Monthly Archives: May 2014

Charles Voyde Harrelson, Hit Man

Charles Voyde Harrelson

Charles Voyde Harrelson

On May 29th, 1917, John F. Kennedy was born.  On May 29th, 1979, actor Woody Harrelson’s father was arrested for murder.  If you’re thinking there is any connection between those two events, you’d be wrong or would you?  I’m sure not even I could come up with anything to connect those two events except for the date, and I’ve already done that, but this is seriously some stuff I didn’t know.  (I was going to use another word, but thought I should keep this cleaner than my usual standards.  Why?  I’m totally not sure.)

This all went down in San Antonio, Texas and involved the drug kingpin Jimmy Chagra, who allegedly paid Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles, around $250,000 to take out Judge John Wood.  He shot the judge in the back with a .240 Wetherby Mark V rifle while “Maximum John,” as the judge was known, was bent over a flat tire on his car in his own driveway.  Judge Wood had the nickname because he was known to hand out harsh sentences especially to drug traffickers.   It is said that he once sentenced a man to 35 years for contempt of court.  Sounds like Judge Roy Bean, another Texas legend, or maybe he had anger issues.  It was Judge Wood who was scheduled to hear Chagra’s case in 1978.

According to other sources though, Judge Wood got into his station wagon to drive to his office, and the car wouldn’t start.  A single shot rang out after he stepped back out of the car. Maximum John was dead with a bullet in the back of his head and bullet fragments found at the scene were traced back to the Wetherby Mark V, which had been purchased recently by Harrelson’s wife, Jo Ann.  There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting.

John Haywood Wood, Jr.

John Haywood Wood, Jr.

John Howland Wood, Jr. was a lawyer and judge from Texas. He was born in Rockport, TX on March 31, 1916, born in the town founded by his grandfather.  He attended Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, TX, and received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Mary’s University.  He received his law degree from the Texas School of Law and went into private practice in San Antonio with the firm Beckmann, Stanard, & Olson.  In 1944 through 1945 he left the practice to assist the Navy during World War II.  He served on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas for eight years.   An assassination attempt in 1978 placed him under Federal protection for a time, but he requested the detail be removed himself.  Bad timing it seems.

Jamiel Alexander, “Jimmy,” Chagra” was a bad dude (again I was going to use another word.).  He was charged with conducting an ongoing criminal enterprise, and was considered the biggest drug trafficker in the Las Vegas and El Paso areas.  He was bringing planeload after planeload of top-grade weed into the states.  When he heard that Maximum John would be the presiding judge for his drug trial, he apparently offered the judge $10 million as a bribe, which, of course, the good judge turned down. 

Considering he probably made the situation worse, Jimmy got with his brother, Joe, and planned the killing.  Joe hired Charles Harrelson for a sum considerably less than the bribe, and was later chastised by his brother on tape for not using the Mafia instead.  Mr. Harrelson was, in fact, a hired killer working for the Mafia, and had been convicted in 1968 for murder for hire.  It appears this is the exact time that he disappeared from Woody’s Houston home and left his mother to raise himself and two brothers.  Woody lost track of his father until around 1981 when he went on trial for the murder conspiracy of Judge John Wood.  He claims to have had no idea about his father’s occupation.

Joe Chagra

Joe Chagra

Now, what convicted Harrelson, besides the physical evidence, was the Feds had over 100 hours of taped conversations between Joseph Chagra and Jimmy Chagra from Leavenworth discussing the murder for hire.  The FBI planted microphones under the tables.  Joe, remember, was an attorney, so the defense tried to get the tapes thrown out based on attorney-client privilege.  However, the judge ruled that they were discussing it as “brothers” and co-conspirators, and not as an attorney and client, so the tapes were allowed.  There were also taped phone conversations between Joe and Charles Harrelson about the murder.

