The Winner of Murder on the Mullet Express

Julia has won a copy of Murder on the Mullet Express by Gwen Mayo. Congrats to Julia!

Thanks to Gwen Mayo for the boom-to-bust story from Florida’s history. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Why New Homosassa was Destined to Fail

Gwen Mayo author photoRelevant History welcomes back Gwen Mayo, who is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky, but her most interesting job was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983–1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook.

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The Builders
The Florida Land Boom began modestly. World War I made Europe inaccessible for wealthy Americans wanting an escape from cold winter storms. The search for warm weather far from the front lines turned their attention to the American retreats. Luxurious steamer cabins and palatial private railcars made traveling within the states easier than ever. It didn’t take long for New England’s upper crust to discover coastal Florida and dot the beachfront with a few grand resorts where “The Season” could be spent in comfort.

Florida didn’t remain an exclusive winter playground for the rich and famous for long. Post-war prosperity and expanded rail travel made the state attractive to travelers of more modest means. America’s growing middle class wasn’t able to settle in to The Biltmore for the season, but they could afford to purchase a patch of sunshine in one of the future cities being mapped out by developers. Often, they would purchase a plot one year, then sell it the next year, making enough on the deal to pay for the next vacation.

Every year, a few more visitors decided to stay and build a seaside cottage or modest home. Florida might have continued along this path of steady growth had it not been for the grand schemes hatched by land developers and the availability of easy credit. Many development schemes never got off the drawing board. The ones that did leveled forests, drained swamps, and created new dry land by dredging the ocean floor.

The Speculators
With the developers also came a hoard of land speculators looking to strike it rich and a property madness akin to the California gold rush. Property prices skyrocketed as people purchased lots on credit with the sole intent to resell the land at higher prices.

By 1925, when the plans for New Homosassa began advertising, the Florida Land Boom had become a real-estate boondoggle with all the trappings of a circus sideshow. Developers printed a brochure of highly exaggerated claims of how much of the city was actually built. They promised their “Sportsman’s Paradise” would have every modern amenity, movie theaters, two golf courses, a grand arcade, shops, broad thoroughfares, parks, … then, in October of 1925, the big three railroad companies called an embargo permitting only food, fuel, and essential commodities to move within the state.

The West Coast Development company countered by hiring a fleet of Cadillacs to transport their potential customers from Jacksonville to New Homosassa. They also chartered a special train to bring the press from St. Petersburg to cover the grand opening. Free food and all the oranges they could eat were supplied to the buyers. A marching band was brought in to build excitement on opening day. Speculators still clinging to the idea of getting rich in the great boom came to join the party.
What the developers were unable to do was find a way around the embargo on freight. New Homosassa managed to get much needed construction materials to finish most of the hotel an arcade, but could not get building materials in the quantities needed for constructing a city.

The Bust
In January 1926, a second blow to the real estate boom hit. Prinz Valdemar, a former Danish training ship converted to a floating hotel, ran aground in the Miami Harbor, blocking all shipping for nearly a month.

Construction crews at work in New Homosassa [Construction crews at work – Homosassa, Florida. 1926. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.] The crowds of speculators that showed up for New Homosassa’s grand opening would be left holding the bag as the great Florida Land Boom became a huge bust. Two weeks after properties in New Homosassa went on sale, the New York Times reported a lull in Florida’s real estate market. By March, property values were plummeting. Big investors pulled out, but not without taking big losses. Foreclosures snowballed.

A third and final blow made it clear that New Homosassa would never fulfill the grand vision of the West Coast Development Company’s brochure. The wind started to howl through Miami on September seventeenth. It didn’t stop there. The big blow worked its way up the Gulf Coast of Florida, destroying any hope of the real estate market recovering for decades. In its wake came devastation, disease, and economic ruin. Bodies in Miami had to be burned because there was no land for burial. The entire Gulf Coast suffered through one of the worst Atlantic storms to ever make landfall in the United States, and the Boom was over.

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Murder on the Mullet Express book coverA big thanks to Gwen Mayo. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Murder on the Mullet Express to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide (wherever there is mail service).

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The Winner of Alvar the Kingmaker

Judi Maxwell has won a copy of Alvar the Kingmaker by Annie Whitehead. Congrats to Judi!

