Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President … who … shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. …”
Or given aid or comfort?
A statement released by Trump’s Save America PAC in September:
“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
They might more properly be called a Bill of Prohibitions, since they are not so much a delineation of rights as a list of things the federal government may not take away from individuals and the states and local governments.
This is our day to celebrate the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a state religion, despite odd rulings about nativity scenes and posting the Ten Commandments, and the right of free speech and press, despite McCain-Feingold limits on campaign spending and advertising. (Since somewhat overturned by Citizens United.)
This is our day to celebrate the Second Amendment, despite requirements to register handguns and other laws.
We celebrate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizure, despite the Hiibel case in which Larry Hiibel was arrested for not giving his name to a Humbolt County deputy. (Not to mention civil asset forfeitures.)
There’s the Fifth’s protection against taking of property except for public purposes that was bounced by the Kelo decision that let government take property for private development.
As for the Sixth’s right to speedy and public trial? Forget it. No explanation needed.
The right to trial by jury according to the Seventh? Try that in traffic court, buddy.
No cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth’s prohibition. Lifetime sentences for possession of pot belie that one.
The Ninth’s and 10th’s guarantees that rights not delineated are prohibited to feds? Let’s see the states try to set the drinking age or voting age or speed limits.
There’s still the Third’s prohibition against housing troops in private homes. (Right?)
Happy birthday, Bill of Rights, long may you be respected.
A couple of years ago I ran across the Cato video below. As my ol’ Pappy used to say: Great minds travel in the same plane, while fools just think alike.
Actually, the Third is also suspect as I reported here. The courts have since ruled that cops are not soldiers. They sure look alike and are armed alike.
On Monday the Nevada Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by nine parents claiming the state Legislature is not meeting its constitutional requirement to adequately fund K-12 public education, according to the morning paper and the online Nevada Independent.
The 37-page lawsuit was filed in March of 2020, as reported here, but dismissed in October by a Carson City district court judge who said “the Court will not substitute its judgment for that of the legislature with respect to the education policy in the state of Nevada.”
The suit, filed by Educate Nevada Now, says Nevada students “inhabit one of the lowest-rated and worst-performing state school systems in the United States,” and asks the courts to find that the level of funding of public education in the state has fallen short of the constitutional requirement to “ensure a basic, uniform, and sufficient education for the schoolchildren of this state.”
There are two problems the Nevada high court justices must grapple with in deciding this case. One: As the suit itself notes, the Nevada constitution states that the Legislature shall appropriate education funds that “the Legislature deems sufficient …” That would seem to dictate that lawmakers are to determine what is “sufficient” rather than the courts. Two: Past spending increases on public education have produced no discernible improvement in the quality of education.
The Nevada Supreme Court in the case of Guinn v. Legislature in 2003 held that Nevada students have a basic right to a public education under the state constitution, the current suit states. In that case the court decided education funding had to take precedent over a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
Justice Bill Maupin was the only dissenting vote in the case, citing separation of powers, “Again, we are powerless to order co-equal branches of government to exercise individual acts of constitutional discretion. Our authority depends upon whether extraordinary relief is warranted and in exercising our authority to grant relief, we would be restricted to an interpretation of the Constitution, utilizing recognized tenets of statutory construction.”
The current lawsuit neglects to point out that the justices three years later overturned Guinn v. Legislature, largely for the very reason cited by Maupin.
The Educate Nevada Now suit further quotes the state constitution, which says, “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district […].” A school? The quote is cut off before the part that says such schools, however many there are in each district, must be open “at least six months in every year …”
The litigation comes despite the fact Nevada lawmakers in 2015 passed the largest tax hike in history, $1.5 billion, largely to fund education, and lawmakers have since approved 3 percent raises for teachers.
The problem with Nevada public education is not so much a lack of funding as it is a deficiency in accountability.
At one time Nevada high school students were required to pass a proficiency exam in order to graduate. That was dropped in 2018.
With the 2015 tax hike came a requirement that third graders who could not read at a certain proficiency level would be held back to repeat the third grade. That has since been dropped.
