The Titanic’s First Near Collision!

For those who don’t know, I am by training a Civil War historian and an Abraham Lincoln scholar. But, my first passion has always been the maiden voyage and sinking of the RMS Titanic. Coincidentally, I might add, the subjects of Lincoln and the Titanic share a common bond–the dates April 14 and 15 are not only the anniversary of the ship’s sinking, but also the President’s assassination!

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The Titanic and President Lincoln share an important date! They both met their ends on the night of April 14-15! The Titanic sank exactly forty-seven years after Lincoln’s assassination.
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But I digress…

Today, April 10, marks the beginning of the 107th commemoration of the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. As such, I thought making it the topic of this week’s blog post might be a fitting way to remember the event.

Specifically, though, I’m going to talk about a little known fact about the maiden voyage. Did you know that the Titanic’s voyage almost didn’t happen? 107 years ago today, as the RMS Titanic departed Southampton, England on its way to it’s first port of call in Cherbourg, France, the massive liner nearly collided with another ship, keeping it from departing at all!

As it passed alongside two smaller vessels tethered to the pier–the White Star Line’s Oceanic and the American Line’s New York–the suction from the Titanic‘s propellers drew the New York away from the Oceanic until its tethers snapped like gunshots. In an instant, the New York was free from it’s moorings, and it’s stern was swinging directly toward the Titanic‘s port side.

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The stern of the New York swings perilously toward the Titanic‘s port side. This photograph was taken from the Southampton pier.

Onboard the Titanic, while passengers congregated along the rails to witness the impending collision, on the bridge Captain Edward J. Smith and Southampton pilot George Bowyer made a quick decision to increase speed to the Titanic‘s port propeller. The sudden rush of water was just enough to push the smaller New York away from the Titanic‘s side. Smith then ordered the engines stopped. At the same time, the crew of the tug Vulcan secured a line to the New York, and pull it forward and clear of the Titanic‘s stationary bow. The New York was then rejoined to the pier, and the Titanic continued on her way.

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The New York is pulled by the tug Vulcan away from the Titanic’s stationary bow. This photograph was taken by a passenger on the Titanic’s deck. The passenger later disembarked at Queenstown, Ireland (the Titanic’s last port of call) and developed his film after the sinking.

The incident happened in only a matter of minutes, and almost no one took it as anything more than a passing moment of excitement in an otherwise easy send off. One second class passenger, however, was later remembered by his daughter as turning to his wife and saying “that’s a bad omen for a start.” Four days later, he died when the Titanic sank after failing to avoid a second collision…this time with the fateful iceberg.

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The Titanic continues on it’s fateful voyage. This photograph was taken from the deck of the New York as the Titanic passed by.

I have been fascinated by this ship, and her story, since I was a boy of six years old. I was born a few years before Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the wreck in 1985 laying in 2.5 miles of water some four-hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. I remember my Uncle Joe showing me a National Geographic Magazine with photos from Dr. Ballard’s 1986 expedition, and from there I was hooked!

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National Geographic Magazine had exclusive rights to publish Dr. Ballard’s first images of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic. This is the cover of the 1985 issue.

Today, my personal library spans some two-thousand volumes. A sizable portion of that library–about one-hundred books–cover the Titanic and her story. In my office at Western Wyoming Community College, however, are my most prized items related to the Titanic. Along with a first edition of Walter Lord’s classic 1952 account of the disaster, A Night to Remember, is a first edition of his follow up volume The Night Lives On–written after the discovery of the wreck. Between them is an original 1912 printing of the Sinking of the Titanic–written by a reporter as a means of cashing in on the frenzy of interest surrounding the event. And in front of these volumes is my favorite item: a piece of anthracite coal retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic in the early 1990s and purchased for me as a birthday present by my father.

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On Dr. Neels’ desk at Western Wyoming Community College are first editions of three influential books on the story of the Titanic, one from 1952 (left), one from the 1980s (right), and one written right after the sinking in 1912 (center). But his most prized possession is a piece of anthracite coal from the wreck itself (bottom).

If it weren’t for the Titanic, I might not be a historian today! So, this Sunday, April 14, I will raise a glass in memory of the event that made me the scholar I am today!

— m.a.n.


Wyoming Petroglyphs. They are absolutely stunning. And we have so many! Paleoindians (peoples inhabiting Wyoming around 8000 years ago), Fremont, Shoshone, Comanche, Apache, and Arapaho have all called Wyoming home.

Mostly Southwest Wyoming, though there are amazing sites in Northwest Wyoming as well, just as the Dinwoody and Medicine Wheel sites.