Jimmy Chagra was actually acquitted in the conspiracy case (even though he was on tape discussing it) but later admitted to it in an attempt to get his wife out of prison.  She was in for delivering the payout money, and she ended up dying in prison anyway of ovarian cancer at the age of 41.  Jimmy had been sentenced to 30 years for his drug trafficking, but they let him out early for health reasons in 2003.  Didn’t know that was an option.  He was allegedly put in the Federal Witness Protection Program and, at the time of death, was living in Mesa, Arizona, married to his third wife Lynda Ray.

Charles Harrelson, the triggerman, got life and his wife, the gun purchaser, later divorced him.   Woody funded his father’s appeals, hiring famed attorney Alan Deshowitz, but he died of a heart attack at 69 while housed in the Colorado SuperMax federal prison.

So why do mobsters seem to retire to Arizona?  I could see Joe Bananas backyard across the arroyo from the backyard of the house I was renting at the time in Tucson. Is it because they have health issues and the dry heat is good for them?  Maybe there is just a lot more open space, easier to hide.  Maybe there are just a lot of holes in the desert.

Joe Bananas

Joe Bananas

Giuseppe Bonanno head of the Bonanno crime family lived in Tucson until his death and is rumored to have controlled the vending machine market in the Tucson area.  Word was if you were thinking about getting into the vending business forget about it.  Bonnano had that business locked up.  Needless to say, whether it was true or not, I didn’t waste any time trying to break into the vending market in Tucson.

Bonanno, the last remaining Mafia don that had survived Italian fascism and then his own bloody turf wars in New York, died on May 11, 2002 of heart failure.  He was 97. He is buried at Holy Hope Cemetery & Mausoleum in Tucson.  I think it’s a fitting name for his final resting place.  Holy hope is what he would have needed.

And that other connection you know I was searching for between the two events, you got it, assassination.  After Charles Harrelson was arrested in Texas, high on cocaine, he claimed to be an accomplice in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  And conspiracy theorists didn’t laugh it off.


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The Art of Nodding Off

old guyI had a doctor’s appointment yesterday.  It was one of those follow up appointments to go over a recent series of blood tests I have to take every three to six months to check glucose levels and triglycerides and cholesterol and blood pressure.   Yeah I know you don’t check blood pressure with a blood test.  Just put it in there because it was one of the things we went over.

I just found out that my “doctor” is not even a doctor, but a PA.  A Physician’s Assistant, or professionally known as a Professional Assistant, I guess.  A PA goes through a shorter program of schooling than a full MD, something like 8 years instead of the 12 and an internship that an MD does.  Basically they can diagnose and prescribe medication, but they defer to a full MD or a specialist for the bigger problems.  Because they can take most of the work load off the doctors in the office handling normal patient maladies, the doctors can spend more time treating the really sick people.  Not the ones like me whose wife wants to know if they’re dying because they nod off while watching TV.

mona lisaWhen posed with the question, my PA asked me two things:  Did I have restless leg syndrome, and did I snore?  I said no to the first, and told her I’ve been told that I snore but I have no proof and if asked, like I just was, I would deny it.  At any rate it doesn’t keep me up.  She laughed.  Yeah, I have a female doctor, uh PA.  Have a problem with it from time to time, but we have yet to forage into those uber personal procedures like, anal inspections, or “turn to the right and cough” while she’s pressing into my privates.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it or maybe not, because maybe a PA can’t do that.  My last doctor seemed to want to do that anal inspection thing a lot, and now, thinking back, I worry about that.  I can still hear the snap as the rubber glove was being pulled on, me bent over and clutching the ends of the examination table I would rather be sitting on, pants around my ankles.  Yeah, granted, not a pretty sight.

I’m relatively sure I don’t have restless leg syndrome, or RLS.  It’s generally numbness in your arms or legs.  Don’t know why arms are included, but they are.  Shouldn’t it be restless arm or leg syndrome, or RAOLS?  It keeps you from sleeping I guess.  I don’t have it, yet, so RLS, or RAOLS is not keeping me from sleeping and causing me to nod off during the day. 

