her healing ministry touched hundreds of thousands of Americans in North America at a time when traditional Protestantism came under attack by the forces of modernism. She preached the inerrancy of the Bible, fought against the forces of evolution and castigated those comfortable, complacent Protestants that she compared to the little piggy in the house of straw. She wrote operas, and staged elaborate illustrated sermons that brought the joys of salvation to her audiences. She rejected the fire and brimstone rhetoric of Billy Sunday and reveled in the joy of the Lord. She was unique within the force of Evangelical Protestantism; there has been nothing like her before or since.

Mrs. McPherson provided hope and joy to the displaced of all classes and races. She arrived in Los Angeles in her Gospel Car in 1918. In Los Angeles she witnessed an influx of displaced persons in a bewildering city. Her Angelus Temple became a sensation; her services rivaled the theatricality of the Hollywood producers across town.

The savvy evangelist was quick to accept modern technology that would facilitate spreading her message of hope. She was the first woman to acquire a radio broadcast license, and her KFSQ radio station, the first religious broadcast station in the nation, reached audiences throughout the West. The Angeles Temple seated 5300; her 20 weekly sermons evoked a religious response heard well beyond the sprawling city of Angels. Her frequent evangelistic tours won converts from the small towns of the Midwest to the Catholic enclave of Boston and beyond.

Aimee’s ministry was notable for its diversity. Her message of faith and love resonated among African-Americans, and her revivals were integrated from the beginning of her ministry. When Ku Klux Klan members entered her sanctuary in full regalia, she preached a sermon of inclusion and castigated their message of hate. The Klan members departed; it was said that many discarded their robes and re-entered the Temple, transformed by her message of love. When Fascism threatened the fragile peace settlement after the Great War, she preached against Anti-Semitism and the racial hatred of Hitler. Her message of the love of Jesus and the joys of salvation continue today in the tradition of the Foursquare Gospel Church that boasts a worldwide membership exceeding two million. Her message of joy, hope and love continues unabated in the church that she founded.


Doris Dwyer has taught history and humanities at Western Nevada College since 1980 and resides in Fallon, Nevada. She earned her Ph. D. in History from Miami University of Ohio and a M.A. and A. B. from Eastern Kentucky University. Her Chautauqua career began in 1994 with a portrayal of Gold Rusher Sarah Royce. Since then she has portrayed Donner Party survivor Margaret Breen, contraceptive pioneer Margaret Sanger, Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White, evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Puritan dissenter Anne Hutchinson, and environmentalist Rachel Carson.

Dr. Dwyer has performed hundreds of Chautauqua portrayals in Nevada, California, Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri and New Hampshire. Dwyer is currently a Governor’s appointee to the Nevada Board of Museums and History, and is a past recipient of the Governor’s Humanities Award and the Nevada Regents’ Teaching Award.

Benedict Arnold: American Patriot, American Judas

By Frank X. Mullen

On the Revolutionary War battlefield at Saratoga, New York, stands a statue of a left boot. The inscription memorializes an American general, the nation’s “most brilliant soldier,” as the hero of the engagement. But the general’s name is not mentioned.

That’s one of a handful of ambiguous monuments that Benedict Arnold (Jan. 14, 1741 to June 14, 1801), has to his bravery. Had the musket ball pierced his heart instead of his leg that day in 1777, he would be a saint in our national pantheon.

Instead, his name is a synonym for traitor. His years of devoted service to the Revolution — his courage, his victories, his sacrifices — are smoke in the wind.

We see him as a turncoat. He saw himself, even in his betrayal, as a hero who would be vindicated once the British prevailed. We say he did it for money and out of spite. He swore he switched sides to preserve his honor.

The Connecticut-born Arnold was a prosperous sea-going merchant when the war began in 1775. He joined the fight and built a distinguished record. He captured Fort Ticonderoga; led an impossible march to Quebec; built a navy and delayed the British on Lake Champlain; chased the redcoats out of Connecticut; and turned the tide at the Battles of Saratoga.

“Gen. Arnold is the life and soul of our troops. To him and to him alone is due the honor of our great victory (Saratoga),” Col. Henry Livingston wrote.