People ask me all the time: What do they mean? Short answer: We don’t know. There are a variety of reasons people make pictures. For decoration, to make the place special, to make the area holy, or because the area is holy. Special places are made or recognized by Native Americans then are used as “libraries”, or a place to store cultural and historical knowledge (All other cultures do this, to. Churches are a good example).

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Ancestral Shoshone petroglyphs (White Mountain Petroglyphs), carved into the soft sandstone. From Wikipedia Commons.

Some of the petroglyphs in Wyoming do have known meaning, as they are made relatively recently by cultures are still intact today. But many groups, having been mistreated by government actors in the past (and unfortunately still today), are not willing to discuss the meaning of their historical petroglyphs with anthropologists. This is akin to many religious groups not being willing to discuss certain details of their beliefs with outsiders.

Check out Wyoming State Historical Society – and Sacred Destinations – for more information on how to access these amazing sites.

So, when you visit these sites, be respectful. Obey all federal and state regulations. DON’T TOUCH. Don’t assume you can take pictures, check first. Try to engage with the local culture, especially if there is an interpretive center nearby. Consider the oppression these peoples had to go through, and be grateful that some of these cultures are still around today.

When visiting the White Mountain Petroglyphs specifically, remember that there is limited cell service, and the road is rough. Bring extra water and a vehicle that has a high clearance, with a full tank of gas. Be smart about going “off the grid.”


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I have degrees in both Geology and Anthropology. So I think a lot about the environment, and how we as humans survive in different environments. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about winter. Because it’s cold. Not a fan.

Winter still has it’s icy grip here in Wyoming. It keeps trying to change to Spring, but Winter comes back with a sarcastic smile. And we’re supposed to get more tomorrow. :O

I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But the best “Winter Culture” I’ve ever experienced was in Minneapolis. Zurich, Switzerland, comes in a close second, but I still miss Minneapolis’ Winter Carnival, the Skyway, the litter heaters at bus stops. All of it was created with a cultural understanding that one should be outside in the wintertime.

Here’s a great story about winter culture in Minnesota if you’re interested:

Wyoming has a slightly different relationship with winter. It’s more of a “hunker down” mentality that serves people well in the West, where resources during the winter are so scarce (particularly in the historical past), you might not make it to see Spring.

It was safer to walk to the area I wanted to see than to drive.

When regular people have the app for the Wyoming Department of Transportation on their phone, you know something’s different. Heck, I don’t think there are too many other states that even have an app for their state DOT. And when you have to really plan for a night stay along I-80 because there is a good chance of it being closed when you want to come back, you know this is serious stuff. I see many comments on social media, or even just on TV, that tell me that the rest of the country thinks The West is a bit ridiculous when it comes to our winter response. The idea of scare resources stumps most Americans.

But it’s still true here. My town has one bakery. It cannot service the entire town, so it doesn’t even try. They make only what they can sell between 6am and 2pm every day. There is no more to be had. If the gas station runs out of (anything and everything), they have to wait for a truck to come from another state. This applies no matter what side of Wyoming you’re on.All of this is worse in the winter, when these supply trucks can’t get to some of the small towns (every town in Wyoming is a “small town”, btw) reliably. So the conservation of resources is still a survival skill here.

So, essentially, the snow my backyard is acting like a dune field. Though I do see sediment buildup on some of the older so, which indicates a windbreak. If you want to know where the wind is consistently the weakest, look for the dirty snow.

To be honest, it’s where I’d want to be in a zombie apocalypse. Because people here still know how to make stuff and save stuff. Watch out, America.

You don’t need to travel far to see wonders. You can find amazing things right at home. Start by looking down at your feet. Or out your front door, apparently.

See the ripples? Living snow dunes!

And if you feel like reading about how famous Wyoming is: The Five Coldest Cities in the World



The Origin of Women’s Rights in the Equality State – My Theory

                Last week, Dana filled you in on her experiences as a liberal woman in the “Equality State.” So, I thought perhaps I might add to her experience by explaining the importance of women’s rights in our state history. If you are a historian in the state of Wyoming, you cannot escape the issue. In fact, it is perhaps the most important distinction between us and the rest of the American West. No, we are not the “Cowboy State,” as some maintain….we are the “Equality State.” So, without further ado, let’s look at the story behind the nickname.


                It’s May 7, 1869, and thirty-three year old John Campbell, a bachelor and former officer in the Union army arrives in Cheyenne to take up his post as governor of the new territory of Wyoming. He’s joined by Edward M. Lee, another bachelor who has been appointed by President Grant to serve as territorial secretary. Since both men are single, there’s no worry about them being preoccupied with concerns about their wives and potential families. They can do the hard, rugged work of bringing civilization to the wild frontier.

                None of them would have thought at the time that their tenures would be marked by one of the greatest advancement in women’s rights in American history.

