What’s New at the Southwest Collection?

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Rather than just spin a yarn about a single collection this week, we’re going to catch you up on some exciting things that happened in only the first couple of months of 2015!

For example, a couple weeks back the Southwest Collection was excited to host a research visit by the recipient of the Big 12 Faculty Fellowship Award, associate professor Greg Stephens of Kansas State University-Salina.

Professor Stephens’ focused his attention on our American Agricultural Movement (AAM) Records and related oral histories (which you may remember we hosted an entire exhibit about last spring!) Stephens is gathering information on farmers in Kansas to try to explain how the stories that individuals told about their involvement shaped the AAM’s leadership and goals, and how that reciprocally may have then changed the stories themselves. The AAM wasn’t the only organization he was looking at: the National Farmers’ Organization (NFO), Grange, Farmers’ Union, and the Farm Bureau also used specific narratives to define their missions. He even found that the AAM was stronger in the South Plains region (home of the Southwest Collection) than he had initially thought!

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Here you see our purveyor of oral histories (and gif creation expert) Elissa Stroman assisting Stephens with finding oral histories and similar items among our digital collections. She agrees that Stephens’ project is definitely interesting, and we were thrilled to be able aid it with our collections. If the Ag Movement strikes your fancy, too, then give our spectacular Reference Staff a call and they’d be happy to set up for you a look at it.

Underwwod POW card

Digital Collections Update!

Did you know that the Southwest Collection has added nearly a dozen digitized collections to our digital holdings? True story. Some of them are pretty spectacular, including the Boss Tweed Family Papers (the tale of which you can find right here!); the Charles Underwood Papers that contain some incredible images of World War II Pacific POW letters, one of which can be seen above; and the complete roster and late-19th-century war recollections of the United Confederate Veterans’ Fort Worth chapter  just in time for the anniversary of the final year of the Civil War. mastheads

One huge digital project we’ve had going on for several years is the digitization of numerous newspapers from around West Texas. There are far too many titles to name (seriously, check out this list of 28 different area newspapers totaling over 52,000 individual issues!), but some of the most recent include the State Line Tribune from the town of Farwell (or Texico, depending on what side of the Texas/New Mexico border you’re on), the Castro County News, and the Matador Tribune/Motley County Tribune (and assorted other names.) If you need west Texas news from the past 100 or so years, we’ve probably got it. Oh, and we’re always and forever adding more issues of Texas Tech’s own Daily Toreador (or University Daily, depending on the vintage) or whatever else the world will give us. (For example, we’ve been looking for papers to fill gaps in dates from many of the collections above, and in particular from our newspaper from Ropesivlle, Texas in the mid-twentieth-century for a while now. Got any lying around you might make available to us?)

Need, or want, to lay eyes on some of this stuff in person? Look no further than our ever-helpful Reference Staff to make that happen.

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From: “My Dear Brother William”: The Rise and Fall of William “Boss” Tweed & Family

April 4 1878 optional piece

(Editor’s note: This piece was generously contributed by visiting researcher and graduate student Jeffrey D. Broxmeyer of City University of New York, who used the Southwest Collection’s Tweed Family Papers as research material for his dissertation.)

William M. Tweed played a leading role in one of the great dramas of the postbellum period, the New York “Tweed Ring.” The group was composed of Tweed (Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall, state senator, and city Commissioner of Public Works), Oakey Hall (mayor), Richard Connolly (comptroller), and Peter Sweeny (district attorney), as well as a colorful cast of lesser politicos, contractors, and hangers-on. Historians estimate that between the late 1860s and early 1870s the Tweed Ring defrauded the City of New York from anywhere between $50 million (or $940 million today) and $100 million ($1.8 billion). Most of the money was never recovered.