At one point 50 percent of teacher evaluations were based on pupil achievement growth. That has been cut to 15 percent.
Another problem is that education evaluations are all over the board. According to Teacher-Certification.com, Nevada now ranks 39th in K-12 education funding and neighboring Utah dead last. According to Education Week, Nevada ranks 18th in quality of education and Utah ranks 10th. According to U.S. News & World Report, Nevada ranks 48th in quality of K-12 education and Utah ranks 21st.
But the bottom line is: The constitution seems clear when it says education funding is whatever “the Legislature deems sufficient …”
David Baldacci’s latest installment in his mystery series featuring FBI agent Atlee Pine, “Mercy,” finally connects his protagonist with her twin sister Mercy, who was abducted from their shared bedroom at the age of 6. In doing so, as is his wont, Baldacci piles on the action to the point of stretching credulity. Hey, it’s fiction!
The Pine sisters are no shrinking violets. They are tall, fit and can and do fight with their bare hands and assorted weapons.
To fully appreciate the characters and their development as one sister searches for another — who doesn’t know for sure she even has a sister or what her real name is — I recommend reading the series in order: “Long Road to Mercy,” “A Minute to Midnight” and “Daylight.” But “Mercy” gives one all the background necessary to appreciate the intricate plotting.
Without providing too much of a spoiler, it can noted that Baldacci opens by backgrounding the reader on just what happened to Mercy and how she has survived for nearly three decades.
After her abduction, Mercy was enslaved and tortured for years by a sadistic woman and her husband. When she escaped years later the husband was left for dead, making Mercy a person of interest, even to her FBI agent sister. To make extra money she took up back alley mixed martial arts fighting.
Due to those MMA skills, along the way Mercy gets on the wrong side of an organized crime figure as well as the law, leading to some brutal encounters.
Baldacci weaves the events and reveals the mindsets and motivations as he takes the reader to a breathtaking conclusion.
The book came out just a couple of weeks ago but already is No. 10 on The New York Times’ fiction bestseller list, just ahead of Michael Connelly’s “The Dark Hours.” Deservedly so for both books. I highly recommend “Mercy.”
As the National Finals Rodeo returns to Las Vegas on Dec. 2, I recall that the closest I ever came to rodeoing was the time Grandpa Hicks put me on his horse Skeeter and sent me down to the lower pasture to bring back the cows for the evening milking.
Now, I say pasture in the kindest North Texas sense — a relatively open area dotted by scrub oak, mesquite, nettles, sandburs, cockleburs, goatheads and Johnson grasses, populated with scorpions, red ants, sidewinders, diamondbacks, jackrabbits and coyotes. It was a place where the butcherbirds hung their prey, young snakes, on the barbed wire (I was a grown man before I learned it was barbed wire and not Bob wire.) fence to keep the other vermin from stealing their victuals. Etched throughout this verdant landscape were gullies as deep as a man on horseback.
It hadn’t changed a whole heck of a lot since Gen. Philip Sheridan rode through in 1866 and panegyrized the place by proclaiming, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”
My grandparents churned their own butter and smoked their own meat. Grandma Hicks could snag a fleeing pullet by the leg with a length of wire and wring its neck in seconds, leaving the headless bird to run around for a minute or so till it could be picked up and plunged into boiling water, then plucked for a fried chicken dinner with biscuits, gravy and all the fixin’s.
At night as we listened to radio with the glowing De Forest tubes, the only thing to read was the Bible and the Sears & Roebuck’s catalog, which, when the new one arrived, would be, shall we say, recycled.
Every year we’d go to the Chisholm Trail Roundup in Nocona. This was back when the factory still made boots and leather goods, like my three-fingered baseball mitt that had to be oiled and tied around a baseball to form anything resembling a pocket. Every year they’d introduce Miss Enid Justin, the owner of the boot company. It was always “Miss” Enid Justin.
