California, 3 Little Boys Are Coming

Published 10:18 am Friday, June 2, 2017

The three grandsons left Illinois for California last week as the family chases a moving van to Fresno. No longer will Elizabeth and I be taking jaunts northward to the Land of Lincoln. Frankly, we had seen all there was to see in Decatur. My only regret is that we didn’t make it a couple hundred miles further west to Hannibal, Mo., to whitewash a fence like Tom Sawyer.

Instead, we’ll be visiting the little boys in the land of my favorite presidents — Reagan and Nixon.

For three years, this Son of the South faked a passion for Abraham Lincoln while we visited every statue, every memorial and every museum for Lincoln with the grandsons.

This week, the little boys are being treated to the Great American Vacation — a trip across the country, some of it on Route 66. They stood with their parents on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, even though they don’t yet appreciate the Eagles. Their parents introduced them to George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning,” when they spent the night there. They have seen longhorns, lots and lots of cows, the prairie and the Rockies as they’ve progressed through Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. The Grand Canyon is next on the agenda.

We have been tracking their progress, and I was most struck by Springfield, Mo., where Wild Bill Hickok became famous.

The town marks the exact spots where Wild Bill and fellow gambler Davis Tutt faced off on July 21, 1865, for a pistol duel. You can guess who won.

The War Between the States had just ended. Hickok had fought for the Union; Tutt for the Confederacy. Tutt had grabbed Hickok’s prize watch as ransom for a gambling debt. The men differed over the amount owed.

Tutt had needled Hickok for several days until the quarrel came to a head.

From a distance of 75 yards, the men took aim. Tutt missed, but Hickok’s bullet struck his opponent in the left side. Tutt cried, “Boys, I’m killed,” ran onto the courthouse porch, then back to the street where he collapsed and died.

By Western justice, shouldn’t Hickok been given a pat on the back and a free whiskey from the saloon? It was a fair-and-square duel.

Instead, Hickok was charged with murder.

There were many witnesses, and there were just as many opinions about how the shooting happened.

The judge instructed the jury that they had to convict Hickok … if they followed the law. He told them they could subscribe to the unwritten law of the “fair fight” and acquit. That’s what they did. Hickok went free even though Tutt had a lot of friends in town.

Weeks later, a writer for Harper’s magazine came to town, found Hickok and turned him into one of the great legends of the Old West. Notoriety came with a price. For the rest of his days, somebody was always wanting to draw on Wild Bill. He was playing poker in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on Aug. 1, 1876, when Jack McCall came into the saloon and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. McCall was hanged and buried with the noose still around his neck.

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Having read of some of the loopy ideas held by Californians, I’m hoping the boys and their parents will consider themselves on a political mission trip to convert the unwashed.

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A candidate who body-slammed a reporter the day before the election won the Montana congressional race last week. Like many reporters, I’ve taken stock. I think I’m safe with diminutive Rep. Virginia Foxx at her Clemmons office. But the youthful Rep. Ted Budd in Davie looks to have the muscle and heft to throw me.

Now that candidates know they can gain votes by assaulting reporters, some journalists will be seeking combat pay.

– Dwight Sparks