100 Years Ago Today: Magic Rope Wards Off Rattlesnakes

Herald Democrat, February 20, 1919
Two campers, who look like they rode a bike attached to boat, think this horsehair rope will protect them from rattlesnakes.
Popular Mechanics Magazine, Jan 1919

Myth alert! It doesn’t matter what kind of rope you put around your campsite, bedroll, naptime knoll, or burrow, if a rattlesnake is headed toward a rope and it wants to cross it, the snake is probably going to slither right on over. Regardless of whether it’s made out of horsehair, cow hair, sisal, unicorn hair, or dragon heartstrings (shout out to my Harry Potter heads), most snakes are not afraid of ropes.

Mythbusters shakes out the truth about snakes

The rope-averse-snake myth likely originates from a few theories:

  • Theory: Snakes are afraid of horses, and they’ll be able to detect that the rope hair is from a horse.
  • Busted: Snakes use their tongues to capture smells, but even if they do recognize the smell of a horse, they also have excellent vision, so they can clearly see this rope is not a horse about to stomp them.
  • Theory: Snakes have soft underbellies, so they don’t like going over rough surfaces, and the coarse horsehair will deter them.
  • Busted: Snakes’ underbellies are not human baby butts. They’re fairly tough, what with crawling over cactus, sand, and rocks.
  • Theory: Snakes will think the rope is a rival snake, so they’ll avoid it.
  • Busted: Not every snake is a rival to a given snake. Ever see a rattlesnake den?
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Regarding the use of the term tenderfoot in the article, according to journalist and American English scholar, H.L. Mencken, the American origin of the word resides with cowboys of the West, who used the term to describe a cow that was new on the range. I appreciate the imagery of a hot stepping calf who walks like my dogs do when I put booties on them.

Tenderfoot was then applied to anyone who was new to the West and therefore inexperienced in the outdoors. The term became especially popular with miners and those who were new to working underground. The Boy Scouts picked up on the term, making the Tenderfoot Rank one rank higher than Scout rank and one rank lower than Second Class.

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Tenderfoot Rank Emblem, Boy Scouts

Here’s the original Popular Mechanics article about magic ropes, from the January 1919 issue:

Popular Mechanics, Jan 1919 issue

100 Years Ago Today: Lunatic Threatens to Cut Off Police Chief’s Head

Herald Democrat, February 14, 1919

Governor Oliver H. Shoup (shoop ba-doop) was elected the 22nd governor of Colorado in November, 1918, and he was already receiving death threats by February, 1919. “Lunatics” weren’t wasting any time. Granted, Shoup’s own head was not under threat but that of a proxy, Hamilton Armstrong, long-serving Denver Chief of Police. Neither Shoup nor Armstrong were harmed by the unknown letter writer. Both men died years later of heart attacks.

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Governor Oliver H. Shoup

Chief of Police, Hamilton Armstrong, with head firmly attached to shoulders

The letter this “lunatic” sent was oddly signed. The writer drew a person’s left hand and wrote “one hundred and fifty White Caps” on the hand. Originating in the mid-1800s, “whitecapping” was the crime of threatening a person with violence in order to influence their behavior. White Cap societies were anonymous groups that used whitecapping to intimidate people. This letter writer supposedly had a group of 150 people behind their threat. In the 1920s, the KKK, wearing literal white caps, became the most notorious and influential of these groups in Colorado.

An article from Montrose Daily Press from the same day describes the letter as a “black hand threat.” The phrase “black hand threat” has its roots in Italian-American extortion rackets, for gangsters and mafia members would send letters threatening their target, often signing it at the end with a drawing of a hand. A film about the origins of the Mafia, called The Black Hand, starring Leo DiCaprio, is currently in the works.

Montrose Daily Press, February 14, 1919

Another interesting piece of the whitecapping letter: the writer disavows themselves from the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World), but claims, “there is some power behind us.” Newspapers at this time often lumped together the I.W.W., Bolsheviks, and Anarchists together as violent, dangerous, anti-American organizations, despite the fact that none of these groups agreed with each other, and most members of these groups detested violence. Regardless, I’d love to know why the writer wanted his target to know the I.W.W. had nothing to do with the threat.

A bit more about Governor Shoup: he served as governor for two terms, from 1919 – 1923, but he declined to run for a third term. He is best known for opening the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which runs beneath James Peak (13,301′ high). Moffat Tunnel opened the Middle Park area up to a more reliable Denver supply line, and it provided Denver residents with a faster way to get to Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. Shoup helped create the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District that sold bonds backed by real estate taxes, which funded the tunnel.

Gov. Shoup at the Moffat Tunnel East Portal Opening Day
Denver Public Library, Western History Dept

Before being elected governor, Shoup attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He left college to pursue business ventures in banking as well as oil, and he was the first president of the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company. During his political career as governor, he oversaw the creation of the State Highway Department and a restructuring of the Colorado National Guard. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

Denver Police and Fire Chiefs. Chief of Police Armstrong circled.
Gov. Shoup signs ratification of 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote
President Wilson with Gov. Shoup leaving Brown Palace in Denver

100 Years Ago Today: Strikers Replaced by Soldiers

Herald Democrat, February 11, 1919

Today, thousands of Denver Public Schools teachers went on strike to demand higher wages and a more predictable pay schedule. It is the first teacher strike in the district in 25 years. However, if you rewind 100 years, strikes were all the rage in the labor movement.