The collapse of the Tweed Ring led to political crisis in New York and across the country. Considering the Ring’s breathtaking scale of operations, the scandal touched nearly the entire New York political class. One clipping I found in the Southwest Collection’s Tweed Family Papers came from the New York Herald, and was dated November 14, 1878. It quoted Senator Booth, a Republican, claiming that the taint of scandal directly touched “hundreds, both democrats and republicans, not only in the city of New York, but throughout the state.” With Tweed’s erstwhile ally turned prosecutor, Samuel Tilden, running for president, the Ring also became a major national issue during the contentious Election of 1876.

But how did Tweed generate his vast personal fortune? Reformers, journalists, and historians have often assumed that Tweed simply embezzled his fortune directly from city funds. This characterization, however, does not do justice to the complexity of Tweed’s operations. At the outbreak of the Civil War, bankruptcy records show that Tweed’s modest chairmaking shop, William M. Tweed & Brother, was significantly in debt. According to his later confession, at his pinnacle Tweed’s net worth was at least $6 million (or $113 million today). My research suggests that in fact much of Tweed’s personal wealth came not directly from embezzled funds but through his extensive and diversified business portfolio. During the height of Gilded Age boom times, Tweed leveraged his political influence toward speculative investments in banks, railroads, mines, newspapers, transportation, and real estate. Tweed’s real estate activity was particularly impressive, and he bought and sold valuable plots of land all over Manhattan to everyone from small-time Tammany hacks to the Astor family. Tweed even incorporated his own steamship company to ferry elite New Yorkers from Manhattan to their vacation homes in Greenwich, Connecticut.

It was, however, a short-lived business empire, as the Tweed Family Papers, collected by William’s sister-in-law, Margaret, illustrate. William was close with his brother Richard’s family, and the papers document the extreme financial hardship they all experienced in the wake of the scandal.

Jan 8 1877

William was first arrested in 1871. The Southwest Collection’s archives suggest that after six years of costly legal battles, his wealth was exhausted. Correspondence shows that, even with “the strictest economy,” his sister-in-law Margaret was desperate to avert foreclosure on their home at 339 W. 57th Street. Despite months of her pleadings, William lamented that he was in no position to help. On January 8, 1877, William candidly explained his own predicament in the letter above: “The fact is since my return [to jail] I have only by the most pressing efforts and sacrifices been enabled to meet my expenses. I have not had one dollar to use otherwise…Painful as it is to me I must say at present I cannot do anything to help you. But I am in hopes to have good reason to imagine I will shortly be in a position to do so.” nov 3 1877

Months later, William replied once again to Margaret’s plea for assistance. Although she owed significant debts, she asked only for $97 to pay for heating coal during the winter. “My Dear Sister Margaret,” he wrote from jail on November 3, 1877 (above), “I am really sorry. I am so unfortunately situated…at the present time it is almost impossible to get the money I need from day to day. If I can help I will do so and with pleasure.” Margaret attempted to contact William one last time via the letter at the top of this article, written on April 4, 1878 only days before his death from illness in prison. “Dear Brother William,” she wrote, “my daily prayers…are that your long delay of hopes are soon to be realized.” These letters paint quite a different picture of William Tweed than those by Thomas Nast, the gifted Harper’s Weekly artist who created the iconic caricatures that helped topple the Ring. In his correspondence with Margaret, William appears a devoted and even humble family man; hardly the rapacious beast portrayed by Nast and others.feb 9 1881

Years after the death of William, Margaret, and Richard Tweed continued to be plagued by financial duress. One of Margaret’s sons, Frank, wrote her the letter above on February 9, 1881, to explain why, with all manner of excuses, he could not send her money to pay rent. Another of Margaret’s sons, Alfred, frequently sent small remittances back east from Colorado, where he moved to escape the family legacy. But the scandal haunted him there, too. In the letter below from Denver and dated September 24, 1876, Alfred confessed to his mother than he had not succeeded in making a “quick fortune” out West. The Tweed Papers show that only a few years earlier, Alfred had toured Europe and lodged in luxury hotels. Now, things in Colorado appeared to be going less well. “I have a slandered name and reputation here,” he reported. “The Boss if all be true comes in for a due share of bad luck. And we all as a family seem to be d–n unlucky.” Sept 24 1876

