Did you know that a Tennessean tried to end gambling in Las Vegas? Estes Kefauver was born in Madisonville, Tennessee and practiced law in Chattanooga. Interested in politics, he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1939 and became a Senator in 1949. Kefauver’s trademark was wearing a coonskin hat.
During his time in the Senate, Kefauver became chairman of the Special Committee on Organized Crime and used this seat as a platform to gain national exposure. He attacked the influence of organized crime in the casinos of Las Vegas and urged the federal government to put a stop to legalized gambling in Nevada.
In 1952, Kefauver attempted to take advantage of his nationwide fame by running for president. His campaign failed, as did a run for the vice presidency in 1956. If Estes Kefauver had succeeded in his fight against legalized gambling, then what happens in Vegas would…not be all that much.
Did you know the first governor of California was from Tennessee? Born in Nashville in 1807, Peter Burnett established a lifelong pattern of wandering as he constantly quit jobs and moved west. Following a series of occupations, he owned a store in Missouri and practice law in Oregon, where he was a member of the Supreme Court.
In 1848, Burnett joined the California Gold Rush and, finding no gold, made a living selling lots in the new city of Sacramento. The following year, he entered politics and became the state’s first governor. During his time in office, Burnett proposed several unpopular policies, including imposing the death penalty for robbery. In 1851, he faced mounting criticism from the legislature and the press and resigned from office. Despite this apparent failure, Burnett later served on the California Supreme Court and died a wealthy man in 1895.
Did you know the King of the Pecos was from Tennessee? Born in Hardeman County in 1824, John Chisum’s family moved to Texas when he was a teenager. As Chisum grew older, he became a leader in the booming cattle industry of the area and provided beef for reservations in New Mexico. As a result, Chisum moved his operation to a 100 mile range on the Pecos River.
With his 60,000 head of cattle, Chisum became known as the King of the Pecos. As his wealth grew, other cattlemen challenged Chisum’s power, and the famous Lincoln County War ensued, an event that made Billy the Kid famous. Chisum died in 1884, but he has been immortalized on film by such stars as James Coburn and John Wayne. While the portrayals have not been accurate, they have made for some entertaining movies and memorable quotes. Consider the following from Wayne’s Chisum.
James Pepper: You know there’s an old saying. There’s no law west of Dodge and no God west of the Pecos. Right, Mr. Chisum?
John Chisum: Wrong, Mr. Pepper. Because no matter where people go, sooner or later there’s the law. And, sooner or later they find God’s already been there.
In an earlier post, I referenced an unused radio ad for my university in relaying a bit of Tennessee history. That post provided a brief biography of Grantland Rice, the famed sportswriter. With that being said, here is another footnote in my state’s history.
Did you know that one of the Old West’s most notorious killers was from Tennessee? In 1840, Clay Allison was born in Waynesboro, Tennessee. After serving in the Civil War, Allison moved west, and, among other things, became a cowboy, a rancher and a gunslinger, for which he coined the term “shootist”. His reputation as a killer grew with each shooting and lynching in which he was involved. However, Allison’s most famous episode took place when he and a friend decided to have a contest to determine which was the best dancer. To assist in this endeavor, the two men began shooting as each other’s feet, a scene that has been replayed in many western movies. Considering that Allison lived a life of violence and mayhem, he death was rather mundane. In 1881, he was riding a wagon to Waco, Texas when he fell off and died before reaching help.
As a historian, I feel that I have neglected my calling by not writing about some interesting aspect of the past. I haven’t written about it for several reasons.
1. I like to think that I am a well-rounded person with many interests and many things to write about. I hope those who have stumbled across the blog find those things entertaining and insightful.
2. History is my job, and I need this blog to be an escape from my job and other aspects of my everyday life. It is hard to escape my job because a lot of people have an interest in some aspect of the past. Often, they will ask me questions about a person or an event that they have already established an opinion about. The Civil War is really bad in these parts. They are Civil War buffs and think that I should be as well. You can’t realize how many times someone has started a conversation by asking, “You are a history buff aren’t you?” Actually, I’m not. I am a professional historian.
3. A lot of people find history boring. These are the ones who were probably forced to memorize dates by some football coach/teacher in high school. I figured that if I was going to get a lot of hits, then I should not focus on historical subjects.
With those in mind, I feel the need to give a little history lesson. As I thought about what to write, I realized that I did not want to throw out a big lecture. Then, I remember that several years ago my university came up with an advertising idea. We would buy radio time and provide 30 seconds of historical tidbits. The history faculty came up with some short stories to be read in these spots. It took quite a bit of time, but the ads were never recorded. I am thinking that there is no reason to let them go to waste. So. periodically I will put one of them on the blog. Not surprisingly, each one has a connection to my home state. Here is the first one.
Did you know that one of America’s most highly regarded sports writers was from Tennessee? Born in Murfreesboro in 1890, Grantland Rice began his journalistic career at the Nashville News before finally becoming a writer for the New York Tribune. When his column became nationally syndicated, Rice’s writing style – a combination of sports news, gossip and commentary – lead to popularity throughout the United States. Through Rice’s vivid descriptions and artistic use of the English language, fans could visualize teams that they had never seen. Famous for naming the “Four Horsemen” of Notre Dame, perhaps Grantland Rice’s most remembered line is derived from a poem. “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”