Last Christmas Day I debunked a great deal of rubbish spouted about the celebration of Christmas. This year I’d like to treat the day as I sometimes treat special birthdays, by reviewing births, deaths, and special events that happened on Christmas Day, in an omnibus post. I will not include events and births I have posted in previous years. Let’s get started.
Most Brits were taught in school that William the Bastard had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 (top photo from the Bayeux tapestry). They may not have been taught that the Conquest (capital “C”) was not over, by a long shot (or bow, or whatever). They were probably also not taught that William was not the great uniter of the history books, but, rather, the great divider. England had been a nation under the likes of Alfred the Great, but when William came along, England was divided between rich Norman nobility and poor Anglo-Saxon peasants. William made England a province of France, and it would not return to English nationhood until king John, the first king of England to speak English as his first language since Harold Godwinson (loser at Hastings), and the first king since Harold to see England as his prime kingdom (largely because he lost all his Angevin holdings in France). He was born on Christmas Eve.
Lots of other coronations (popular day!!):
800 – The Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.
1025 – Coronation of Mieszko II Lambert as king of Poland.
1076 – Coronation of Bolesław II the Generous as king of Poland.
1100 – Baldwin of Boulogne is crowned the first King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
1130 – Count Roger II of Sicily is crowned the first king of Sicily.
Births (or Baptisms)
You’ll note that Noël is an obvious name for people born on Christmas Day.
1583 Orlando Gibbons, English virginalist, organist and composer. Here’s his Magnificat for the season.
1628 – Noël Coypel, French painter and educator (d. 1707). Here’s his nativity:
1771 – Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William and poet in her own right (d. 1855)
1810 – L. L. Langstroth, (d. 1895) who discovered the “bee space,” the exact amount of room bees need to move in their hives, and invented the Langstroth hive, which is still in use. It has detachable honeycombs for ease of removing honey.
1870 – Helena Rubinstein, Polish-American businesswoman and philanthropist (d. 1965). Reputedly the first female millionaire in the world through her cosmetics empire.
1878 – Louis Chevrolet, Swiss-American race car driver and businessman, co-founded Chevrolet (d. 1941). Known as “the Daredevil Frenchman.”
1878 – Noël, Countess of Rothes, philanthropist, social leader and famed heroine of the Titanic disaster (d. 1956). She steered her lifeboat away from the sinking Titanic, helped row for 5 hours until they reached a rescue ship, and then took care of steerage passengers on board the rescue ship until they safely landed.
1899 – Humphrey Bogart (d. 1957)
1936 – Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, who is the queen’s first cousin, and the “celebrity” who opened my infant school in Eastbourne when I was in my first term. Her visit was a BIG DEAL, but even bigger was that she actually spoke to me in class when I was painting. The dialogue is in memory, but I’ll leave it there.
Dying on Christmas Day feels a bit to me like dying on your birthday, which is to say, I’d be all right with it, although I might prefer the day after. Actually, dying on your birthday has a certain symmetry to it, whereas dying on Christmas Day seems a bit disappointing, and leaves friends and family with sad memories of Christmas. The following people mostly need no introduction. I’ve tried to give them a Christmas theme.
1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter
1977 – Charlie Chaplin, English actor and director (b. 1889)
1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)
2006 – James Brown, American singer-songwriter (b. 1933)
2008 – Eartha Kitt, American singer and actress (b. 1927)
I’ll give you a gallery of my Christmas dinner this year, as I try to do every year in place of a recipe. This year was rather old fashioned English
Appetizer was Norwegian smoked salmon and sausage rolls:
Roast beef with roast potatoes, steamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, and spicy cream gravy:
First dessert was mince pie with whipped cream:
Second dessert will be Christmas pudding, but it is not dark yet, and I serve it flaming.
On this date in 1908 Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, usually known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, died in San Vicente in southern Bolivia under slightly mysterious circumstances, and their deaths have sometimes been challenged by historians. I think there is little doubt, however, that this was the end of the road for the duo. While it is true that they were a bank-robbing partnership in South America their status as a duo is overblown by media, especially the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is closer to the truth to say that for several years Parker was the leader of what became known as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, and Longabaugh was a member whom Parker recruited. When the gang split up in 1901, Parker and Longabaugh relocated to Patagonia in Argentina to escape relentless pursuit in the US by detectives from the Pinkerton agency, so their real partnership began in South America where they lived for 7 years.
In early 1894, Parker became involved romantically with outlaw and rancher Ann Bassett. Bassett’s father, rancher Herb Bassett, did business with Parker, supplying him with fresh horses and beef. That same year, Parker was arrested at Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and possibly for running a protection racket among the local ranchers there. He was imprisoned in the Wyoming State Prison in Laramie, Wyoming. After serving 18 months of a two-year sentence, Parker was released and pardoned in January 1896 by Governor William Alford Richards. He became involved briefly with Ann Bassett’s older sister, Josie, before returning to Ann.