I’ve been known to snore, but like I said, it doesn’t keep me up.  The full on right cross to the chest from the person I’m sleeping with, does wake me up though.  So this could be a contributing factor to the nodding off, but doesn’t sound like a major issue.  I don’t have any currently bruised ribs.  And it seems like the person I am keeping up should be nodding off too, right?

I have always been under the impression that as you got older you needed more sleep, which is why I saw old people nod off at all hours of the day while I was growing up.  My grandfather actually took a nap every day.  He would retire to his bedroom just after “As the World Turns” or the “Guiding Light.”  I can’t remember which one he watched religiously, but he would get up in mid-conversation, after looking at the pocket watch he kept in his vest pocket, if it were time for the soaps.

But I guess it’s not true that older people need more sleep.  In fact, the older you get the less sleep you actually need.  But as we get older we don’t get enough of that REM sleep.  That stage of sleep that puts you in the deepest of slumbers.  We older people have too many issues that keep us from reaching that plateau.  Old people conditions that can affect sleep include arthritis, menopause, Alzheimer’s, heartburn and heart failure to name a few.  That last one hopefully will make you bolt upright from that REM-less sleep.  And we old people start building a cocktail of medications that we take on a daily basis to keep those triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose within acceptable levels that can affect sleep.  My cocktail only numbers 5 pills, but I’ve seen some bedside tables covered with the opaque orange plastic bottles with the infuriating white tops that are impossible to easily remove without sending the contents flying. 

Rx bottleYou ever wonder why prescription bottles are orange.  The same reason a beer bottle is usually a dark amber color.  The dark amber reduces the UV light, thus preventing it from degrading the fine liquid inside.   Medication is affected in the same manner, so the amber colored bottles that medicines used to come in, morphed into the round plastic orange containers with the old-people-proof caps.  Most of us look at that common container and know immediately that it is a medication of some sort with the patient, unpronounceable prescription in milligrams, and complete dosage directions on the label.  Sometimes a few extra stickers are affixed to the bottle warning not to take while driving or operating machinery, or on an empty stomach.

Drinking alcohol daily around bedtime can cause a problem with sleep, or so I’m told.  I find that, as I’ve gotten older, the imbibing of a drink at any time will most assuredly cause me to nod off.  It happens pretty much any time of day, and pretty much within an hour of the imbibing.

Other mind altering worries like; will you find another job at your age after you get laid off from this one in less than two weeks, and looking for refrigerator boxes and vacant spots under the nearest underpass, will also tend to cause you to sleep irregularly.  Which will make you tired; keep you from obtaining REM level sleep.  And it will then cause you to nod off during the last half hour of “Elementary” or “Person of Interest,” shows you don’t really like anyway.  And it will make your wife think there is something wrong with you and you need to tell the PA about it.

Personally, I think I just nod off because I can.  I didn’t used to be able to sleep sitting up, or even in a recliner.  Now I can accomplish it standing up leaning against a wall while I’m in line at the bank.  I’m just tired.  I think it has more to do with getting up every morning at 4:30.  No one should have to be up at that hour.  I’ll be glad when I can sleep in to 5:30 at least.  Just another 7 days.


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Native Americans, Female Acquaintances and Racist Bastards

Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1902

Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1902

There’s a Washoe Indian, Washoe Native American, hell I don’t know what to say anymore, who is protesting the renaming of a cove on Lake Tahoe after Samuel Clemens.  Seems Sam camped there 150 or so years ago and might even have started a fire while cooking his dinner.  As far as I can tell from the news stories, it’s one Indian, or one Native American, that seems to have a problem with Mark Twain being a racist.   According to the Washoe Native American, 150 or so years ago, Clemens referred to the local Indian population as “diggers”. 