                At this point, I should point out that the authority on this subject used to be T. A. Larson, who literally wrote the book on Wyoming History. If you read Larson, you might think the same of the other members of the territorial government.

                At the time that the first session of the legislature met in Cheyenne in September 1869, the ratio of men-to-women in Wyoming was somewhere around 6 to 1! And with towns like Laramie, Rawlins, and Rock Springs literally being defined as “hell on wheels” towns, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to expect the legislators to resemble the ruckus nature of their constituents.

                To be fair, the legislature WAS all men, all white, and all Democrat.

                But, beyond that, the legislature did something unexpected during its first session. In early December it passed a bill proposed by William Bright of South Pass City granting women the right to vote and hold office! Governor Campbell signed the bill on December 6, giving Wyoming bragging rights as the first place ANYWHERE in the United States to grant such a privilege, and earning us the nickname “the Equality State.”


               Ever since then, historians have debated exactly WHY it happened.

T. A. Larson believed he had the answer.

1.)  Legislators wanted to bring women to the territory! Families bring civilization, the theory goes, and women are the glue that holds the family together. Ergo, we need women to have an incentive to come to this rugged landscape and make a go at it!

If this was the reason why, it didn’t work out like they wanted. Women did not flock to Wyoming in droves after the passage of the suffrage bill.

2.) Legislators were influenced by famous women’s suffragettes. Anna Dickinson gave a speech in Cheyenne on September 24, and Redelia Bates spoke in the same town on November 5—just a week before Bright introduced the suffrage bill.

Maybe this was partially true. Both women spoke in the hall where the House of Representatives met, and during a time when the legislators might possibly have attended.

                3.) It was all a big joke!

Yep! Larson suggested that it was a farce. The day that Bright introduced the bill, the men in the legislature were proposing ridiculous amendments to suggest that government wastes the people’s time and money. Some believed that the suffrage bill was proposed in this vein, but that it accidentally passed! To be fair, William Bright denied that he meant the bill as a joke. And Governor Campbell, who signed it, certainly didn’t see it that way!


                Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with these proposed theories. Larson had evidence to support each of them. But he left one possible reason out, and I think it’s a glaring omission!

                I think that the women’s suffrage bill was politically motivated.

                When Wyomingites went to the polls in September 1869, they chose an all Democratic legislature. While we want to give the men who helped make this monumental occasion the benefit of the doubt, their political affiliation really cannot be ignored.

                In January 1865, the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified that December). One year later, it passed the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in July 1868). These acts ended slavery, and then granted citizenship to the four million former slaves. They also made the Republican Party the party of freedom and equality!

                The Democratic Party, in contrast, had become known nationally as the party of traitors! Every Senator and Congressman who had left the congress when the South seceded had been a Democrat, and every time a Democrat ran for national office during Reconstruction he was trounced by Republicans who claimed their party was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of boys in the late war.

                But then the Republicans “fumbled the ball.” In February 1869 Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which was meant to give all citizens the federally-protected right to vote. However, the final version of this act only granted the right to men. Women were excluded for any number of reasons. The feeling of betrayal was palpable among female advocates of equality. Until then, they had been united with men who advocated equality, regardless of race or sex. Now, they broke away from their former male colleagues and created a uniquely women’s suffrage movement.

                I believe, then, that Democrats in the Wyoming Territorial Legislature—which was seated, I might add, only months after the betrayal of women in the fifteenth amendment–saw an opportunity! They could get on the “equality” bandwagon by taking up this issue. If enough new territories, which would eventually become states, did likewise, then Democrats would earn the thanks and respect of an entirely new electorate that might get them back into power in Washington.

                After all that trouble, the end of the story might be the most humorous part! Starting the next year, 1870, women began serving on juries and holding public office. Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City became the first woman in all of the United States to hold an elected office—Justice of the Peace. These female jurists, and this female justice, began convicting men in these rough-and-tumble “hell on wheels” towns to the harshest sentences possible under the law. In essence, women were literally civilizing the wild frontier!

                The icing on the cake, though, was the elections in September 1870. Women went to the polls for the first time….and voted Republican!

                For those Democratic men in the legislature, this was too much! When the legislature met again in late 1871, it nearly ended this great experiment in democracy by repealing the women’s suffrage bill.

               And this is where Governor Campbell became the unexpected savior of Women’s Rights. Even though his party (Republican) had essentially betrayed women with the Fifteenth Amendment, he personally chose not to penalize them for voting for his party (as the Democrats were trying to do), and vetoed the Democrat’s repeal bill. The Democrats failed to override Campbell’s veto, and women’s suffrage was here to stay.


                Women’s rights became a central part of Wyoming’s existence in the American Union. We led the way, and other western states followed. In fact, prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to grant suffrage to women was Kansas! The West had made its mark on American History, and Wyoming had led the way.