Thanks to Annie Whitehead for showing us a Dark Ages political fiasco fit for Game of Thrones. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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An Early Royal Scandal

Annie Whitehead author photoRelevant History welcomes historian and award-winning novelist Annie Whitehead. Alvar the Kingmaker, a tale of love, politics and murder, begins with the story of the ‘scandal’ of AD955. To Be A Queen tells the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. Annie contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of events leading up to the Norman Conquest. She’s currently working on another anthology, In Bed with the British, which will be published in 2017 by Pen & Sword Books, in which she will investigate the ‘scandal’ in much greater depth, using a range of primary sources. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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It should have been a day for celebration. The archbishop had crowned the new young king, and Abbot Dunstan had watched the ceremony and was looking forward to serving this new monarch as faithfully as he had his predecessors. But at some point during the following feast, someone noticed that the king was missing, and Dunstan was dispatched to find him.

Eadwig RoyalAt this point, in AD955, King Eadwig (Edwy) was possibly around the age of fourteen. It’s safe to assume that Dunstan was not expecting to find the young king in bed with his wife. Much less with her mother.

And yet this is what happened, according to the scribe who wrote the Life of Dunstan just a few years after Dunstan, by then Archbishop of Canterbury, had died. He recalled that ‘they found the royal crown, which was bound with wondrous metal, gold and silver and gems, and shown with many-coloured lustre, carelessly thrown on the floor, far from his head, and he himself repeatedly wallowing between the two of them in evil fashion, as in a vile sty.’

King Eadwig was dragged back to the feast and a terrible argument erupted between the king and Dunstan, which resulted in the latter being sent into exile.

Another tale of dubious moral standards and the king being answerable only to himself? Well, not quite.

Annulment and aftermath
Eadwig’s marriage was annulled, on the grounds that he was too closely related to his wife—another sin in the eyes of the Church—and it wasn’t long before he had his kingdom taken away from him too.

Eadwig was succeeded by his younger brother, Edgar, whose first act as king was to recall Dunstan. Edgar was remembered as ‘The Peaceable’ who actively supported the tenth-century monastic reformation.

So was the coronation incident of 955 just a tiny incident of scandal, a morsel to tempt the appetites of gossips?

The identity of Eadwig’s wife has not been established beyond all doubt, but it is generally accepted that she was the sister of Aethelweard the Chronicler, and that means that she and Eadwig shared a great-great-grandfather which would not, according to the laws of the time, have made them too closely related. So why the annulment; was it a vengeful response by the Church?

Eadwig came to the throne because his uncle, the previous king, had died childless. Eadwig’s own father had died when Eadwig and his younger brother were very small children, and the young boys were brought up separately.

And here we come to what I think is the crux of the matter. The younger of the two boys, Edgar, had been brought up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, whose family lost power and position when Eadwig became king.

Diploma of King Eadwig for AelfwineEadwig’s reign saw a flurry of land charters, by which Eadwig clearly hoped to buy support from the nobility, but it was a policy which did not work. His younger brother launched a coup in 957, enlisting help from East Anglia, the erstwhile kingdom of Mercia, and most of the rest of the north and east.

For two years, Eadwig continued to rule Wessex, until he died in 959, aged nineteen. According to the chroniclers, there was nothing suspicious about his death, and I have no proof of murder, so let’s just say that the timing of his death was at the very least extremely beneficial to Edgar and his supporters.

Edgar’s Reign
New Minster charter detail EdgarHad Eadwig remained married to the woman who was, like him, related to Alfred the Great, (in her case, having been descended from Alfred’s brother,) their children would have been royal twice over and would have had very strong claims to the throne. It was politic to make sure that these children never arrived, hence the reason for the enforced divorce.

Edgar’s reign proved him to be a formidable king—in 973 he was paid homage by kings of Wales and Scotland—and it was in no small part due to his strength that his reign remained free from Viking invasion. He fared much better than his sons, one of whom was murdered in 978 and the youngest of whom has been remembered throughout history as Aethelred the ‘Unready’.

Edgar did not completely escape scrutiny. There is some debate as to the exact number and status of his wives, but there was a rumour that the mother of at least one of his children was herself promised to the Church and was destined to become a nun before Edgar impregnated her. There were later medieval traditions that Edgar killed the husband of his final wife because he was so besotted with her. This wife, the step-mother of the murdered son, and mother of Aethelred the Unready, was seemingly loathed by Dunstan, so Edgar did not have universal love and approval for his actions. In some ways his personal life was as chaotic and shocking as his teenaged brother’s had been.

There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘scandal’ of 955 was nothing to do with Christian morals, and everything to do with politics, and in that regard, is not so different from the modern world. The Anglo-Saxons lived a very long time ago, but the way they lived their lives is, at times, very recognisable.