The Chisholm Trail Roundup had no lasers or fireworks or ear-splitting rock music, but it did have a booming-voiced, smart aleck announcer who would trade snappy patter with the rodeo clown during the bull riding events. We sat on cold, splintering wooden bleachers in boots and jeans and hats. Not in an 18,000-seat arena.
This was back when the stars of the sport were Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders.
In 2009 at the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack the star was then 33-year-old Wise County , Texas, roper Trevor Brazile. Unlike most in the sport Brazile earned a couple million dollars in prize money over the years, as well as a barnful of gold buckles. Most cowboys are lucky to cover their expenses — pickups, horse trailers, horses, tack and gear, as well as fuel for vehicles, horses and selves.
On that Saturday, the morning newspaper rodeo reporter Jeff Wolf, who also covered auto racing, wrangled me a press pass and took me down to the pressroom in the bowels of the T&M to meet the assorted rodeo officialdom. Along the way we bumped into Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins and T&M manager Pat Christensen. I was just there to show the flag for the paper as its editor, to show the rodeo the newspaper welcomed them, so maybe they’d think of us when there were news scoops to reveal.
I shook hands with and joked with everyone from the head honcho to the doctor to the hangers on. But I had one boon to ask. If Trevor Brazile happened by, might I get a chance to shake his hand and say hello?
Just before the rodeo was to start, they brought through the pressroom mild-mannered, soft-spoken, polite-as-hell Brazile. I shook his hand and wished him luck from a Wise County expatriate, who, like a kid collecting autographs, could now tell his family back home he’d actually met the star of the rodeo circuit. He was from Decatur. I was from Bridgeport, 11 miles down the road, and Decatur’s arch rival in high school sports. Perhaps, that this being Las Vegas and all, you’ve heard that old craps shooter’s plea: “Eighter from Decatur, county seat of Wise.”
As a lagniappe, I also shook the tiny, soft, splayed hand of bashful 2-year-old Treston, who, like his dad, was dressed in black from hat to boot. If I live so long, perhaps someday I can say I met him when …
Wolf talked the rodeo communications director into letting me sit in the press box up at arena side for a couple of go-rounds, where I dusted bits of arena floor kicked up by passing riders off my program and watched poor Trevor Brazile finish almost out of the money in both calf (I refuse to call it tie-down roping as a sop to the animal rights whiners.) and team roping.
The closest I ever came to that kind of rodeo action was because I did not know Skeeter was a cutting horse. I think I was about 10. For the purposes of this story and an aversion to too much self-embarrassment, I’ll not admit to being any older. Only my mother could proffer a contrary accounting, and she doesn’t own a computer.
So, when I got down to the pasture where that half dozen or so head of docile milk cows were grazing, either through some unintended signal from me or his own instincts, Skeeter decided that one suckling calf keeping devotedly near its mother just had to be cut out of the herd for purposes only Skeeter could fathom.
In the Texican lexicon skeeter is short for mosquito, another blood-sucking denizen of those parts, which darts about in the air, changing directions so fast as to defy the laws of physics. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing one work, that’s what a good cutting horse does. It dashes and stops and cuts back, doing whatever it takes to prevent that calf from doing what it instinctively wants to do, rejoin the rest of the herd.
Normally, most people get to see this performance in a nice flat arena from comfortable seats. Did I mention the gullies? Somehow I managed to stay on Skeeter’s back instead of flying off under the force of kinetic energy as he made all those hair-pin turns and stops.
After awhile, Skeeter decided I did not know what the heck I doing and allowed me to point him toward the barn, leaving behind that calf and all the milk cows with bulging udders. Grandpa was so angry I almost wished I’d tumbled off into a gully so I could at least have Grandma’s sympathy.
As I told the communications director back then: “This ain’t my first rodeo.”
This first appeared as a column in the morning newspaper in 2009.
Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.
The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.
The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a feast of Thanksgiving.
Capitalism saved the colony.
The American Institute of Economic Research has posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.
The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished.
“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”
Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.
The governor wrote:
“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
And the result was, again in Bradford’s words:
“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”
This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.
But Americans elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris anyway.