When is this going to stop?  Let’s see, Mark Twain was a humorist.  That is akin to a modern day comedienne.  Ever heard any modern day comedienne make a “racist” comment?  Wait, I guess it’s only acceptable for a comedienne to make racist comments if they are of that race.  Anyone read the book “Tom Sawyer?”  Naming a character “Injun Joe” sound racist to you?  I’m surprised we haven’t pulled the book from the schools.   Maybe EVERYONE that lived 150 years ago might be identified as a racist today.  Maybe?

Better examine all the buildings, towns, highways, bridges, airports, whatever, named after Washington or Jefferson.  They were both confirmed, admitted, slave owners.  Ah, but they were good slave owners, right?  Better blast off the images on Mt. Rushmore.  Racist bastards.

Sam Clemens called the Native Americans that lived around Lake Tahoe, diggers, because they foraged for roots and berries.  Or so it is assumed today.  Who knows?  Who the hell cares?  Oh yeah, that Washoe Native American who doesn’t want the cove renamed to Clemens Cove or something because he was a racist.

How can you seize the property of someone in the United States because they are accused of being a racist?  Yet it’s happening right in front of you, and most of you think IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!  I can’t imagine how the owner of an NBA team can possibly be a racist, and I’m not going to spell that out for you, but you can’t take the team away from him.  He owns it, the franchise is his property.  Maybe you can ban the team itself from the NBA, but they’re not doing that.  The Clippers were in the finals though, can’t ban them from the league.  They lost though.  Wonder what would have happened if the Clippers were in the NBA Championship.  Those players don’t want to play for a racist, they can quit, go play for a team that isn’t owned by an old white guy. 

Do I think Donald Sterling’s comments were indicative of a racist?  Sure they were, but he said them to his “girlfriend” in private, who taped them for whatever motive, and went public.  You think she had an agenda?  Is anyone looking at the racist character of this girl?  How about the moral character?  How about her character in general?  Do we care?  You think we have any more “private racists” in this country.

The NBA imposed a lifetime ban on Sterling, and fined him $2.5 million dollars because he told his girlfriend, in a private conversation, to stop bringing black guys to the Clippers games.  In the league’s response, “girlfriend” is “female acquaintance,” and “blacks” is of course, “African Americans.”  Got to make sure you use the current politically correct term for everything these days.  Sterling has the longest tenure as owner of an NBA franchise; 33 years.   He isn’t paying the fine and he will assuredly take the league to court.

I remember watching the Monday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington (OMG ) Redskins when Howard Cosell made the infamous comment about Alvin Garrett, a wide receiver for the Redskins, “Gibbs wanted that kid, and that little monkey gets loose doesn’t he?”  Tuesday morning the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference demanded Cosell apologize for his racist comments.  The media storm commenced.

Howard said, “I respect and admire Alvin Garrett.  I was bragging on him with affection and I used a word I use when playing with my own grandson.”  He refused to apologize.  And Alvin Garrett, he wasn’t upset by the comment at all.  He said he was honored that Cosell called him out during the telecast.

Howard had made “little monkey” comments on several other on-air occurrences:  August 29, 1972, September 23, 1972, during a baseball broadcast in 1982, and that Redskins game in 1983.  Not one thing was mentioned about the earlier three references, but Rev. Lowery was watching the game, I guess, on that Monday night in 1983.

howard cosellI think it was pretty obvious that Cosell’s comments had nothing to do with racism.  Cosell was an adamant supporter of civil-rights for athletes in the 1960s when it clearly wasn’t a popular stance.  He was close with Muhammed Ali, and supported Curt Flood, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Arthur Ashe, to name a few.   I just don’t think Howard was a racist.  He was a lot of things, obnoxious perhaps, but racist wasn’t one of them.  Yet you can find that incident listed as one of the top 10 worst cases of racism.  Gimme a break.