His left leg, wounded at Quebec, was shattered at Saratoga. While he recovered, his long-time enemies further blackened his reputation. He saw himself as victim of petty men in the Army and Congress. He spent his fortune on his troops, but politicians refused to reimburse him. Arnold eventually viewed the war as a waste of treasure and lives.

By 1779, he made plans to defect to the British. The following year he took command of West Point, intending to surrender the key position. The plot unraveled after the capture of British Major John André, who carried plans for the fort. Arnold escaped and led British regulars on raids in Virginia and Connecticut.

Arnold wrote to George Washington explaining his treason. “Love to my country actuates my present conduct,” he wrote. But Washington was dumbfounded: “Our greatest warrior is a traitor,” he said. “Can anyone be trusted?”

Although other officers had changed sides, Arnold’s prior heroism and the scope of his treason made his case reprehensible. He was demonized, reviled in his own time and in ours.

At war’s end, he and his wife moved to London, then to Canada, then back to England. He sailed as a privateer, but died with his fortune squandered. He was despised by Americans and shunned by British subjects, who, he remarked, “love the treason, but hate the traitor.”

He never admitted wrongdoing. His honor was intact, he said.

He was our Caesar once; he is our Judas forever.


Frank X. Mullen is an investigative journalist, author, university professor and Chautauqua scholar. He is the author of “The Donner Party Chronicles” and has appeared as a journalist and historian on the History Channel, Weather Channel, Discovery, PBS, BBC and other cable networks.

Mullen, who was born in Queens, N.Y., has taught journalism courses at the University of Nevada, Reno, since 1999. He twice was named Nevada’s Outstanding Journalist by the Nevada Press Association. Before coming to Nevada, he worked for the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, the Rocky Mountain Business Journal and the Denver Post. He holds a bachelor’s in journalism from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a master’s from the University of Nevada. His other Chautauqua characters include Babe Ruth, Henry VIII, Albert Einstein, Edward R. Murrow, U.S. Grant, John C. Fremont and Huey Long.

He and his wife, Susan, a newspaper feature writer, live in Reno.

Guess Who’s Coming to Chautauqua? Aimee Semple McPherson

A woman ahead of her time, Aimee Semple McPherson was an itinerant preacher, radio broadcaster and founder of the Foursquare Church. Unfortunately, she is probably best known for her mysterious disappearance involving an alleged/unsubstantiated kidnapping which overshadows the work that was most important to her. An unconventional woman, she did whatever was necessary to reach her audiences in ways that touched a chord with the American people of the 1920s.

Aimee’s calling came early in her life when, as a teen, she met minister Robert Semple at a Pentecostal meeting, was baptized, fell in love and later married him. Together they moved to China to work as missionaries where they both contracted malaria and Robert died. Eight months pregnant and alone, she returned to the United States where she gave birth to her daughter, Roberta Star. Two years later she married Harold Stewart McPherson and then had a son, Rolf Potter Kennedy McPherson.

While she tried to be a good wife and mother, she kept feeling the call to preach and soon took to the road with her children, leaving her husband behind. Driving across the country in her “Gospel car,” she organized revival meetings on the road. As a woman, she was one of the first to drive cross-country without a man. As an itinerant preacher, she made no distinctions among those she wanted to reach, organizing separate meetings for African Americans in places where they were not allowed to mingle with others. Unusual among the evangelicals, her messages emphasized hope and love rather than the more typical hell and damnation approach. Her revivals were well attended and her popularity grew.

After years of traveling, she established her headquarters in L.A. and eventually decided to settle there, raising funds to build what would become the Angelus Temple. With seating for 5,300, Aimee’s services were consistently filled to capacity with people arriving hours early to get a seat. She became “Sister Aimee” to her followers and was best known for her healing ministry and her distinctive approach. Her style of preaching bordered on the theatrical and often involved elaborate stage settings, dramatized musical productions and storytelling. She had set designers, a lighting crew and a choir of over 300 members that she put to good use. Located as she was in the center of the entertainment industry, her unique style was especially appropriate for the audiences she attracted.

Aimee recognized the power of reaching other audiences and became the first woman to use radio to broadcast her messages and later built her own radio station KFSG (Kall Four Square Gospel) which was one of the first full-time religious radio stations.