This past week former newspaper reporter Michael Connelly published his 36th novel, “The Dark Hours,” another featuring graveyard shift Los Angeles Police Department detective and inveterate surfer Renée Ballard and retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch. I finished it a couple of days ago, thoroughly enjoyed it, and highly recommend it.
As is his custom, Connelly takes the reader step by step through painstaking investigation, in this case a murder that takes place during a New Year’s Eve celebration that included crowds and celebratory gunfire as well as a series of rapes committed by a pair of masked conspirators who break into carefully targeted women’s homes.
Like good reporters the detectives must answer the questions of who, what, when, why and how.
The detecting duo is determined to achieve justice, even if it means going off the book and bending more than a few police rules.
Connelly’s dialogues ring authentic, not prone to lengthy soliloquy but rather snappy give and take that makes the book a true page turner.
Readers familiar with the different Southern California environs also can appreciate the word pictures the author often paints:
Fifteen minutes later, Ballard pulled to the side of Pacific Coast Highway behind Bosch’s Jeep. She got out, walked up, and got into the passenger side next to him.
“It’s that one with the portholes,” Bosch said.
He pointed across the street. The road was lined with houses cantilevered over the rocks, sand, and water. They were jammed next to each other like teeth in a mouth, so close that it was impossible to tell they were on the ocean save for the sound of the waves echoing from behind them. The house Bosch pointed at was a two-story with a single-slot carport. It was gray wood with white trim and two round windows on the second level. Ballard knew the view would be on the other side. There would be big glass looking out over the ocean.
It is no spoiler to relate that they crack both cases and uncover ample, though obscure, evidence to implicate a host of accomplices. It is the how they do it that keeps rewarding the reader.
For those who like the kind of action you get with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Connelly’s Ballard delivers in that realm, too, though not as frequently.
Hopefully, the ending is a hint that Ballard and/or Bosch or both will be back again gracing the pages of another Connelly mystery novel.
This is Connelly’s 23rd book featuring detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, yes, the same name as the Dutch painter also known for complex depictions of large groups of people. I can safely, no ardently, recommend all of those books, as well his series featuring other characters.
Anyone else the least bit piqued by some of the imprecise language creeping into news headlines and stories?
My latest is the frequent use of the word gas instead of gasoline, as in the latest headlines:
“California sets gas price record for second day running”
“California gas prices hit a record and Sacramento’s prices are even higher”
“Don’t blame Biden for high gas prices”
“Florida’s gas prices continue small drops even as holiday travel ramps up”
Cars use gasoline, not gas, as in natural gas, which people burn in their homes to keep warm and electricity companies burn to generate power.
Maybe it is because I was reared in and worked in the grease orchards of North Texas, which produced oil and natural gas. I’ve even driven pickups fueled with “drip,” the distillate produced when “wet” natural gas first comes out of the ground.
Gasoline and gas are not the same thing. Yes, the word gas fits better in a print headline, but most of those above heds were from broadcast media. No excuse.
Now, as for news stories and headlines that use the word kids instead of children, kids are young goats. That gets my goat.
“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.” — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation“
My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.
He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.
He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.
I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest is a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.
He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.
When he and his war buddies got together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.
But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually used a bulldozer blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.
To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.
Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.
Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.
With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.
But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of the House at the time represented.
Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.
President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared on Oct. 31, 1864: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”
That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.
When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three-way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.
It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.
According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.
Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.
From this meeting came the appeal:
“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”
Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:
“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.
“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”
Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.
In 1858, a war measure was directed at the Mormons, Rocha recounts,
Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.
The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”
Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”
Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.
Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”
The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.
— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”
— “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”
De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.
In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.
De Quille writes:
“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner. He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.
“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.
“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.
“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”
After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.
Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.
“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …
“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:
“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’
“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.
“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”
By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.
Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.
But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.
Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”
Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.
In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:
“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”
The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.
While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.
But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.
At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.
Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.
With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.
Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.
The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:
“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”
Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.
“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.
On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.
The article began:
“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.
“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”
The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”
Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.
When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”
Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.
The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.
A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.
Nevada and I share this birthday, though the state is slightly older.