History can be a wicked trap.
In the Internet Age many of us are aware of the "Wikipedia Effect": Someone posts something on one Internet source, then the next thing you know it's on 20 webpages, then 200, and after a short while people think there are 200 sources for a piece of information rather than just one that got replicated exponentially. This isn't new; for decades the equivalent were the AP and UPI wire services, where one story from them could be replicated exactly across hundreds of newspapers, right or wrong.
But it goes back even farther than that. I realized this past weekend that I'd snagged myself in an early version.
In this case, I was writing about a historical fellow named Joseph C. Tiffany, who spent two years as the Indian agent at the San Carlos Apache agency in Arizona, from 1880-82. The books I read that mentioned him...all secondary sources...vilified him not only as corrupt and a thief, but the worst agent Arizona had ever known. One of the worst ever in American history, perhaps. They had him in league with the infamous Tucson Ring (more on that later), a prime mover and shaker in reservation graft before he resigned in June of '82 citing health reasons and financial woes. The books quoted a grand jury investigation that all but blamed him for the ruin of civilization when they handed down thirty indictments against him, along with criticism by General George Crook, who both fought and supported the Apache, and Crook's aide, Captain John G. Bourke.
Sounds pretty cut and dried, doesn't it? Except...no. When I did some more digging into the primary sources I discovered that Tiffany was a scapegoated victim of the 1882 version of the Wikipedia Effect.
I won't go into all the gory details, but here are the highlights: The Arizona reservations at the time often got their agents through the actions of various churches, and the Dutch Reform Church--which oversaw the Apache--heard about Tiffany's energetic religious and business activities (he was nicknamed "Pastor Tiffany" by friends and enemies alike) and supported his appointment. He believed that the best way for the Apache to become civilized was through education and self-sufficient work, so one of the first actions was to start a program to build schools and irrigation. He fought the government when they wanted to take land away from San Carlos due to the discovery of coal and other minerals on it--and when the pressure got too much he fought to have the government pay the Apache for what they were taking. When he learned how food and other supplies meant for the Apache were being stolen before reaching their destinations, he often went to take receipt of the items personally--or supplemented them himself.
Sounds good so far. So how did this apparent do-gooder become known as Arizona's worst Indian agent?
Less biased contemporary accounts say that Tiffany was honest but "mediocre", completely out of his depth when it came to fighting the graft and machinations of the Tucson Ring--Tucson businessmen who were profiting from Apache supplies and warfare. Whether or not the Ring as an organized force really existed is up for debate, but there were grafters, and the last thing they wanted were self-sufficient Apache.
After Tiffany left San Carlos he went home to New York, and his enemies pounced. The accusations fell into two categories: Things that actually happened but that he wasn't responsible for--like the missing food--and things that were misconstrued, like his holding eleven Apache prisoners without charge for fourteen months. In reality Tiffany didn't want to hold them but the government ordered him to do so while they figured out their jurisdiction. In fact Tiffany previously released fifty-two prisoners over his term being held without charge, but the rumor started afterwards that they were in fact guilty and he let them go anyway. (Guilty of exactly what
has never been determined.)
His enemies figured that with Tiffany in the East he would never be able to defend himself, so they could say whatever they liked. All in all the grand jury that investigated him relied on only two white witnesses--one of whom scooted out of Arizona before Tiffany came to trial--and several Apache who turned out to lie when they said they never received food rations from him. (They did get the rations, gambled them away, then got angry when he refused to give them more.) Then Tiffany did in fact come all the way back to Arizona to defend himself. The prosecution made a weak case, and all the charges were dropped.
But to this day you'll still see Tiffany's name in history books practically placed alongside Hell's demons. Those same books boggle over the fact that Tiffany was found innocent of all the charges against him. Simply put, he left Arizona for good afterwards while the grafters remained, and they found it convenient to perpetuate the Tiffany tale to hide their own wrongdoings. Every single account of Tiffany's supposed badness comes either from the grand jury report when they handed down the indictments, or the criticisms of General Crook and Captain Bourke--who came after Tiffany left and also relied on the jury report.
