By John Davis

Recent readings


October 3, 2017

I’ve been reading a lot of odds and ends in the last month or so, I suppose because Celia and I have been so busy that I just grab what reading I can fit in. That trend is unlikely to change soon: We plan to go to Jackson Hole at the end of the week to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and then a week after that to another big occasion (I won’t reveal the details, because I want to write about this event in next week’s column).

My daughter gave me some short books when I was in Seattle and I found a couple of them to be quite interesting.

One is a book about the East India Company, the British private stock company given a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. You run across the East India Company any time you do much reading about India or Pakistan, and so I was curious to learn more about this entity. At first the company focused on British trade with China, but in the 18th century it became more aggressive. With the assistance of the power of Britain, it could muster a navy and soldiers with European weaponry vastly superior to that of the people of India and surrounding countries. And soon, it seemed, the entire Indian area was dominated by British interests. We’re talking major colonialism here. While the history was interesting, I soon found myself out of sympathy with the British as they controlled and exploited the Indians. In the middle of the 19th century, the Indians revolted, and the British put them down brutally, declaring their disgust with the Indians’ lack of appreciation for Britain’s bestowing the benefits of a superior civilization upon the Indians. The company was dissolved in 1874 and dominion set over to “the crown” (Queen Victoria).

Another book from my daughter with a British theme was “Naked to Mine Enemies,” about Cardinal Woolsey, who served King Henry VIII until that psychopath found an excuse to shut Wolsey down. Wolsey was the son of a butcher from Ipswich who rose to remarkable heights in the Anglican church and as an advisor of, first, King Henry VII, and then King Henry VIII. An enormously competent man, he wielded power only matched by the king and gained great wealth before Henry VIII decided to seek his execution for treason (and whatever Henry VIII wanted, he got). Wolsey short-circuited that process in 1530 by dying, apparently from natural causes, while on his way to the Tower of London.

In preparation for the events at the TA Ranch celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Johnson County War, I re-read “The Banditti of the Plains” by Asa Mercer. I found Mercer’s presentation of background information before the Invasion to be careless and his statements with political implications to be unreliable. But his discussion of the motivations of the cattle barons for the Invasion, as well as the details of the event, its causes and consequences, is spot on.

Finally, when I was at the awards luncheon of the Wyoming State Historical Society on September 15 at Cody, I received a book republished and distributed by the Society, “Locating the Iron Trail,” by Edward Gillette. This is a gem. Edward Gillette was a surveyor and engineer for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He led survey teams through New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming and Alaska. It was Edward Gillette after whom the city of Gillette was named. After Gillette quit his railroad work he settled in Sheridan. In 1907 he was elected Wyoming State Treasurer and then served as the Wyoming Water Superintendent.

This book is a wonderfully interesting chronicle of Gillette’s work, made especially so because he was a good writer. He comes across as a man endowed with big doses of common sense and likeability.

The State Historical Society is to be commended for bringing back this excellent little book. It’s not long, at 144 pages, but it is surely worthwhile.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books.


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