By Jeffrey D. Broxmeyer

Additional Locations for Archival Material Related to William “Boss” Tweed:
Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library:
Edwin Patrick Kilroe Collection
John T. Hoffman Papers
New-York Historical Society Library:
Richard Connolly Papers
Charles S. Fairchild Papers
William M. Tweed Miscellaneous Manuscripts
New York Public Library:
A. H. Green Papers
A. Oakey Hall Miscellaneous Manuscripts
George Jones Papers
Samuel J. Tilden Papers
New York State Public Library:
Jay Gould Family Papers
Syracuse University Library:
Jay Gould Letters
Thomas Nast Collection
Tammany Collection, State Library, Albany, New York

 

150 Years Later: The United Confederate (Civil War) Records of Fort Worth, Texas

century war book-3In the spring of 1864, during the U.S. Civil War, Union forces under General Ulysses S Grant in the East and General William T. Sherman in the West began a coordinated campaign against the Confederacy. Now, 150 years later, we’d like to share some of the accounts of this, and other campaigns, written by Confederate veterans decades later when they began joining various Confederate Veterans organizations. The records we hold can be found primarily among our United Confederate (Civil War) Collection (UCV), which documents the history of Fort Worth’s UCV branch, the Robert E. Lee Camp No. 158.

The well-weathered item above is one of the dozen or so Century War Books in the UCV papers. It was published in 1894, at about the time R. E. Lee Camp 158 was gathering stories such as B. S. Landon’s (see below.) According to its authors, the Century War Book was “issued with the idea of bringing its picturesque features before a larger body of readers” than its predecessors. The mammoth volume that collected all of what would become the Century War Books, as well as THE CENTURY MAGAZINE. Altogether, the entire cost of the history in all its forms reached nearly $250,000.

b s landen account-1

“Descriptive Lists” are the handwritten accounts of war service that veterans submitted to the UCV. This one was written by B. S. Landon, a Confederate cavalryman under J.E.B. Stuart in the Army of Northern Virginia. “I was never in any regular battles or engagements,” he claims, but that wasn’t entirely true. He “rec’d during the war two balls through the body–one through the leg & one in the bottom of the left foot,” which no doubt kept him out of action for a time. But not forever: Landon was shot 3 additional times before the end of the war.

Roster-1 E. Lee Camp 158 had a large membership, as this roster can testify. Created by compiling the information gathered from hundreds and hundreds of Descriptive Lists, its pages aren’t as lively as veterans’ personal stories, but are equally useful because they gather members’ names in one place. To find a veteran they want to research, a researcher can avoid poring over pages and pages of Descriptive Lists and instead easily flip through this ledger. Names are most commonly found in the lists of those who paid their annual dues, as you can see in the page above.

j e johnson-1The final item we’ve got for you today is the Descriptive List of Pvt. W. C. Allen of the Army of Northern Virginia. Whereas B. S. Landon’s story was modest, W. C. Allen’s is an unpunctuated, brutally matter-of-fact account of a Private’s life. Once war erupted in April 1861, Allen wasted no time enlisting. He was present at the Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and a host of others such as Sharpsburg where he was shot and left on the battlefield for 3 days while his wound “got full of worms.” After a surprisingly quick recovery, he went on to fight a bit more before he was captured. Released 22 months later, he was apprehended again after rejoining the Confederate army, put on trial for “bushwhacking,” jailed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then incarcerated in the “Penatenchury” in Nashville until April 1865. We’ve read a lot of these letters, and most of us agree that there are few stories to match Allen’s.

The entirety of this collection has been digitized and placed online, but if you’d like to see these incredible items with your own eyes then don’t hesitate to contact our Reference Staff who are always happy to make that happen.