At any rate, I doubt my book will necessarily do much to restore Tiffany's reputation, but I couldn't let it sit. Part of yesterday's writing was rewriting Tiffany's main scene where--reading between history's lines--the prophet named the Dreamer made him nervous enough to break down and ask the Tucson Ring for help.
PROGRESS REPORT FOR 9/15/13New Words
: 1500 on chapters 2 and 3 of Copper Heart
. Along with vindicating Tiffany, I also started the secret expedition that General Crook, with my characters Riley and Gus Beckett, led for two hundred miles into Mexico to capture Chiricahua Apache raiders right in their own Sierra Madre stronghold. Total Words
: 99200. Reason For Stopping
: More research, and other non-writing related matters to take care of.Book Year(s)
: 1881 and '83.Mammalian Assistance
: Vegas guarded his box pile (and occasionally my lap) while Nate guarded the table and window.Exercise
: Walking Tucker around the neighborhood; walking with Laurie and the dogs around campus.Stimulants
: More Icee-pops.Today's Opening Passage(s)
Tiffany: “I have come to you because I need assistance with the medicine man,” Indian Agent Joseph C. Tiffany told the Tucson Ring.
The last people you want help from, Carlos thought. We will do exactly as you want. We can deal with this shaman however you wish. But I doubt you will want to pay the price for our help.
Crook: In late March of 1883 the Apache raid that Crook had expected, Arizona feared, and the Tucson Ring longed for finally happened: not Geronimo or Nana, but twenty-six Chiricahua under the leadership of a young chief named Chatto, who had not yet grown full of weariness of war and was more willing to challenge the American and Mexican armies.
Over six days they stoles horses from every ranch they visited, traveling at least seventy-five miles a day through Arizona and New Mexico, killing twenty-six people in the ranches and camps and kidnapping a six-year-old boy later found dead. Along with the horses and cattle they stole, they took sizable quantities of what they had broken out of the Sierra Madres wanting most: weapons and ammunition. They suffered only one man dead and the ten companies of cavalry sent after them never once caught sight of a single warrior.
Darling Du Jour: It probably won't mean much without context, but...
Riley also knew why the men would be hand-picked. The understanding with Mexico was that soldiers could cross the border in pursuit of Apache…though required to somehow let the Mexican authorities know what was going on as they did it, preferably before. There were also multiple districts whose commanding officers needed to be informed—and each Mexican officer had a different interpretation of the way the treaty should be carried out.
An offensive operation, however, was another thorny matter entirely. Nobody was clear on where the understanding stood there—or if it had any standing at all. Riley wasn’t clear what Crook’s orders were concerning such an operation…or if he had any orders at all. But Mexico was prickly about its territory despite facing its own Apache attacks. In fact negotiations were still ongoing and Sherman had warned Crook not to expect any modifications in the U.S. army’s favor. Riley was middling certain that General Sherman wasn’t giving Crook carte blanche to go raiding in another country.
Crook could see that Riley understood, and nodded with a faint smile. “When the time comes, captain,” the general said with gusto, “I will have you send a message to command for me: tell them that I will be ‘outside normal communications for an extended period’.”
When Riley left he couldn’t manage to think about the upcoming covert mission. Instead he remembered his Uncle Rodrigo at Fort Defiance, how that sad and bitter man waited until he was gunned down to admit to Riley that they were family. I’ll not make the same mistake when I see Gus, Riley vowed. I’ll stay close to him for as long as I’m able, and let him know I’ve got his back for whatever he needs.
Weird Historical Fact Unearthed: Cavalrymen weren't the only ones who took cocaine pills when they were hurting. They gave cocaine to their horses as well.
Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin. Otherwise known as "Game of Thrones Season 5".