With all the good that she did, it is still her disappearance which is the first thing that people now remember when they hear the name Aimee Semple McPherson. In 1926, while swimming, Aimee disappeared. She was presumed drowned after repeated searches yielded nothing. Her disappearance was mentioned in the news an average of three times a week and there were “sightings” reported all across the country. Angelus Temple received ransom notes, but nothing came of them. Over five weeks after her disappearance, Aimee called her mother from Douglas, Arizona with a terrifying story of having been kidnapped and held in a small shack in Mexico. She was welcomed home by thousands of joyful followers at the train station, but ended up in a grand jury trial to determine what had happened.

The press that had so supported her now scrutinized her life and sensationalized the possibility that she had actually run off with a former co-worker for an illicit affair. Testimonies were unreliable and charges of conspiracy to manufacture evidence were dropped, but the questions were there and never fully resolved. Sticking to her story throughout her life, Aimee returned to preaching until her death in 1944; still one of the best-known and charismatic evangelists of the 1920s and 30s.

Join us at the Two Rivers Chautauqua September 18th and 19th to hear Aimee Semple McPherson’s story as portrayed by Doris Dwyer.

–Jennifer Murrell, Mesa County Libraries



Titles Recommended by Doris Dwyer:

Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister by Edith Blumhofer, 1993.

Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson by Daniel Mark Epstein, 1993.

Guess Who’s Coming to Two Rivers Chautauqua? Huey Long

Traveling salesman, self-educated lawyer, Louisiana Governor, and U.S. Senate member, Huey Long appeared at a time when people needed someone to champion those who were suffering through the depression and seemed without a political voice. Huey campaigned on issues of economic equality which generated very strong feelings from the populace; the average Louisiana citizen loved him, the unions, big businesses and wealthy hated him.

Fortunate to have been raised in a family that stressed the importance of an education, Huey was inquisitive and had a photographic memory, two characteristics that would propel him to advance rapidly through school. Eventually, after only three semesters of law school, he passed the Louisiana Bar Exam at age 21. He was a successful lawyer, but felt that he would accomplish more as a politician.

The 1920s in Louisiana was a time of 25% unemployment, a high rate of illiteracy and extreme poverty. Huey sought to change that and ran for Governor, traveling to the poorest of communities painting a picture of a more progressive time. His “Share Our Wealth” program promised free public education, paved roads, free hospital care and lower property taxes. He eventually initiated 22 different programs aimed at improving the quality of life in Louisiana.

He was not, however, popular with everyone. The changes he eventually made included how people were taxed; large corporations and wealthy individuals were taxed much more while the poor had their taxes reduced. He made enemies among the wealthy and well-connected; chief among them was the Standard Oil Company which he taxed to finance a free textbook program. Prominent members of the community gathered together in “assassination clubs” which met secretly and plotted against Long.

While Huey accomplished much of what he set out to do, he was also corrupted by the power of his position, often acting in ways he condemned in others. He created a group of his own cronies, granting them contracts and quietly taking their “donations,” further infuriating those whose influence diminished as Huey’s grew.

A successful, power-driven politician who ruffled feathers, it seemed almost inevitable that Huey’s life would not end quietly. He made many enemies; even Franklin Delano Roosevelt called him “one of the country’s two most dangerous men.” He was often threatened and surrounded himself and his family with security. It was not too surprising, therefore, when he was shot by a disgruntled man in the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge and died from his injuries two days later. That over 200,000 people attended his funeral was a testament to his popularity.

Join us for Two Rivers Chautauqua September 18th and 19th at Cross Orchards Historic Site to hear Huey Long’s story as portrayed by Chuck Chalberg.

–Jennifer Murrell,
Mesa County Libraries


Titles Recommended by Chuck Chalberg include:

Huey Long, by T. Harry Williams.

Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long, by Richard White.

The Story of Huey Long, by Carleton Beals.

Every Man a King, by Huey Long.

Huey Long: A Candid Biography, by Forrest Davis.

Dynasty: The Longs of Louisiana, by Thomas Martin.

Huey P. Long: Southern Demagogue or American Democrat, Henry Dethloff (ed.)