The Rev. Lowery, said, “It was a slip that reflected a thought.”  WTF.  What does that mean?  He wanted Cosell to be “man enough” to apologize for his reflected thoughts.  Cosell ended up being man enough to tell him to take a flyin’ flip.  And just so you know, Cosell wasn’t fired from Monday Night Football because of the “little monkey” comment.  He resigned at the end of the 1983 season.  He may have been partly forced-out, but I think there were personal reasons as well.   Still that monkey metaphor has been used by xenophobes for centuries, and maybe, just maybe, Howard should have known better.

There is any number of examples like this throughout recent history, most started or exacerbated by the Press, but Mark Twain being a racist…of course NOT.  They didn’t even know what a racist was in 1861. They certainly didn’t define it the way it is today.  Just like a “Native American” was an “Indian” back in 1861, and someone from Mexico was a “Mexican.”   But was Mark Twain prejudiced?  That would be a lot harder to prove.  Based on his writings I would have to argue that he was not.  He might call a Native American, Injun, but so did everyone else in his time.

Lieut. Richard Henry Pratt founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School 1879.

Lieut. Richard Henry Pratt founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School 1879.

The word racism wasn’t even in the language until 1902, and it was in reference to the Native American culture, not what we think of the word today.  The rest of the theory, espoused by Richard Henry Platt, was if you killed the Indian, you saved the man.  In other words, remove all semblance of the Native American culture from the man, and you get a white man.  Preposterous, yet Congress approved a boarding school in Pennsylvania for Native American children trying to do just that.

So name the damn cove after Samuel Langhorne Clemens and tell the Native American to get over it.  It was 150 years ago.  WTF.  


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Whole Town for Sale

ACME-Logo-660x332There is a girl in Roy, New Mexico, that is the only graduate in her senior class.  Not because she went to school with a bunch of dropouts, but because she is the only student in her senior class.  She probably has the highest grade point average and is valedictorian too.   I know she was prom queen.  There are 13 other 7-12 graders in her school, which has elementary, middle and secondary classes combined under one roof, so there were a few other prom-goers I hope.

 Now, Roy, New Mexico, isn’t very big, as you might guess, somewhere a little south of 237, and dropping since the 1990 Census.  But it’s kind of astonishing to be the only student in your high school graduating class, don’t you think?  Wouldn’t be much of a yearbook, only one picture on the senior pages, no seniors to sign best wishes.  She got to pick the class colors, class flower and the class motto though.  I wonder if she’s renting a cap and gown.  Did she get a class ring?  Senior pictures probably, but they have no professional photographer in town, so they would have had to go to the nearest “big” city for that. 

Anyway, I thought I would check to see if there are any other “Classes of 2014” that only number in the ones, and there doesn’t appear to be any.  Ah ha, so it’s a publicity stunt.  She said that she used to have other students her age in school but they all left, and others her age didn’t move into Roy in the last four years.  Well, nobody is moving to Roy from the sounds of it.  Like I mentioned, it’s been losing population since 1990.

Roy is a little town northeast of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  I’ve never been to Roy, and see no reason to ever go.  It does have the only gas station in Harding County, I’m told, so that could be helpful information if I ever take the wrong exit off of Interstate 25 to New Mexico 120 and don’t realize it until I hit state road 30.  And, of course, Harding County has the only senior graduating in 2014 too, but I don’t know that for sure, just guessing.

The only New Mexico communities smaller than Roy, are Encinal, pop. 212, Tementina, pop. 212, Pueblo Pintado, pop 231, and San Ysidro, pop. 233.  Never been to any those places either.  The only one I’ve even heard of is San Ysidro, probably because I saw it on an exit sign at one time or another.  There are 50 towns in New Mexico with populations below 500 though.

Small towns are uncomplicated.  I think most of us wish we lived in a small town if we could make a living.  Maybe not most of us, but I do.  No traffic, a couple of traffic signals maybe on main street, mom and pop shops, no mall, no crime, diners and local cafes, no big box stores, everyone knows everyone else.  Hey, if you can’t find one to move to, why not buy your own?

