Over the 4th of July weekend, My Own True Love and I headed toward southwest Missouri and the Toler family reunion.
A family reunion is a worthy goal in itself. Especially when it includes homemade ice cream and Grandma Toler’s Chocolate Cake. But as far as we’re concerned, a road trip isn’t a road trip without a historical site, a museum, or at the very least a historical marker or three. (Have I mentioned how much we like historical markers?) So we planned a detour. Then we took a detour from our detour.
Our original goal, in addition to the reunion, was the murals at the state capital in Jefferson City. We got there. We saw them. They are fabulous. (See them here and here. Better yet, go visit.) But what kept us talking on the drive from Jeff City to Springfield was our stop at the Daniel Boone home outside Defiance, Missouri.
The house is not quite what you picture when you think Daniel Boone. In fact, it turns out Daniel Boone wasn’t quite what you picture when you think Daniel Boone either. (Forget the coonskin cap. His trademark was a wide brimmed Quaker-style hat.)
Boone was 65 when he moved with his wife and several of his children to what was then the Upper Louisiana Territory in 1799. At that point, Upper Louisiana was a Spanish possession. (You thought it belonged to France, didn’t you? France ceded the territory to Spain at the end of the French and Indian War. Napoleon Bonaparte took it back in 1800. France sold the territory to the United States three years later. )
Even though the house was built on the edge of the wilderness, it was no log cabin. It took Boone and his son Nathan seven years to build a four-story house out of blue limestone and black walnut. Boone carved the fireplace mantel himself. The house is a beautiful Georgian -style manor, with a twist: the Boones built gunports into the 2-½ foot thick walls. Close the shutters and pull out the rifles and the manor becomes a wilderness fortress.
Today the Boone home is part of a historic interpretation site owned by Lindenwood University. In addition to tours, they run history day camps in the summer. I don’t know know about you, but I’d have signed up in a heartbeat. The day we visited, the campers learned about muzzle-loading rifles and made wax candles. Sure beats making potholders and singing 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
The original Assassins were members of a revolutionary Shiite splinter group founded in eleventh century Persia by Hassan Sabbah.
Like many schismatic religious groups, the Assassins believed that Muslims, including mainstream Shiites, had taken a wrong turn. Islam needed to go back to its foundations. As far as other Muslims were concerned, Sabbah’s beliefs were heresy. Among other things, he taught that Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali, and the Shiite imams who succeeded him were incarnations of Allah.
Like anarchists in the early twentieth century, the Assassins had neither money nor political power so they turned to the public murder of important figures as a way of exercising influence over society. (Anarchists called this “propaganda of the deed”.) The cult was organized as a secret society. The goal was not the removal of specific political leaders, but making people believe that the Assassins could kill anyone at any time.
The sect was destroyed in 1256 when the Assassins made the mistake of trying to kill Hulagu, the grandson of the Genghis Khan and leader of the Mongol hordes. (If you want to assassinate a Chinggisid prince, you need to get it right the first time.)
Assassin n. One who undertakes to put another to death by treacherous violence. The term retains so much of its original application as to be used chiefly of the murderer of a public personage, who is generally hired or devoted to the deed, and aims purely at the death of his victim.
…as I believe we were just the other day, I was recently introduced to a vision of the siege that is very different from Lord Baden-Powell’s casually stiff upper lip.
Sol T. Plaatje was a twenty-three-year-old African court interpreter for the Resident Magistrate when the Boers besieged Mafeking, and its African older sister, the adjacent township of Mafikeng, in October 1899. (Yes, I know. It looks like a typo.)
Plaatje was uniquely placed to comment on the progress of the siege in both towns. As an accomplished linguist who was fluent in English and Dutch as well as several African languages, Plaatje worked with the English authorities during the siege. He expanded his translation work to include two new courts that were established following the imposition of martial law. He served as the liaison between the British authorities and the local African population. He organized African spies and dispatch runners, and wrote up their reports. He sold his secretarial services to the British war correspondents who were stranded in Mafeking.
And in his spare time he kept an English language diary. (At least he wrote most of it in English. He also played with language, using words and phrases from Dutch, Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa, and Zulu. Make you feel like an under-educated slacker? Me, too.)
First published in 1973, Sol T. Plaatje’s Mafeking Diary gives us a different picture of the siege than those that appeared in the flood of memoirs and diaries published soon after the war. Wry, humorous, and often self-deprecating, Plaatje details the day-to-day experiences of the African population during the siege. A population that is too often invisible in traditional accounts of Mafeking. (Possibly because they concentrate o Mafeking, not on Mafikeng, now that I think about it.)
Plaatje’s later career was a cross between Benjamin Franklin and the young Gandhi. In the years after the war, he became an important newspaper editor, the first General Corresponding Secretary of the South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress), and one of the first black African literati. His published works include the historical novel Muhdi, the first novel in English by a black African. Plaatje never tried to publish his diary.
Plaatje was largely forgotten for several decades after his death. With the official end of apartheid in May, 1994, Plaatje has resumed his rightful place in South African history.