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Alvar the Kingmaker book coverA big thanks to Annie Whitehead. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Alvar the Kingmaker to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.

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The Winner of Murder Manhattan Style

Jacqueline Seewald has won a copy of Murder Manhattan Style by Warren Bull. Congrats to Jacqueline!

Thanks to Warren Bull for a look at Abraham Lincoln’s slant on Christmas. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Was Abraham Lincoln a Scrooge?

Warren Bull author photoRelevant History welcomes back Warren Bull, an award-winning author with more than a hundred published short stories. His novels Abraham Lincoln for the Defense and Heartland plus short story collections Murder Manhattan Style and No Happy Endings are available on Amazon.com. He is an active member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime with no hope of parole. He is a fierce competitor at trivia contests. He claims to come from a functional family. His novel Abraham Lincoln in Court & Campaign will be released early 2017. To learn more about him and his books, visit his web site, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Historians frequently dismiss Abraham Lincoln as one of the least inclined of American presidents to celebrate Christmas. After all, Lincoln did not have a Christmas tree and did not send out Christmas cards, and every Christmas day in the White House during Lincoln’s administration was a workday.

In fact, while in Congress, Lincoln voted against making Christmas a holiday. So was he a Scrooge?

Victorian Santa ClausChristmas became popular in the 1840s, driven in part by emerging technology that improved newspaper presentation. Drawn images started to become part of publishing, both in newsprint and in magazines. Queen Victoria advanced the tradition of the Christmas tree. A published drawing showing her decorating her tree was the impetus that popularized the practice in the United States.

Christmas cards, Christmas carols, and Dickens himself as well as Clement Clark Moore’s poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” combined to unify Christmas as more than just a day of family feasting or church going for the American public in the 1840s and 1850s. When Lincoln was President, most people did not have Christmas trees or Christmas cards./p>

The famous vote that Lincoln took against Christmas came in his term in the state legislature in Illinois. Lincoln felt state workers did not need another paid day off that regular folks themselves would not receive.

In 1861 Lincoln hosted a Christmas party at the White House. In 1862 he spent Christmas visiting soldiers at area hospitals. In 1863 he visited Union soldiers with his son Tad, bearing Christmas gifts of books and clothing marked “From Tad Lincoln.”

Lincoln was keenly aware of what Christmas meant to all Americans—both North and South. And he used Christmas and the symbolism of Santa Claus especially to great effect in prosecuting the war.

Santa Claus Visits Union Camp 1863Christmas of 1863 saw the Union effort bearing down hard on the South with a blockade of goods. For months on end supplies were thin in the South as Lincoln strategized to squeeze the energy from the Confederate effort. He commissioned artist Thomas Nast to draw a picture of Santa Claus visiting Union Troops in the 3 January 1863 edition of the widely read Harper’s Weekly. The scarcity of goods and the high prices of store-bought items caused Southern mothers to explain to their children that not even Santa Claus could break the Union blockade.

Lincoln instructed Nast to show Santa with Union troops as much as possible and the enduring images from 1863 and 1864 publications are largely credited with defining the image of the modern Santa Claus. Their affect was so profound that Lincoln one time claimed Santa was “the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had.”

1864 was an election year and Lincoln handily won all but three states and was re-elected. General Sherman wrote to President Lincoln: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…” Lincoln wrote in response: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift—the capture of Savannah…Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army—officers and men.”

Lincoln and DavisOne of Thomas Nast’s most famous prints was one called “The Union Christmas Dinner,” which was printed on 31 December 1864 and depicts President Lincoln standing at a door, with him offering the cold and frostbitten Southern soldiers an invitation to rejoin the Union. Another Nast creation from earlier that same month showed the Confederacy’s President Jefferson Davis and his problematic predicament. The illustration, entitled “Lincoln’s Christmas Box to Jeff Davis,” showed the choices the South’s leader by then had: “More war or peace and union?”

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Murder Manhattan Style book coverA big thanks to Warren Bull. He’ll give away a paperback copy of Murder Manhattan Style to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the US only.

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The Winner of Marry in Haste

Kate H has won a copy of Marry in Haste by Susan Van Kirk. Congrats to Kate!