The Kingfish and His Realm, by William Ivy Hair.

Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression, by Glen Jeansome.

Reminiscences and Recollections of Huey P. Long, by Calvit Walker.

Guess Who’s Coming to Two Rivers Chautauqua? Benedict Arnold

At this year’s Chautauqua, we’re bringing in the “Rascals and Rogues.” First among them is infamous General Benedict Arnold (V). Druggist, bookseller, smuggler and skillful and courageous general of the American Revolution, he is best known for betraying his country. He was, however, also called the “Greatest General” by George Washington. Who was this general whose name is synonymous with being a traitor? What could change a man so?

Knowing his family history makes Benedict Arnold’s story more tragic. The first Benedict Arnold was the Governor of Rhode Island. Benedict’s father (III), one of Connecticut’s most prosperous shipowners, lost the family’s fortune, forcing young Benedict to begin working to help support the family. From then on, making back the family fortune was one of his driving goals. He found his niche in the army of the American Revolution.

Frank Mullen as Benedict ArnoldAn ardent leader of many battles, Arnold captured Ft. Ticonderoga, blocked the British at Quebec, was wounded in Saratoga and drove the British out of Danbury, CT. Unfortunately, the credit for Ticonderoga went to Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, five junior officers were promoted above him while he was fighting in Quebec, and he was then accused of stealing; he demanded a court-marshal to prove his innocence. Although he was exonerated, Washington reprimanded him. He had fallen from the heroic “Greatest General,” impinging Arnold’s honor and crushing his desire to support the Americans.

Instead he became disgruntled, wounded in spirit and body and resentful of the lack of acknowledgement, advancement, and compensation he received. He married Peggy Shippen, his second wife, who was an affluent British sympathizer. With his new command of West Point, he decided that he could end the war by turning West Point over to the British and joining their side of the fight.

With this move, the British made him a General and tolerated him, but he was reviled by the Canadians and would have been killed if he stepped foot in the Americas again. He ended his life in London as a man with no country, belonging to no place, who professed until he died that he did all that he had “for the love of my country.”

Join us at Cross Orchards Historic Site for Two Rivers Chautauqua September 18th and 19th to hear Benedict Arnold’s story as portrayed by Frank Mullen.

–Jennifer Murrell,
Mesa County Libraries


Titles Recommended by Frank Mullen include:

Benedict Arnold’s Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War, by Arthur Lefkowitz, 2008.

George Washington And Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots, by Dave Richard Palmer, 2006.

Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, by James Kirby Martin, 1997.

Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution, by James Nelson, 2006.

More Museums than Starbucks-Yea!!!

I have been involved with museums nearly my whole career. In that whole time, finding sufficient resources has always been a challenge. It is easy at times to get discouraged and wonder if the nation really values museums in general. This was the situation recently when I came across an article in the Washington Post (June 13, 2014) that made me stop, ponder and smile. I thought I would share some of its highlights with you.

The article’s author, Christopher Ingraham, pointed out that today there are 35,000 museums though-out the United States. As he pointed out, that has doubled since the 1990s. He continues to point out that this is more than all the Starbucks and McDonalds combined (yea-we beat out Big Macs and lattes-at least in quantity).

What is even more heartening is that museums are very well distributed throughout the nation. While some counties have a huge number of museums-681 in Los Angeles and 414 in New York-nearly all counties in the US have at least one museum.

This inspired me to look at museums in Colorado. I was proud to discover that nearly every county in our state could claim at least one of these cultural institutions. This includes the three Colorado counties with populations less than 1,000–San Juan (699), Mineral (712) and Hinsdale (843). In fact, the only Colorado county without a museum is Dolores County, and yet even they boast of several historic sites that are preserved for future generations.

Many of these museums, especially in the smaller communities in Colorado as well as the nation, are dedicated to the preservation of local history. Mamie Bittner of the Institute of Museum and Library and Services is quoted in the article as saying that the United States is “in love with our history – at a very grassroots level we care for the histories of our towns, villages and counties.” Museums, including the MWC, play a vital role in preserving the heritage of their communities and telling the stories of those communities.

Thank you for valuing museums-for valuing the MWC.