ACMEBEYEC10I remember a small town, actually a mining camp, which was a short distance outside of Sheridan, Wyoming where I grew up.  Acme, Wyoming.   It  was established in 1911.  Big Goose Creek and the Tongue River join just below the camp.  Acme was a coal mining camp named after the slope mine that was across the Tongue River, which operated until about 1940.  In 1953 the town was purchased by Gather Byland, the company bookkeeper from the then Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co.  They sold him the whole town. 

My Dad was the one who told me that the town was for sale I think.  “You can buy the whole town of Acme,” he had said.  It was kind of a novelty at the time.  In fact, the sale of the town became a national oddity.  I thought it would be neat to own a town.  I would have to change the name of course.    Something more appropriate.  I mean, anyone who has ever watched the Road Runner cartoons knows that everything Wile E. Coyote ordered was from The Acme Corporation.  Acme didn’t seem right for the name of your own town.  Anyway, you could name it anything you wanted if you owned it.

I started thinking maybe the memory of Acme, Wyoming being for sale was a figment of my imagination, so I did a little research.  I found this “fluff” piece on the front page of The Henderson Times-News, Henderson, NC., on February 12, 1968, below the fold, under the headline “Whole Town For Sale”:

“CHICAGO (UPI) If you long for the days when frontier barons ruled the mining towns—why not buy Acme, Wyo.?  It’s for sale.

A classified ad in a Chicago paper Sunday read; “A town for sale.  Inq. Box 175, Acme, Wyoming.”

Acme, a turn-of-the-century coal mining town near the Wyoming-Montana border, now consists of about 100 persons, a general store, a post office and 40 houses with either indoor or outdoor plumbing, and a power station.”

The article goes on to describe that the town is near the Big Horn Mountains between the Big Goose and Tongue Rivers.  “There is one street, and a road that leads out of town—which is where the 200 of the 300 residents went when the coal mines gave out around 1910.”  So this fact appears incorrect because the mine was operated until around 1940.

“The Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., which made the town important enough for the county to locate the power plant there, sold the town, all of it, to the company bookkeeper, Gather Byland.

Byland has kept renting the 40 houses and running the Acme Mercantile, the only store in town.

Acme’s few residents either work in the power plant, or in Sheridan, eight miles away, or are retired miners.”

The author implies that the town was getting too expensive to run so the owner decided to sell.  Not sure if that was the real reason.  Money may have been an issue, though, since the classified ad in the Chicago paper gave no other details about the town for sale, or even an asking price.  Eventually the camp was acquired by the Big Horn Coal Company which strip-mined the area.

sheridanmainWhen I was growing up in Sheridan, I remember that there were train tracks down the middle of Main Street in some areas, and I knew that there used to be a trolley car in town.  I didn’t know that it was the longest commercial trolley in operation in the country at the time.  It was an electric trolley car line that serviced the mining towns of Monarch and Acme in the early 1900s.

acmepowerplnt13I stumbled across a blog comment about Acme while I was searching the internet too.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the actual town site myself.  But it seems that it is now just another ghost town in rural America.  Someone that actually lived there for a month back in 1972 said they took a side-trip through in 1990 on their way to Finland from Juneau Alaska.  The water tower and the power plant were still there, but all the buildings had been moved to Sheridan or torn down.  All that remains of the “whole town” that was for sale in 1968 is the circular road around the center, remnants of the building foundations, and the one road leading out.

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Columbus Had Brothers

Columbus shipsI was shocked to learn that La Santa Maria de la Immaculada Conception, a carrack better known as the Santa Maria, (or La Capitana (The Flagship) as Columbus referred to her) ran aground in the early morning hours of Christmas 1492.  Did you know that?  I can’t remember one teacher giving me that little tidbit of information in grade school.  All these years I believed that Christopher Columbus returned to Spain in triumph on the Santa Maria, followed closely by the Nina, and the Pinta.  I realize this may not be unknown to everyone, but for whatever reason, I never knew the Santa Maria was at the bottom of the Caribbean.   I don’t remember anyone telling me that.  Turns out it was only the two smaller caravels, La Nina (The Girl) and La Pinta (The Painted) that returned to Spain and almost didn’t make it.

