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Regular friends of the decanter will be familiar with ol’ Robbo’s fondness for the Flashman series of George MacDonald Fraser.  Those friends paying particular attention will also know that this fondness is based not on some voyeuristic thrill at the naughtiness of Flashy’s behavior in the course of his adventures, which frankly gets rayther tarsome, but instead on Fraser’s relish for details of the noontide of the British Empire.

At any rate, it has become something of a habit of mine each time I run through the series to select for further reading one of the many source materials on which Fraser relies in order to bring accuracy and colour to Flashy’s adventures.   For example, a year or two back I tracked down Henry Keppel’s log of the voyage of H.M. Dido in James Brooke’s campaign against the Borneo pirates that plays an important part in Flashman’s Lady.   (The Mothe reports, by the bye, her recent confirmation that Brooke was an influence in Conrad’s creation of Lord Jim.)

This time around, I was moved to hunt up John C. Cremony’s Life Among The Apaches, a source cited by Fraser for the first part of his Flashman and the Redskins.

In 1848, Cremony served on the United States Boundary Commission charged with surveying the new border between the States and Mexico resulting from the treaty ending the Mexican War.  In this capacity, he was one of the first Americans to come into direct, extensive contact with the ‘Pash and other Desert Southwest tribes.  He subsequently served for eight years in the region as a private scout and Union cavalry officer.   His narrative is clear, concise and extremely level-headed, and spares neither those who sought to exploit or wipe out the natives nor those who sought to put them on a pedestal.

One passage that caught my eye concerned the fate of a certain John Gallantin.  If you remember your Fraser, you will recall that Flashy falls in with Gallantin and his band and participates in an attack on an Apache encampment in the wilds of New Mexico.  Gallantin and the rest of his crew are subsequently slaughtered in reprisal by the great chief Mangas Colorado, Flashy only being spared because of his chivalrous protection of Colorado’s youngest daughter.  Well, here is what Cremony has to say about the fate of the real Gallantin:

We subsequently learned that the persons massacred by the Yumas just before our arrival, were John Gallantin and his band.  This man had the reputation of being one of the worst scoundrels who ever existed even in that demoralized and villainous region.  It is reported of him, that the Governor of Chihuahua, having offered a premium of thirty dollars for every Apache scalp, Gallantin got together a band of cut-throats and went into the business.  But all his activity and cupidity failed to find the Apaches, and scalps became very scarce.  Determined to make money out of the Governor’s terms, he commenced killing Papago, Opatah and Yaqui Indians, whose scalps he sold in considerable numbers at thirty dollars each, declaring that they had been taken from the heads of Apaches.  But the ease with which Gallantin and his band supplied themselves, without producing any sensible diminution of Apache raids, excited suspicion, and he was actually caught taking the scalps from the heads of several Mexicans murdered by his people in cold blood.  Finding that he had been discovered in his unspeakable villainies, he fled to New Mexico, where, by stealing and by purchase, he collected about two thousand five hundred head of sheep, with which he was passing into California, when he encountered his well-merited fate at the hands of the Yumas.  Not a soul of his band escaped death.

So the real Gallantin was done in by the Yumas (near the Gila River in Arizona, in fact) and not by the Apaches in New Mexico.  One wonders where the line should be drawn with regard to creative historickal license.  Obviously, one can’t take liberties with the overall truth of the narrative – Wellington can’t be shot from his saddle, Longstreet can’t try to flank Round Top – without wandering into the realm of Alt History, something that frankly has never interested me.  On the other hand, recasting the death of a minor villain five hundred miles to the west of where it actually happened and at the hands of different people seems harmless enough.  (And, in fact, Fraser has a good, long footnote about Gallantin’s scalping-racket which closely follows Cremony’s account.)

Oh, and although Cremony does not provide details of Gallantin’s end, Fraser has him meet a blood-curdling fate at the hands of the Apache women accompanying Mangus.  I like to think that this is a little poetic justice on Fraser’s part.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was appalled to discover last evening that the Exxon station nearest the port swiller mansion where he is wont to top up La Wrangler has, since his last visit, installed something called “GSTV”,  that is, Gas Station Television.  Yes, the fuel pumps now have teevee screens on them, coupled with speakers blaring out a hodgepodge of adverts and, well, more adverts ……and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.  No off button.  No mute.  No handy brick for smashing the thing until it shuts up.

Will it never end?   I’ve ranted here before about the ubiquity of CNN monitors around airport gates.  The last flight I took also featured a teevee in the seat back in front of me, offensively close to my face and turning itself on as fast as I could turn it back off.  There is persistent talk of putting teevee screens on Metro platforms and even in the cars, all in the name of advertising revenue.

I’m not talking here about the growing popularity of portable electronic media, of the legions of ear-budded zombies addicted to their iWhatevers that one sees.  That’s a different issue, but at least they’re usually quiet about it.  Instead, I’m talking about an outright assault on the eyes and ears of  people who just want to be left in peace when out and about.   Would you really want somebody dogging you everywhere in publick, shouting at you non-stop about “the headlines” and discount car insurance?  Of course not.   So why is it any different that said somebody should be shouting at you via a screen and speakers instead of in person?

Sigh.  I used to enjoy watching the swifts that nest near this particular station as they flittered about in the summah sky.  Not anymore.  I’m going somewhere else.



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June 2012