Parker associated with a broad circle of criminals, most notably his closest friend William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Will “News” Carver, Laura Bullion, and George “Flat Nose” Curry, who collectively became the nucleus of the so-called “Wild Bunch”. The gang assembled some time after Parker’s release from prison in 1896 and took its name from the Doolin–Dalton gang, also known as the “Wild Bunch.”
On August 13, 1896, Parker, Lay, Logan and Bob Meeks robbed the bank at Montpelier, Idaho, escaping with approximately $7,000. Shortly thereafter Parker recruited Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, a native of Pennsylvania also known as “The Sundance Kid,” into the Wild Bunch. In early 1897, Parker was joined at Robbers Roost in Utah by Ann Bassett, Elzy Lay, and Lay’s girlfriend Maude Davis. The four hid there until early April, when Lay and Parker sent the women home so that the men could plan their next robbery. On April 22, 1897, in the mining town of Castle Gate, Utah, Parker and Lay ambushed a small group of men carrying the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, stealing a sack containing $7,000 in gold, with which they fled again to Robbers Roost.
On June 2, 1899, the gang robbed a Union Pacific Overland Flyer passenger train near Wilcox, Wyoming, a robbery which earned the Wild Bunch a great deal of notoriety and resulted in a massive manhunt. Many notable lawmen of the day took part in the hunt for the robbers, but they were not found. During a shootout with lawmen following the train robbery, both Kid Curry and George Curry shot and killed Sheriff Joe Hazen. Tom Horn, a killer-for-hire employed by the Pinkerton Agency, obtained information from explosives expert Bill Speck about the Hazen shooting, and then passed this information to Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo, who was assigned the task of capturing the outlaws. The gang escaped to Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming and were sometimes thereafter called the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Siringo became friends with Elfie Landusky, who was using the last name Curry after allegedly becoming pregnant by Kid Curry’s brother, Lonny. Through her, Siringo intended to locate the gang.
On July 11, 1899, Lay and others were involved in a Colorado and Southern Railroad train robbery near Folsom, New Mexico, which Parker may have planned and personally directed. A shootout ensued with local law enforcement, during which Lay killed Sheriff Edward Farr and Henry Love. Lay was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at the New Mexico State Penitentiary.
The Wild Bunch would typically separate following a robbery and flee in different directions, later reuniting at a predetermined location, such as the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout, Robbers Roost, or Madame Fannie Porter’s brothel in San Antonio, Texas. Parker appears to have approached Governor Heber Wells of Utah, (which achieved statehood in 1896), to negotiate an amnesty. Wells appears to have declined, advising Parker to instead approach the Union Pacific Railroad to persuade them to drop their criminal complaints against him. Union Pacific Railroad chairman E. H. Harriman attempted to meet with Parker through his old ally Matt Warner. On August 29, 1900, Parker, Longabaugh, and others robbed Union Pacific train No. 3 near Tipton, Wyoming, violating Parker’s earlier promise to the Governor of Wyoming and ending any chance for amnesty.
Posse for Wild Bunch
On February 28, 1900, lawmen attempted to arrest Kid Curry’s brother, Lonny, at his aunt’s home. Lonny was killed in the shootout that followed, and his cousin Bob Lee was arrested for rustling and sent to prison in Wyoming. On March 28, Kid Curry and News Carver were pursued by a posse from St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona after being identified passing currency from the Wilcox, Wyoming train robbery. The posse engaged them in a shootout, during which Deputy Andrew Gibbons and Deputy Frank LeSueur were killed. Carver and Curry escaped. On April 17, George Curry was killed in a shootout with Grand County, Utah Sheriff John Tyler and Deputy Sam Jenkins. On May 26, Kid Curry rode into Moab, Utah and killed both Tyler and Jenkins in another shootout in retaliation for the deaths of George and Lonny.
Parker, Longabaugh, and Carver traveled to Winnemucca, Nevada, where on September 19, 1900, they robbed the First National Bank of $32,640. In December, Parker posed alongside Longabaugh, Logan, Carver, and Ben Kilpatrick in Fort Worth, Texas for the now-famous “Fort Worth Five” photograph (above). The Pinkerton Detective Agency obtained a copy of the photograph and began to use it for wanted posters. On July 3, 1901, Kid Curry and a group of men robbed a Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana. This time, they took over $60,000 in cash (equivalent to about $1,750,000 in 2017). The gang split up, and News Carver was killed by a posse led by Sheriff Elijah Briant. On December 12, 1901, Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Knoxville, Tennessee with Laura Bullion. On December 13, during another shootout, Kid Curry killed Knoxville policemen William Dinwiddle and Robert Saylor and then escaped. Despite being pursued by Pinkerton agents and other law enforcement officials, Curry returned to Montana, where he shot and killed rancher James Winters in retaliation for the killing of his brother Johnny years before.
With the gang breaking up, and feeling continuous pressure from the numerous law enforcement agencies pursuing them, Parker and Longabaugh fled to New York City. On February 20, 1901, along with Etta Place, Longabaugh’s female companion, they departed for Buenos Aires aboard the British steamer Herminius. Parker posed as James Ryan, Place’s fictitious brother. They settled in a four-room log cabin on a 15,000-acre (61 km2) ranch that they purchased on the east bank of the Rio Blanco near Cholila, just east of the Andes in the Argentine province of Chubut.