                To be fair, the measure did not bring more women to Wyoming, and the rough-and-tumble nature of some parts of Wyoming did not settle down right away (sometime, I’ll relate the story of the Johnson County War and the notorious acts of the vigilante Tom Horn). But women would eventually have a role to play in society.

                It only remains for today’s Wyoming women to assert the freedoms and privileges first given to them over one-hundred-and-fifty years ago.

— m.a.n.

Welcome to a new adventure!

Our first post! I’m personally excited about this collaboration, and I daresay Mark is too. We plan to alternate posts every week. Mark is more interested in politics, I’m more of a globalist. Mark is a US historian, I’m an archaeologist with degrees in geology, historical archaeology, and anthropology, so this site ought to stay hoppin’. 😀

Women of Wyoming

I thought I’d start off with some thoughts about our current “home state” of Wyoming. It’s an interesting place, and I’m sure both Mark and I will write about it often. For example, I recently gave a talk on Women in Wyoming to a slightly conservative-leaning group. I had been invited, but as it wasn’t an academic group, I was a little nervous. It was… interesting, at first, to say the least (nah, it was just plain awkward), as it was clear that the title of my talk “The Anthropology of Wyoming Women” was off-putting: many people who aren’t familiar with academics think that we’re all left-leaning pinko communists (yes, I’ve actually been called that here, seriously).

I, as a Wyoming woman who is raising two small children here, had a few things to say, even if I’m a transplant. I talked about my children, about doing my academic research here, and I showed them some of the things I’ve discovered:

That women have been part of the fabric of Wyoming ever since Europeans set foot in the Wyoming Territory. And that even prior to that, the Shoshone and the Arapaho have strong traditions of female empowerment, even if those past traditions seem oppressive to us today. Sacajawea, Calamity Jane, Estelle Reel, and Nellie Tayloe Ross are just a few of the women who molded Wyoming culture.

That while women might have been granted the right to vote for all the wrong reasons (, women came to Wyoming for many of the same reason men did, to find prosperity, for the simple freedom, to flee oppression.

Now, that’s all well and good, but we have some issues. Today, we still have one of the lowest female to male ratios in the nation. Which, I think, is an important consideration when looking at Wyoming culture. In a male-dominate society, women do not get more girly, but quite the opposite: our women are known for their ruggedness and ability to put in work as well as a man. Not always by choice.

A good friend who had just moved to Wyoming from the East said, “And I was considered a tom-boy back home! But these Wyoming girls are ROUGH!” She meant that both physically and mentally, in that it was difficult for her to even relate and make friends, as Wyoming women didn’t seem to want to talk about the same things young women in the East did – small talk seems to be mostly around children, family, and then hunting, jobs, and the economy. Maybe Wyoming history, if the group knows each other well. Heavy stuff for a “women’s group”, and you had best know what you’re talking about, regardless of your political leanings.

Another colleague, born and raised in Wyoming, told me that it was frowned on to “dress up” as a young woman, because it implied you were too girly, and possibly a hooker.


The funny part of that story is that prostitutes had a place in politics and the economy in the early days of Wyoming, as the show “Adam Ruins Everything” explains so succinctly and hilariously:

It’s also important to consider the influence of deprivation and isolation, as Wyoming is not only the least populated state in the nation (there’s fewer people here than in Rhode Island!) but we’re also the least densely populated, beating out Alaska. Someone told me that’s because Wyomingites don’t actually like talking to people, or seeing people, or hearing people….

And I’ve seen that in action. When I first moved here years ago, my boss told me “Don’t feel too bad if you don’t make friends right away. Wyomingites will ignore you for at least three years, and then maybe start inviting you to things in five…” He was pretty much on the money to the month. Though I’m still trying to work out if the timeline has more to do with the density (or lack thereof) of the population as opposed to citizens actually not being “friendly” – when neighbors can be easily miles apart, and shift-work keeps you from going to events at normal hours, it could easily take people years before they ever actually meet, even in a small town. (Population of Wyoming towns is a post for another day.)

A famous archaeologist once said “Wyoming is North America’s answer to Outer Mongolia.” There are a lot of parallels. There are simply things you can’t get in stores in Wyoming, services you can’t access without paying huge sums to have people come in from Denver or Salt Lake. UPS even charges a “Rural Delivery Fee” to deliver packages to most any location in Wyoming, even to towns directly off the Interstate.

*Insert Incredulous Emoji here*

No wonder family still ask me if people ride horses to school here.

In the end, my talk was well-received, and I even got handshakes from old-timers who appreciated the information and how I delivered it. I’m not a fan of tone-policing – I still think that an adult ought to be able to listen to anything regardless of how it’s delivered and still take away information, but I did appreciate the implied compliment.