In Seattle, the first general strike or (sympathetic strike) in America took place over six days in February, 1919. Over one hundred unions represented by 25,000 workers across the city joined the ongoing shipyard workers’ strike of 35,000 workers. This essentially shut down Seattle as most shops closed and the union-run streetcars stopped running.

Seattle shipyards: the strike begins
Shipyard workers on strike in Seattle, 1919

The strike ended in a kind of loss for unions, for workers returned to their jobs without significant changes in pay. But the strike was entirely peaceful, unlike almost every major strike in the past, and ushered in a new wave of union-led protests across the country. The Denver streetcar strike of 1920 was not so peaceful, however, as seven people were killed and 50 seriously injured.

I.W.W. pamphlet supporting shipyard workers’ strike of 1919

Meanwhile at schools in Denver, stationary engineers — who maintained Denver Public Schools’ boilers and furnaces as well as performed janitorial duties — no doubt inspired by events in Seattle, went on strike for higher pay, which shut down 25 of the 65 existing schools in the district.

At that time, janitors were not often hired by the school system. If stationary engineers couldn’t keep the school clean while also maintaining the boilers and furnaces, then they either enlisted their wives and kids to help clean, or they hired extra staff out of their own pay. Stationary engineers were regularly working 12-16 hours per day to keep up. Yes, they did receive an apartment, but not mentioned in the article: it was in the grimy basement of the school. Wages had been frozen for years due to WWI, while inflation drove down the value of the dollar. No wonder they wanted $40 more per month.

North High School in Denver circa 1919

Engineers at Denver Public Schools were supposed to be replaced
quickly by unemployed soldiers with boiler repair skills they learned during the war, but after three days only West High School was re-opened, and deputy sheriffs were guarding the boiler rooms. However, anti-union, anti-strike sentiment was strong with DPS management and they did quickly evict the former employees from their basement homes.

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Herald Democrat, February 14, 1919

Today there are 162 schools in the DPS district, and early childhood schools were the only schools that have closed due to the teachers’ strike, with substitutes covering the classes. In today’s teachers’ strike, there is no talk of the teachers being permanently replaced by substitutes over the strike.

Some attitudes toward unions and strikers have changed since 1919, but many have not. 100 years ago, most Colorado newspapers equated strikers with Bolsheviks, Socialists, Anarchists, anti-Americans, Radicals, and any number of synonyms for “lazy people.” Newspapers were overwhelmingly against the union/labor side, and regularly supported management in most strikes.

So far in today’s teachers’ strike, there is less anti-striker sentiment, and teachers certainly aren’t being called anti-American, but if the strike continues and schools are shut down in a few days, sentiments could change quickly.

100 Years Ago Today: Bolshevism and Breckenridge

Summit County Journal, February 1, 1919

Naively, I thought I could brush up on Bolshevism, the Russian Revolution, Communism, the Red Army, Anarchism, and the I.W.W. circa 1919 in a couple of hours in order to write up some context for today’s article. This, despite the fact that the last time I learned about any of these topics I was spending my free time listening to Korn and skateboarding through mall parking lots in JNCOs. Nope nope nope.

What I do know is that anti-Bolshevism op-ed and news articles pop up nearly every day in 1919 newspapers, so the anxiety on display in today’s article is not surprising.

What is Bolshevism and why are there so many articles opposed to it?

The Bolsheviks were a group started in Russia by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in order to bring Marxism to Russia and beyond. Bolshevism was later known as Communism, an attempt to create a classless society where everyone is equal.

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Vladimir Lenin
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Leon Trotsky

Frank Engels, coauthor of the Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, lays out the aims of Communism as such:

“Finally, when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand and man so change that society will be able to slough off whatever of its old economic habits may remain.”

The Communist Manifesto (1847)

Why did Bolshevism have so much opposition in the U.S.?

Communism/Bolshevism and Capitalism are, of course, at odds with one another, and the two political/economic systems have not played well with one another over the last 100 years.

There has always been, and probably always will be, people who have been crushed by Capitalism and would like to try a different system. Bolshevism is a promise to the lowest wage earners, the most overlooked, the least powerful people in a Capitalist system that they will have just as much as their former employers under a new system.

Today’s article posits that Bolshevism falsely promises that the “ordinary man would remain safe.” But what if you’re not safe at all in a Capitalist country? What if you’re an immigrant working the Ludlow, CO coal mines? What if you’re a woman with limited work opportunities? What if you’re a soldier returning from war to an impoverished small town? These are people who might decide that Capitalism isn’t keeping them safe, and maybe their country should give Bolshevism a try.

