Twelve Mile Circle felt like playing games. More to the point, I’d collected a few town names tied to games that I wanted to share. I did something similar awhile ago with the sport of Lawn Bowls, a particularly popular choice for names. Atlantic City also made the cut with Monopoly although the town inspired the game rather than the other way around.
Show Low got me thinking. I’d spotted the town in eastern Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I figured it hid an interesting story given its strange name and indeed it did. Two ranchers, Corydon Cooley and Marion Clark, owned a large property jointly in 1876. They discovered, however, that it wouldn’t support both of their families. Neither wanted to leave so they let fate pick the winner with a poker game. As the Town’s website explained,
Show Low was named after a marathon poker game played between two early settlers. They decided there wasn’t enough room for both of them in the community and agreed to let a game of cards decide who was to get the 100,000 acre ranch and who was to move on. According to the story, one of them said, "If you can show low, you win." The other one turned up the deuce of clubs and replied, "show low it is."
Nothing could go lower than the deuce of clubs so the game ended. Cooley won. He renamed the ranch Show Low to commemorate his victory and the town later adopted it. That seemed fitting in the Old West where stories like those abounded. The town embraced its history too. They called their primary road, a segment of U.S. Route 60, Deuce of Clubs (map). Lots of local businesses used the name and the town logo featured an appropriate playing card.
The map said Truth or Consequences although locals called it T or C (map). Either way, it definitely seemed like an odd name for a town. I thought I’d mentioned this one before, however it seemed that it never actually made it into a 12MC article. Loyal reader Peter did mention T or C in a comment about a year ago referring to its old name, Hot Springs. Well, Hot Springs certainly sounded normal, so what happened?
I supposed with a relatively common name like Hot Springs, the town wanted to try something a little bit more unusual. A radio program popular at the time, Truth or Consequences, offered a contest. Its host, Ralph Edwards, would broadcast the show’s 10th anniversary episode live from any town that would change its name to match the show. Hot Springs jumped at the chance and the broadcast took place on April 1, 1950. The town impressed Edwards so much that he returned every May for the next half-century for an Annual Fiesta. T or C returned the love, naming an auditorium and a park for Edwards.
Poker Flat and The Shores of Poker Flat, California
Bret Harte wrote colorful stories of the California Gold Rush in the second half of the 19th Century. He published one his most famous short stories "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" in Overland Monthly magazine in 1869. Go ahead and read it. This shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes. I’ll wait for you until you get back.
A community called The Shores of Poker Flat claimed to be the inspiration for the story. It even included a Bret Harte Drive (map). However, evidence seemed to point to another Poker Flat found elsewhere in California (map). That one became a ghost town many decades ago.
You didn’t read the story, did you? Let me synopsize. A gold rush town wished to rid itself of negative influences. They hanged a couple of miscreants and exiled four others. The exiles left town, warned to stay away forever. They trudged into the mountains and met a couple traveling in the opposite direction. Tired, the expanded group set camp in an abandoned cabin as it began to snow. They remained trapped for several days as provisions waned and stakes became increasingly desperate. One of the prime characters, the professional gambler John Oakhurst, was found dead at the end of the story. He’d committed suicide "with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart." There he sat beneath a pine tree, with "the deuce of clubs pinned to the bark with a bowie-knife."
There was that deuce of clubs again. He showed low, his luck ran out.
A last stand didn’t mean that the person subjected to the stand had to die, I supposed. I looked to the modern era and examined the curious case of Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, for the final of this series of final stands. His last stand happened at an isolated cabin in the wilderness, ending more with a whimper than a bang. A critical mistake made by the overconfident evil genius led to his ruin.
Before the Bombings
Kaczynski didn’t like modern technology and he blamed it for the ills of society. He lived according to his practices, moving to a one-room cabin completely lacking any amenities in rural Montana, preferring the world of a hermit. He demonstrated remarkable intelligence in spite of his lack of social skills. Kaczynski entered Harvard University at the age of 16 and became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley by the time he turned 25. That lasted only a couple of years and he moved to his cabin in 1971, not yet 30 years old. He didn’t fit in well with society.
A Terrible Turn of Events
His reclusive behavior seemed unusual although it remained legally acceptable. He was simply another loner who preferred a life of solitude. However his distaste for the modern world progressed to a deadlier level. He began to craft homemade bombs that he delivered or mailed to technologists at universities and research facilities. He also managed to slip a bomb onto a passenger jet that would have taken it down except that the device started smoking and failed to detonate. Federal agencies searching for a suspect used the code name UNABOM for University and Airline Bomber. The press changed it to Unabomber.
Kaczynski’s terrorist acts continued for many years, from 1978 to 1995. They involved sixteen separate bombs, three deaths and a score of injuries. His spree could have lasted indefinitely except that Kaczynski actually wanted to change the world. He drafted a rambling manifesto condemning the failings of modern society. Kaczynski said that he would halt the bombings if major news organizations published his beliefs verbatim. Federal officials convinced both the New York Times and the Washington Post to print the document, a hugely controversial decision at the time. They hoped someone might recognize its distinct writing style and turn-in the bomber. That’s exactly what happened. Linda Patrik, Ted’s sister-in-law, had a suspension and convinced her husband David to take a look. David Kaczynski was Ted’s brother and noticed an immediate similarity. That was the break the case need and the FBI arrested Ted Kaczynski at his mountainside cabin.
Twelve Mile Circle couldn’t identify the exact spot of the cabin where the last stand took place. It happened somewhere several miles south of Lincoln, Montana (map). The property was for sale as recently as 2010 however, so I’m sure someone could find the spot without too much effort. It wouldn’t do much good because the cabin was removed. The FBI took it away and loaned it to the Newseum in Washington, DC (map) where it became part of an exhibit.
