Ratting Out Errata

We all make mistakes, and I am always finding new ways of making them.  A few days ago my dear friend Barb alerted me to the fact that one of my lead sentences contained spare parts from a discarded phrase.  It is one of the dangers of using a computer to type, or, rather, to correct previously-typed material.  One phrase is replaced by another, but the first is not completely expunged.  Rats.  Every way of writing down thoughts comes with its own set of pitfalls.

I remember a style guide written many years ago by a newspaper editor who declared the phrase “tow-headed boy” off-limits, because, when the copy is handed to an overworked typesetter, that flaxen-haired lad invariably winds up on the printed page sporting a pair of heads.

Sometimes the tools we use have built-in snares.  Proofreading a chapter I had written about “Lovewell’s Fight,” I was puzzled to find that every instance of the name “Saco Pond” had been changed to “Waco Pond.”  Then I remembered that while much of the book was typed in Apple’s Pages software, that chapter had been imported from Microsoft Word, and the auto-correct feature is always drawing its plans against me.

This brings me to a mistake in Winsor and Scarbrough's 1878 “History of Jewell County,” a mistake that was repeated word-for-word decade-after-decade, and how I think it came to be there in the first place.

The history book recounts the killing of six buffalo hunters in Jewell County, Kansas, in May of 1868, at the end of a chase that began while Orel Jane Lovewell watched from a distant hilltop.  The Lovewell and Davis families happened to be camped there, while on a buffalo hunt of their own.  The killings had really happened two years earlier, and I long suspected that the Lovewells were the source of the misinformation, the result of too many exciting events packed into a few confusing years on the Kansas Plains.

Eventually I realized that there had to be another explanation.  In May of 1866 Thomas and Orel Jane had been a couple for only a few weeks.  The Castle/Collins massacre was not only the first dark cloud to blot their new adventure in Kansas, it was the biggest headline to mark their new life together, the frontier equivalent of marrying on or around November 22nd, 1963.  Besides that, the two couples could not have gone hunting together in 1868.  Testifying much later in an Indian depredation case, Thomas Lovewell recalled that after the Jewell County Massacre of 1867, Daniel Davis did not return to his farm for another two years.  Daniel was busy serving in the Frontier Battalion in 1868.  Thomas did hunt buffalo in 1868, but not until late summer and early fall, and, well aware of the dangers involved, neither he nor his fellow hunters brought along their wives.  After the massacres of 1866 and 1867, all Jewell County family picnics were put on hold until 1870.

What led the date of an important event in the history of Jewell County to be misreported by two years?  It was probably something as mundane as bad handwriting, or Winsor’s reading of Scarbrough’s notes, or vice-versa.  A hastily-scrawled “6” can look much like an “8,” and apparently it did.  A burr on a piece of type marred another numeral in Winsor and Scarbrough’s history, filling in a “4” until it somewhat resembles a “1”.  The book was dutifully microfilmed for historic preservation, with the microfilm copy later patiently transcribed for distribution on the Internet.  

The price of such convenience is that some online readers will learn that “10” Indians rode up to John Marling’s claim in 1866, “outraged” his wife “in the most brutal and fiendish manner,” and stole or destroyed everything else they found.  How many Indians really appeared on the scene according to the earliest record, the one printed in the Junction City Union?  One hundred.  Winsor and Scarbrough reported only the number John Marling said he saw standing around his poor wife, which he estimated at thirty or forty.  A ragged piece of type and some fuzzy microfilm photography then reduced the war party to ten.

The Junction City Union’s version of events explains why John Marling did not simply round up a few of his friends with Sharps rifles and return to the scene.  Marling rode into Republic County to recruit Thomas Lovewell and Daniel Davis and whoever else he could find, because he needed an army.      

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com