Showing posts with label Indiana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indiana. Show all posts

06 April 2024

The Mystery of the Firebear

Firebear as seen by Indians and pioneer boy

This real-life mystery sounds like the title of a Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys novel, doesn’t it? But stay tuned.

First Nations near Flat Rock, Indiana first told of the Firebear living in nearby caves. At night, the Firebear roamed forests and fields, burning brightly at night. Seen by generation after generation of Native Americans, the creature was deemed immortal.

In pioneer times when homesteaders settled Flat Rock, they learned of the legend. Not only did they hear of the myth from local Indians, they saw the Firebear for themselves, coming out at night, flaming in the dark.

So, if I told you the Firebear was actual, factual, what explanation might you give? Historical records indicate it was real. Take a moment to ponder before we solve the mystery.

Major Works

My recent story, Dime Detective, was influenced by Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories. Tarkington was among a number of Indiana authors wildly popular in their time, but, despite films, stage plays, and now audiobooks, are virtually forgotten by subsequent generations.

Firebear at the mouth of his cave

Along similar lines, Indianapolis attorney Charles Major took to writing, and success eventually allowed him to give up lawyering. His intensively researched historical romances became immediately popular, beginning with When Knighthood was in Flower in 1898. Three years later as Knighthood was finally giving up its bestselling status, a new children’s novel set in soon-to-be Shelby County, Indiana, The Bears of Blue River, made a hit with youngsters and adults alike. Today, the town square of Shelbyville features a sculpture of a boy with bears.

Major was certainly aware of the Firebear legend. So how would you explain the mystery of the Firebear?

See solution below the break.    ⤵︎

14 March 2024

True Crime History

I am not particularly fond of true crime books, which often have a sensationalist and voyeruistic angle that makes one feel for the relatives and friends of the protagonists. I am not even fond of those lightly fictionalized novels, "ripped from the headlines" as one of my old editors like

But I have no reservations about Timothy Egan's A Fever in the Heartland, an account of a true crime certainly, but, even more, a vivid history of a real criminal enterprise. The book's subtitle, The Klu Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them, provides a handy if rather exaggerated subtitle.

Still, even if the plot only managed control of Indiana, the "fever in the Heartland" was a substantial historical event and, I think readers of the book will agree, an informative and cautionary tale that is still relevant. 

America in the 1920's was very much a society in transition with all the strains of modernity under its jazz age exhuberance. There was a reservoir of racial bigotry north as well as south, along with anti-semitism and a general anti-immigrant animus, spurred by a sense that the nature of the country was changing and that the old social order, white and protestant, was under threat.

One of the men who saw promise in this stew of prejudice and resetment was a not particularly successful salesman named D.C. Stephenson, who devised a way to make hate pay well. He took over what had been a small time Klan outfit and revitalized it with big parades, picnics, and entertainments. The aim was to take bigotry mainstream and make the Klan look superficially like just another popular fraternal organization.

Stephenson was charismatic but also shrewd. His deal with the organization let him keep a substantial portion of what he promised would be increased profits from selling Klan regalia and robes and from membership fees. He was soon living luxuriously but there was still plenty of money left over to pursue his big aims, respectability and power. Under his direction, the Klan bribed judges and cops, subsidized pliant ministers, and funded like-minded or venial politicians.

Soon Stephenson and his associates were political powers in Indiana, and the Old Man, as he was called, had even begun to imagine a run for the White House. He might have been backed in the attempt, because his version of the Klan looked clean and upright and All American.

Of course, there was the dark side, the cross burnings, beatings, and not so subtle visitations of robed and hooded Klan members. But public sentiment saw the Klan as protecting their values and keeping lesser folk in their place. As for the journalists and independent thinkers who might raise a fuss, the Klan was backstopped by cops and judges and top officials.

Timothy Egan gives a vivid picture of how a democratic society was corrupted by hatred and money before he relates how the Klan and Stephenson fell from grace. Those savvy about American history will perhaps not be too surprised that it was not the Klan's politics that got them into trouble, nor their assaults on Blacks or Jews, but Stephenson's private failings, which ran to booze-fueled parties and sadistic sex. One of his victims was Madge Oberholtzer, an unlikely hero, who proved to be the one brave witness whose testimony began to unravel the Klan empire.