On February 14, 1905, two English-speaking bandits, who may have been Parker and Longabaugh, held up the Banco de Tarapacá y Argentino in Río Gallegos, 700 miles (1,100 km) south of Cholila, near the Strait of Magellan. Escaping with a sum that would be worth at least US$100,000 today, the pair vanished north across the Patagonian steppes. On May 1, fearing that law enforcement had located them, the trio sold the Cholila ranch. The Pinkerton Agency had known their location for some time, but the snow and the hard winter of Patagonia had prevented their agent, Frank Dimaio, from making an arrest. Governor Julio Lezana issued an arrest warrant, but before it could be executed, Sheriff Edward Humphreys, a Welsh-Argentine who was friendly with Parker and enamored of Etta Place, tipped them off.
The trio fled north to San Carlos de Bariloche where they embarked on the steamer Condor across Nahuel Huapí Lake and into Chile. By the end of the year they had returned to Argentina. On December 19, Parker, Longabaugh, Place and an unknown male associate robbed the Banco de la Nación branch in Villa Mercedes, 400 miles (640 km) west of Buenos Aires, taking 12,000 pesos. Pursued by armed lawmen, they crossed the Pampas and the Andes to reach the safety of Chile.
On June 30, 1906, Etta Place decided that she had had enough of life on the run, and was escorted back to San Francisco by Longabaugh. Parker, under the alias James “Santiago” Maxwell, obtained work at the Concordia Tin Mine in the Santa Vera Cruz range of the central Bolivian Andes, where he was joined by Longabaugh upon his return. Their main duties included guarding the company payroll. Still wanting to settle down as a respectable rancher, in late 1907 Parker traveled with Longabaugh to Santa Cruz, a frontier town in Bolivia’s eastern savannah.
The facts surrounding Parker’s and Longabaugh’s deaths are uncertain. On November 3, 1908, near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, a courier for the Aramayo Franke and Cia Silver Mine was conveying his company’s payroll, worth about 15,000 Bolivian pesos, by mule, when he was attacked and robbed by two masked American bandits believed to be Parker and Longabaugh. The bandits then proceeded to the small mining town of San Vicente, where they lodged in a small boarding house owned by a local resident miner named Bonifacio Casasola.
Casasola became suspicious of his two foreign lodgers. A mule they had in their possession was from the Aramayo Mine, identifiable from the mine company’s brand on the mule’s left flank. Casasola left his house and notified a nearby telegraph officer who notified a small Bolivian Army cavalry unit stationed nearby, the Abaroa Regiment. The unit dispatched three soldiers, under the command of Captain Justo Concha, to San Vicente, where they notified the local authorities. On the evening of November 6, the lodging house was surrounded by the soldiers, the police chief, the local mayor and some of his officials, who intended to arrest the Aramayo robbers.
When the soldiers approached the house, the bandits opened fire, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another. A gunfight then ensued. At around 2 a.m., during a lull in the firing, the police and soldiers heard a man screaming from inside the house. Soon, a single shot was heard from inside the house, whereupon the screaming stopped. Minutes later, another shot was heard. The standoff continued as locals kept the place surrounded until the next morning when, cautiously entering, the authorities found two dead bodies, both with numerous bullet wounds to the arms and legs. One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet hole in the temple. The local police report speculated that, judging from the positions of the bodies, one bandit had probably shot his fatally wounded partner-in-crime to put him out of his misery, just before killing himself with his final bullet. In the following investigation by the Tupiza police, the bandits were identified as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport, but the Bolivian authorities didn’t know their real names, nor could they positively identify them. Historians now generally agree that this was the fate of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. The movie version of their end is pure fiction:
I thought a classic Bolivian dish would suit the memory of the duo given that they spent the last years of their lives in Bolivia, and what better than the larger-than-life silpancho? Silpancho (from the Quechua Sillp’anchu) comes originally from the city of Cochabamba. When prepared properly, this dish makes a large and filling meal laden with carbohydrates and protein. It’s always too much for me. It consists of a base layer of white rice, followed by a layer of boiled, sliced, and fried potatoes; next, a thin layer of breaded meat (milanesa), followed by a layer of chopped tomato, onion, beet, and parsley mixed together, and topped with either one or two fried eggs.
Do you really need a recipe? Start with a bed of plain boiled white rice. Peel and boil potatoes until they are soft, slice them, and fry the slices a few at a time in hot olive oil until they are golden on both sides. Make one or two milanesas according to the recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fingerprinting/ . Make sure that all the cooked ingredients are warm when you layer them. I keep them warm in the oven while frying the eggs. Chop and mix together equal portions of tomato, onion and cooked beetroot seasoned with parsley and salt to taste. This part can be done ahead of time. When ready to serve, start frying an egg, remove the heated plate of rice potatoes and milanesa from the oven, add the chopped vegetables on top, finish off with the fried egg and serve.