In the U.S. in 1919, the workforce was in transition. World War I ended with the armistice on November 11, 1918, and young soldiers were coming home, not knowing what kinds of jobs were available, nor if they were qualified for them. In many instances, women had taken jobs that men had done before they went overseas, and in Colorado, immigrants had taken work in the mines because these very dangerous positions were some of the only jobs people would actually hire them for. Would this transitional period make people more likely to ask for a different economic system? Maybe one with more parity?

Bolshevism was on everyone’s tongue. Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky were masters of propaganda, and they capably spread their idea of overthrowing the ruling class in order to bring “peace, land, and bread” back to the starving working class in Russia and throughout the entire world. Bolshevism was one of the hottest buzz words in the entire world in 1919, and that scared the hell out of people who were safe and secure and powerful because it could mean losing everything they’d worked for.

News reports of Bolshevist uprisings in Europe were covered daily in newspapers. Many articles conflated Anarchism with Bolshevism and lumping those two incongruous movements together. The Bolshevik uprisings in countries were sometimes violent, and newspapers played that aspect up as well, likely because fear sells papers.

Indeed, Anarchism would be a cause for very real fear later in April 1919, when Anarchists called Galleanists (followers of Luigi Galleani) mailed 36 dynamite filled bombs to prominent political figures and other people with power throughout the U.S.. Then in June 1919, eight larger bombs were detonated simultaneously outside homes and offices of other prominent figures.

100 years ago today, Bolshevism was the dangerous buzzword around the globe, even in the small mining town of Breckenridge, CO. Fear of this new economic/political system was all over the news, and the post-war transitional instability in the workforce made Bolshevism seem like it could be coming to a city, town, or government near you.

100 Years Ago Today: Chevrons Causing Trouble

Akron Weekly Pioneer Press, January 31, 1919

Chevrons are making headlines again! Today’s post is a follow up to a previous article filed under ‘100 Years Ago Today’ about chevrons called Marks of Service, which concludes with the author pleading to its readers:

“The man who displays any of the chevrons…has done his full duty by his country and is worthy of honor.”

Cheyenne Record, Volume 7, Number 44, January 23, 1919

Apparently the message didn’t hold water for many people reached out to their Congressmen over the “discrimination” of the distinction of gold vs. silver chevrons, complaining that their service stateside was not their choice but their assignment, and they gladly would have served on the front lines instead.

Gold Chevrons:

A single gold chevron for each wound received in service in the Theater of Operations (mostly France) is worn on the forearm of the right sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward.

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Gold chevrons

Silver Chevrons:

A single silver chevron for each complete six month’s service in the United States is worn on the forearm of the left sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward. 

Silver Chevron

Republican House Representative, John C. McKenzie, (who held that position from 1911-1925), gets a looooong quote in this page three opinion piece, saying that Congress may need to prohibit certain chevrons, but I can’t find any evidence that this was actually brought to lawmakers, nor that it was passed. Rep. McKenzie does offer an interesting solution to the problem, namely that chevrons should only be worn by those who “served in actual fighting” and “clearly risked their lives.”

But what is “actual fighting” and what does it mean to “clearly” risk your life? The article’s author rebuts with a nod to the air servicemen who trained pilots stateside. I imagine their job being akin to a Drivers Ed teacher, except your students are flying primitive airplanes thousands of feet above the ground. Clear risk? Check!

Also, Rep McKenzie, what’s up with the shaming of the army field clerks who according to you, “dodged real military service”? Does the military not have important clerking to be done? Records to keep? Messages to send? Shout out to the clerks!

Regardless of whether Rep. McKenzie’s solution is appropriate, the problem was very real to servicemen after the War. I like the following explanation of hierarchy that was causing the rift:

“There was a clear hierarchy for these left sleeve service chevrons: silver were the lowest ranking and could not be worn by anyone entitled to wear either a single blue chevron or for anyone entitled to wear gold chevrons(s). The next rung was the single blue chevron, showing less than 6 months in the theater of operations. Anyone with more than six months service was to wear a gold chevron for each 6 months in the theater of operations. Thus World War I uniforms should exist only with one or more silver chevrons, one blue chevron, or one or more gold chevrons.”


I’m also intrigued by the way that the editorial cartoon highlights the problem of untreated anxiety servicemen were dealing with post-WWI.

The poor fella on the right who can’t get the ladies wears two silver chevrons, meaning he served stateside for at least 12 months but not more than 17 months, while the (pipe smoking?) gent on the left served at least six month but not more than 11 months abroad.

Pfft, AND he was probably a clerk. Kudos to the cartoonist for the inclusion of the word GOLD in all caps on the woman’s shoulder to let us know her man’s chevron color. Very subtle.

The anxieties I’m seeing in the cartoon include: Can I find a partner? Will anyone want me after my service? Should I wear my military uniform? Is this attracting people or repelling them? Why is everyone else getting the attention I want? Why is it so hard being lonely? How can I improve my status when it’s printed on my sleeve?

100 years ago today, chevrons became a point of contention for former service members, symbolizing the anxiety over status in 20th century America, to the point that Congress members were thinking of making laws to legislate chevron wearing.