Thanks to Susan Van Kirk for showing us a comparison of the legal stance of battered wives in the 19th century and now. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Domestic Violence in History: Fact and Fiction

Susan Van Kirk author photoRelevant History welcomes Susan Van Kirk, who grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and received degrees from Knox College and the University of Illinois. She taught high school English for thirty-four years, then spent an additional ten years teaching at Monmouth College. Her first Endurance mystery novel, Three May Keep a Secret, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage. In April, 2016, she published an Endurance ebook novella titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. Her third Endurance novel, Death Takes No Bribes, will follow Marry in Haste. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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The small town of Endurance, in the heart of the Midwest, is the setting of my mysteries. I wrote Marry in Haste, my second novel, to explore the changes in community attitudes and law enforcement regarding domestic violence/abuse. Although my book isn’t graphic about violence, I wanted to know more about this subject, especially its history and its psychological aspects. Creating two separate plots, I explored two marriages, one in 1893 and the other in the present day. Neither wife listened to Ben Franklin’s admonition to “Marry in haste, Repent at leisure.”

1893 Endurance
In 1893, seventeen-year-old Olivia Havelock travels from a farm community to her great aunt’s in Endurance, where she will learn the social graces and find a suitable husband. In that time, public sentiment favored short engagements because a long courtship might result in calling off the wedding. She quickly catches the eye of Judge Charles Lockwood, a forty-five-year-old widower, both powerful and wealthy. Four months later they are married, and then her nightmare begins. Lockwood is an abusive husband, and Oliva has little recourse from the laws, the police, and the courts.
Does history support this fictional idea? American law regarding domestic violence was founded on English law. In the time of British jurist, Sir William Blackstone [1723-1780], community attitudes and laws stated that a husband was responsible for correcting his wife’s behavior. Her words or actions, especially if they reflected poorly on her husband, could result in a beating or even murder. However, if she were to murder her abusive husband, her punishment could result in being quartered and burned alive.

By the time the Puritans arrived in the New World, they frowned on domestic abuse. However, their lack of enforcement rarely resulted in safety for their wives or children. By the late 1800s, a man was not punished for assaulting his wife. He could beat, choke, pull her hair or kick her repeatedly with impunity. Some states had a “curtain rule.” The law and courts “close” the window curtain of a home and allow spouses to solve their domestic problems. This attitude would be reflected a century later in the lax enforcement of marital abuse by police departments.

Young Olivia Lockwood has no legal help. The family doctor never asks her about her bruises; society notices, without question, her increasing absence from social events; and her servants look the other way.

2012 Endurance
In the present-day plot, Emily Folger is married to a powerful banker, Conrad, a known philanderer. When he is murdered, Emily is the chief suspect. As the story of their married life unfolds, the reader sees that they, too, are in an abusive relationship. In this era, I was more interested in exploring psychological abuse and how it often leads to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Emily’s sister-in-law, Jessalynn Folger, tells the story of her brother Conrad’s upbringing. When his father was abusive to Conrad’s mother, Jessalynn called the police. All they did was walk Conrad’s father around the block, speak with him, joke a bit, and return him home where he was free to terrorize his wife and children. No wonder his son, Conrad, learned from a master how to abuse his wife.

Does history support this scenario? Yes, it does. Despite the Woman’s Movement in the 1960s, police officers in the 1970s were reluctant to arrest batterers. Jessalynn Folger was born in 1968, and when she saw her father hit her mother, she was a preteen in the late 70s. The prevailing community attitude was that victims chose to stay in the relationship, eliciting little public sympathy. Often abuse victims made multiple calls to police, only to grow weary of their lack of response. Police rarely arrested abusers, convincing victims that pressing charges would cause the victims more trouble. Judges issued orders of protection, and when deaths occurred, blamed police for not enforcing the law. Police blamed the courts for issuing orders that couldn’t be enforced.

Much of this changed by the mid-1980s. Women pressed for more social services for abuse and rape victims. Some disturbing legal cases where women died because police failed to respond led to a change in public and municipal attitudes. (Million-dollar law suits helped too.) By 1994, the federal Violence Against Women Act, a law repeatedly reauthorized, declared domestic violence a crime, making it more likely to be prosecuted.

In 2013, Illinois (where I live) passed a law that makes domestic violence no longer a misdemeanor. Now, if the abuser has a previous conviction, the second conviction is a felony. Four or more convictions can be given a 14-year prison sentence. Illinois is also a state, like many others, where police can now press charges against abusers if the victim is reluctant to do so.

It’s not a perfect system, but, historically, it is better. Emily Folger might have received help, but by the time her husband had isolated her, torn down her self-confidence, and bullied her repeatedly, she was suffering from PTSD, unable to think straight. While laws today are better, sometimes victims are not able to use them.

Exploring domestic abuse through history for Marry in Haste has been an interesting research expedition into an area of human behavior that I now understand much better, and I hope readers will also learn more about the psychological components of this subject, now considered a legal crime.