Sharp characterizations, careful research, fast moving narrative – would more histories read like A Fever in the Heartland. I may have to modify my opinion of the true crime genre.

The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen, with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations, is available from Apple Books at:

The Dictator's Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations is available at:

10 December 2015

Fables in Crime

by Robert Lopresti

I wonder if you have ever heard of George Ade?  Probably not, for most of you.

He was a nineteenth century Indiana humorist and Chicago newspaperman from Indiana.  While he wrote all kinds of stuff his longest-lasting material seems to be his Fables in Slang.  He capitalized all the slang words to show that he knew they didn't belong in proper English.

I learned about the man from the radio show of Jean shepherd, another Indiana humorist, the one whose tales led to the classic movie A Christmas Story.  The following Fable seems to have enough criminal element to belong on our blog.  Ade had a dry sense of humor and a rather grim view of "modern" society, as you will see.



The Subject of this Fable started out in Life as a Town Cut Up. He had a keen Appreciation of Fun, and was always playing Jokes. If he wanted a few Gum-Drops he would go into the Candy Store and get them, and then ask the Man if he was willing to take Stamps. If the Man said he was, then the Boy would stamp a couple of times, which meant that the Laugh was on the Man. It was considered a Great Sell in Those Parts.

Or else he would go into a Grocery with another tricky Tad and get some Article of Value, and they would pretend to Quarrel as to which should Pay for it. One would ask the Proprietor if he cared who paid for it, and if he said he did not, they would up and tell him to Pay for it Himself. This one was so Cute that they had a little piece in the Paper about it.

Or they would go and Purchase a Watermelon to be paid for as soon as a Bet was decided, and afterwords it would Develop that the Bet was whether the Saw-Mill would fall to the East or the West, in case the Wind blew it over.

It was Common Talk that the Boy was Sharp as a Tack and Keen as Brier and a Natural-Born Humorist.

Once he sold a Calf to the Butcher, several Hours after the Calf had been struck by Lightning. As for ordering Goods and having them charged to his Father, that was one of the Slickest Things he ever did.

About the time the Joker was old enough to leave Home, he traveled out through the Country selling Bulgarian Oats to the Farmers. When the Contract for the Seed Oats got around to the Bank, it proved to be an iron-clad and double-riveted Promissory Note. The Farmer always tried to get out of Paying it, but when the Case came to Trial and the Jurors heard how the Agent palavered the Hay-Seed they had to Snicker right out in Court. They always gave Judgment for the Practical Joker, who would take them out and buy Cigars for them, and they would hit him on the Back and tell him he was a Case.

One Day the Joker had an Inspiration, and he had to tell it to a Friend, who also was something of a Wag.

They bought a Cat-Tail Swamp remote from Civilization and divided into Building Lots. The Marsh was Advertised as a Manufacturing Suburb, and they had side-splitting Circulars showing the Opera House, the Drill Factory, Public Library, and the Congregational Church. Lots were sold on the Installment Plan to Widows, Cash-Boys, and Shirt-Factory Girls who wanted to get Rich in from fifteen to twenty Minutes.

The Joker had a Lump of Bills in every Pocket. If asked how he made his Roll, he would start to Tell, and then he would Choke Up, he was so full of Laugh. He certainly had a Sunny Disposition.

Finally he went to the State of Montana. He believe he would have a Season of Merriment by depositing some Valuable Ore in a Deserted Mine, and then selling the Mine to Eastern Speculators. While he was Salting the Mine, pausing once in a while to Control his Mirth, a few Natives came along, and were Interested. They were a slow and uncouth Lot, with an atrophied Sense of Humor, and the Prank did not Appeal to them. They asked the Joker to Explain, and before he could make it Clear to them or consult his Attorney they had him Suspended from a Derrick. He did not Hang straight enough to suit, so they brought a Keg of Nails and tied it to his Feet, and then stood off and Shot at the Buttons on the Back of his Coat.

Moral: Don't Carry a Joke too Far, and never Carry it into Montana.