I recently received a page from the Washington Post, June 19, 2008, page A9. This comprises a full-page, full-color advertisement that features my cabin, which is being exhibited publicly at something called a ‘Newseum,’ … Since the advertisement states that the cabin is ‘FROM FBI VAULT,’ it is clear that the government is responsible for the public exhibition of the cabin. This has obvious relevance to the victims’ objection to publicity connected with the Unabom case.
Ted’s New Home
Ted’s still very much alive even now, so many years later. A judge sentenced him to eight life terms in prison without the possibility of parole. He currently spends his days at the federal Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado (map). Authorities designed this prison for the worst of the worst criminals, with restrictions a level beyond maximum security, a so-called supermax facility. Here Ted will remain with other notorious villains such as Eric Rudolph (Olympic Park bomber), Zacarias Moussaoui (helped plan the 9-11 attacks on the World Trace Center and the Pentagon), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Boston Marathon bomber), Terry Nichols (Oklahoma City Federal Building bomber); and Robert Hanssen (notorious spy for the Soviet Union) until he dies. ADX will truly become Kaczynski’s final last stand.
John Wilkes Booth‘s last stand was by no means the only infamous last stand. It got me thinking about a wide range of other events from the last couple of hundred years that might fall within the same general guidelines. Last stands happened in many places in many times. I selected a few from the multitude of instances available and fixated on them. Custer’s Last Stand, well, that would practically be synonymous with the definition of a last stand. In fact that was the first thing that popped into my mind as I expanded past Booth. Undoubtedly that notion would be the same for much of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. I couldn’t simply skip it — that would be a glaring omission — so George Armstrong Custer needed a closer examination.
The spot where Custer died, the place of his last stand, was considerably better known than his birthplace. I figured I’d have a difficult time finding it because I didn’t think anyone would really care except for maybe me and a handful of other people fascinated by such things. I guessed wrong. People apparently did care. In fact I even found a Custer Memorial Association in New Rumley, Ohio, at Custer’s 1839 birthplace. They operated a small museum "open the last Sunday of each month from 1:00 to 4:00pm." They also maintained a roadside park open year round on the site of the original Custer homestead, of which little remained except for the foundation of the house where he was born (map).
However Custer spent much of his childhood in Monroe, Michigan, with the family of his half-sister.
The people of Monroe erected a monument to Custer after his death (map). He probably got a monument everywhere he ever set foot, or so it seemed, although some hadn’t fared well. Even the citizens of Monroe, a place where he spent much of his childhood, relocated the monument a bunch of times including sticking it out in the woods where vegetation overgrew it, before moving the statue to a more prominent part of town. Officially it was known as the George Armstrong Custer Equestrian Monument, alternately Sighting the Enemy.
Famously, Custer finished last in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. However it was 1861, the Civil War was just underway, and the military needed officers in a hurry so they pressed him into service anyway. He performed remarkably well once in a combat role.
Throughout the war Custer continued to distinguishing himself as fearless, aggressive, and ostentatious. His personalized uniform style, complete with a red neckerchief could be somewhat alienating, but he was successful in gaining the respect of his men with his willingness to lead attacks from the front rather than the back.
Custer quickly moved up the ranks, becoming brigadier general then brevet major general of the U.S. Army and finally major general of the U.S. Volunteers in quick succession. He was only 23 years old when he first became a general, the youngest in the army. Custer also served the entire lengthy of the conflict, from Bull Run to Appomattox. At Gettysburg, he commanded the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that was instrumental in stopping a Confederate cavalry attack on the Union army’s right flank. He got a nice monument for that too. Actually, the entire Michigan Cavalry Brigade earned the monument although Custer’s image appeared in a circular bas-relief sculpture just about half way up (map).
I mentioned all of that service because people tended to overlook his distinguished career and skip right to the ending.
Twelve Mile Circle is not a history website so I’ll only discuss the Last Stand briefly. There were plenty of other places on the Intertubes, or even entire books, where one could get a better account. Custer died on the battlefield near Montana’s Little Bighorn River in 1876 (map). The United States Army had a rule-of-thumb, naming battles for the nearest body of water during that period (e.g., the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run and Battle of Antietam) so the engagement came to be known as the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The situation leading up to it brewed for a long time. The government had been forcing Plains Indians onto reservations for awhile by that point. Various elements of the Lakota and Cheyenne resisted fiercely, sparking a whole chain of events known as the Sioux Wars. The final outrage in the eyes of native inhabitants had been a sudden incursion of settlers into the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. The Sioux considered this a sacred area that had been promised to them in a treaty. That quickly collapsed after word leaked out about gold found in the area. Many bands, fed up with broken promises, left the reservations in an effort to fight for their ancestral lands.
The government began a protracted, coordinated campaign to crush resistance. Custer hadn’t gone out there alone, he simple commanded one force amongst several crossing the plains from late 1875 and into the first half of 1876 trying to tame the rebellion. However Custer made a huge blunder. His aggressive personality that served him well during the Civil War compelled him to rush headlong into battle without understanding the true situation at Little Bighorn.
He thought he was attacking a small encampment. Instead he led 700 men from the 7th Cavalry Regiment headlong into a force three times its size. Sitting Bull’s forces quickly turned the tables and utterly destroyed Custer and his men in less than an hour. Casualties also included Custer’s two brother, Thomas and Boston. Later historical accounts by members of the tribes expressed complete bewilderment that Custer would attack them when they were so strong.