This is why the startling discovery, all over the news the last few days, of the sunken Santa Maria, was such a surprise to me.  A 500 year old mystery possibly laid to rest by archeologist, Barry Clifford, who believes that he has found her.

 Now listen, a couple of things bother me about this “find.”  One, the wreck, a carrack…There’s that word again.  A carrack is a three or four mast sailing vessel of the 15th century.  Developed by the Portuguese, and then used by the Spaniards, to explore the world.  It was an ocean-going vessel that was large enough to be stable in heavy seas, and carry enough provisions for a long voyage… that is 17.7m or 58 feet long, and is stuck on a reef a mere 10-15 feet under water.  Why hasn’t someone found this shipwreck before?   This sounds like a perfect “tourist dive” to me.   I mean, they knew the exact location where the ship ran aground.  They kept good records back then, and it seems to me anyway, that would make it pretty easy to find.  Not to mention, it’s ten or so feet below the surface.  You can probably see it from the deck of a boat.

Wreck of Santa Maria

The wreck of the Santa Maria. Photo by CNN.

The Santa Maria was run aground by a young ship’s boy, a cabin boy who was steering the ship because everyone else on board had fallen asleep.  They had passed out one by one because they were all three sheets to the wind from celebrating the holiday and hadn’t slept in days.   The young ship’s boy ran the Santa Maria aground off the coast of Hispaniola, the island now known as Haiti.  Reports from the later investigation indicated that the ship ran aground on a sandbar so quietly that it didn’t wake anyone on the ship.

That young cabin boy had to be Pedro de Terreros.  He is the only cabin boy listed on the well-known 39 man crew of the Santa Maria, which, of course, included Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus).  The Captain-General whom had to be asleep very close to the tiller when the incident happened.

Did Columbus really think the ship was beyond repair though?  It was almost as if he wanted the ship to remain.  The ship was barely damaged, and not much of an attempt was made to free it from the sandbar, although it was listing dangerously to one side.  He ordered the crew to remove the timbers and deck to build a fort for the crew members that now had no way to get home.  He later fired cannon balls into the hull to be sure that it couldn’t be used by those left behind to possibly rig a sail and leave the new settlement of La Navidad, and that’s how it ended up at the bottom of the sea.  Not to worry, the natives were friendly and he promised he would be back.  The real truth is he wanted someone near the gold they had discovered on the island.  Thirty-nine men, and possibly the cabin boy, remained behind never to be seen again.

The second thing that sounds a bit fishy to me about this startling discovery, as reported by CNN, is Barry actually found the ship in 2003.  There was a cannon at the wreck that was apparently mistaken for a younger version, and it wasn’t until, let’s see, 11 years later, that Barry wakes up from a dream believing that the cannon he had seen was from the Santa Maria.  Okay.  Funny thing is the cannon has been “looted” so there is no proof that it was even there.  But the dream, I dunno.  According to the story, Barry researched the type of cannons used on the Santa Maria two years prior and that’s why it came to him in that dream.  He realized that he had already found the Santa Maria.  I wonder who has the cannon and if they know what they have.

And what’s actually down there if Columbus ordered the timbers to be stripped from the ship to build the fort, La Navidad.  Apparently there are some stones that are common to the area of Spain where the ship was built.  Okay.  Stones?