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Marry In Haste book coverA big thanks to Susan Van Kirk. She’ll give away a hardcover copy of Marry in Haste to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.

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What Made the Wild West So Wild?

Kris Bock author photoRelevant History welcomes Kris Bock, who writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. In The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, sparks fly when reader favorites Camie and Tiger help a mysterious man track down his missing uncle. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and sign up for her newsletter.

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Nonfiction books and documentaries about 19th-century gunslingers remind us that truth is often stranger than fiction. History is often equally dramatic as well. The Old West is full of true stories of bandits, shootouts, and lost treasures.

Many people attempt to divide historical figures into heroes and villains, lawmen and outlaws. In reality, most people are more complex than that, and few famous people from the Old West led blameless lives.

Wyatt Earp is often regarded as a heroic lawman. However, he spent only about six years in law enforcement. He also worked as a gambler, buffalo hunter, stagecoach guard, and Teamster, among other jobs. He was arrested for stealing a horse, but he escaped from jail.

Tombstone graveyardLike many famous Western figures, Wyatt Earp wound up in the famous town of Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton allied to find a group of cowboys who had robbed a stagecoach, but the alliance fell apart—possibly because the Clantons were involved in the robberies. This led to the famous shootout at the OK Corral and the deaths of Billy Clanton and the two McLaury brothers, known cattle rustlers. Soon after, Wyatt’s brother Virgil was seriously wounded in a shooting, and their brother Morgan was killed in a shootout. The attackers were unknown, but Wyatt and his gang killed several suspects. He fled town to avoid prosecution.

Many movies have been made featuring Wyatt Earp, most of them romanticizing his life. The truth is more complex.

A Deadly Killer
Curly Bill Brosius, on the other hand, was pure outlaw and a close friend of the Clantons. He was supposedly a crack shot who could hit running jackrabbits and shoot out candle flames without breaking the candles. His idea of a practical joke was to make a preacher dance during a sermon by shooting at his feet. He forced Mexicans at a community dance to take off their clothes and dance naked. He killed at least one man in a robbery, escaped from prison, and led a gang of rustlers in Arizona Territory.

Tombstone Marshal White memorialIn 1880, in Tombstone, Curly Bill killed popular Marshal Fred White. The Marshal was trying to take Bill’s gun and it went off, hitting White in the groin. Wyatt Earp then knocked Bill unconscious with his gun. White said he didn’t think Curly Bill was trying to kill him, but he died from his wound the next day. Curly Bill was also implicated in some revenge killings and at least one death during a bar fight. He was implicated in the murder of Morgan Earp, but without proof he wasn’t charged.

Violence in the Desert
Curly Bill also might have been involved in the Skeleton Canyon Massacre. Here history and legend get muddled. Some people claim that Mexican bandits looted Monterrey, Mexico, and escaped across the border with a treasure worth $75,000, or $2 million, or $8 million. Others claim there is no evidence of such a heist in Monterrey, and that it’s doubtful such a treasure ever existed to be stolen.

Regardless, violence came to Skeleton Canyon, a shallow canyon in southeastern Arizona, not far from the Mexico border. An American gang ambushed a group of Mexicans—possibly the bandits, or else merely vaqueros (cowboys). One story says Curly Bill’s gang shot the Mexicans out of their saddles, which caused their mules to stampede. The bandits then shot the mules to keep them from running away with the treasure, but then they had no way to transport the loot. Two men from the gang, Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds, hid the treasure somewhere in the canyon. When they were killed, the location of the hidden treasure was lost.

Curly Bill had been wounded six weeks before the Skeleton Canyon Massacre and was supposedly still recovering. Was he involved or not? Was the violence over a treasure that would be worth millions today, or merely over some cattle? The debates continue, and some people still hunt for the treasure. The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, set today, was inspired by the legendary treasure.

What is most likely true, but is still challenged by some people, is that Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill in a shootout in 1882. Bill was in his thirties, which, considering his lifestyle, was a surprisingly long life.

Unsolved Mysteries took a look at the Skeleton Canyon Treasure.

Tombstone is now a popular place for tourists to visit.

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The Mad Monk's Treasure book coverA big thanks to Kris Bock. Pick up your free copy of the first of her Southwest treasure hunting books, The Mad Monk’s Treasure, here.

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The Winner of Life in the Georgian Court

Margaret has won a copy of Life in the Georgian Court by Catherine Curzon. Congrats to Margaret!

Thanks to Catherine Curzon for a look into the miserable married life of Juliane of Saxe-Coburg.

Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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