Here’s something that I’ll bet most of you didn’t know.  Remember that fear of the world being flat and that they would sail off the edge?  Yeah.  It was a widely known and held belief by the 1490s that the earth was a sphere.  The primitive navigation of the time used the stars and the curvature of the earth to get around.  No one was afraid of falling off the earth.  What they didn’t know was how big a sphere they were on.  Columbus calculated that India was closer than it actually was, which means he couldn’t have reached it by sailing west without another continent being in the way.  They wouldn’t have fallen off the earth, but they would have died when the food and water supplies ran out.  It was this inaccurate belief in the circumference of the earth that kept King John II of Portugal from funding his expedition.

Why didn’t any one of my teachers ever mention that Columbus had brothers?  Two of them were with him in 1492.  In fact he appears to have had three brothers and a sister.  He left a brother and a sister behind in Italy, and the other two brothers, Batholomew and Diego, went with him on most of his adventures.  It is said that he rarely talked about his mother and father because he was not proud of his meager origins, a middle-class family of weavers from Genoa.

Columbus wasn’t actually the first to see land either.  It was first sighted at 2 am October 12, 1492, by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana aboard La Pinta.  Columbus would later claim that he had been the first to see land because he earned a reward in his contract for doing so.  He had a pretty good deal actually, mostly because Ferdinand and Isabella didn’t really expect to ever see him again.  If he claimed any new islands or mainland for the Crown he would earn hefty rewards.  He would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and be appointed Viceroy and Governor of all newly colonized lands.  And, most extraordinarily, he would get 10% of all revenues from the new lands in perpetuity.

 During his first journey, Columbus discovered San Salvador which he believed to be Japan, and Cuba that he thought was China, and Haiti where he found gold.  When he returned home in 1493 he stopped off in Portugal first to visit with King John II.  This is fascinating because he claimed it was a storm that brought him to Lisbon, yet he had a secret meeting with the King and stayed a week before sailing for Spain.  He received a hero’s welcome and brought several indigenous people for display, gold that he had found, tobacco which was previously unknown in Spain, the pineapple, turkey and, interestingly enough, the hammock.  

He returned on his second voyage with an armada of 17 ships.  Interesting what the discovery of a new world filled with gold, tobacco and pineapples can get you.  When he reached La Navidad, there was no one there.  This is more of a 500 hundred year old mystery than the wreck of the Santa Maria off the northern coast of Haiti. 

Columbus made four voyages to the New World, but he did not reach the mainland of South America until his third voyage in 1498.  And it wasn’t until 1521 that Magellan sailed the Pacific and reached Southeast Asia, proving Columbus’ vision of sailing west to the East Indies.

Here’s another myth-buster for you.  Remember how all the crew members were criminals who were given amnesty if they sailed with Columbus.  Although it is true that the Crown offered the amnesty, only four men took the offer.   All the other seamen were experienced and from the surrounding ports who were each paid well for the voyage.

And about that romantic tale of how Queen Isabella used a necklace as collateral for a loan, not true.  The voyage was financed by seven noble Genovese bankers from Seville.

While on vacation in Corpus Christi, we got the opportunity to view the Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta.  The city of Corpus Christi received the New World-era replicas in 1993 as a gift from Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus Day.  They were dry-docked at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.

Santa Maria

The Santa Maria in Corpus Christi.

We walked down into the hold of the Santa Maria and were immediately amazed by how small it was and it is the largest of the three ships.  I wondered how that many men could survive in this small space for months at a time.  You couldn’t really stand fully upright in most of the hold.  It would have been stocked with supplies and even live animals for food (no refrigeration).  It was stifling hot down there and I couldn’t wait to get back up on deck.

So we’ll find out if the shipwreck reported this week is the Santa Maria at some point.  The guy with the cannon will find out if he has a priceless artifact.  You found out that the Santa Maria was sunk intentionally by its captain-general, and Isabella didn’t pawn her necklace.  You also discovered that everyone was drunk, maybe even the cabin boy, on the night of the accident, and you now know his name.  You know Columbus had brothers, was ashamed of his father, and is responsible for tobacco smoking in Europe.  Oh, and that hammock in the back yard, worth the whole trip.  WTF.


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