Frank James and the Civil War Battle of the Hemp Bales

Jesse James must have been jealous of his older brother Frank. Jesse was only 13 when the Civil War started. Frank was 18, the perfect age to go off to war. Coming from a slave-owning farm family Frank naturally joined the Confederate army.

Many Missourians, especially city dwellers and the large German immigrant community, remained loyal to the North, while the majority of rural farmers supported the South. Most people actually wanted peace, but attitudes hardened as events spiraled out of control in the spring and summer of 1861. When Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to quell the rebellion, Missouri’s governor defiantly refused. Then the Unionist General Nathaniel Lyon captured a group of state guardsmen camped near St. Louis, fearing they planned to capture the city’s federal arsenal. The capture went off without a hitch (except for Lyon being kicked in the stomach by his own horse) but when Lyon’s troops marched their prisoners back into town they got attacked by a secessionist mob. A soldier and about twenty civilians died in the ensuing riot.

The secessionist government fled, soon replaced by a loyal state government, and the Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price declared their loyalty for the South. Lyon led his Union forces from St. Louis west along the Missouri River valley, took the state capital of Jefferson City, and defeated a small State Guard force at the Battle of Boonville, one of the first battles of the Civil War. Price retreated with the State Guard to the southwestern part of the state to organize and train his green troops.

One of his new recruits was Frank James. He arrived with a group of Clay County boys, some armed with shotguns and squirrel rifles, others with nothing. They all itched for a chance to fight the Yankees. They didn’t have to wait long. On August 10, 1861, Lyons’ Union forces attacked Price’s Confederate camp at Wilson’s Creek. The Union soldiers came in from two sides, and as cannonballs flew through the State Guard tents, Frank James and his companions marched off to face the enemy.

%Gallery-108346%He and his unit charged up a hill overlooking their camp on which Lyon had placed the bulk of his force. Almost immediately the position earned the name “Bloody Hill”. Missourians fought each other through thick underbrush, attacking and counterattacking for hours. Meanwhile the second pincer of the Union attack was being wiped out to the south of camp. The battle tipped in the rebels’ favor, Lyon fell dead from a bullet, and the Union army retreated.

The fight left more than 1,200 casualties on each side, but the rebels exulted in their victory and marched into the center of the state towards the Missouri River port of Lexington. If they could take it, they’d control the river and the most populous pro-secession region in Missouri.

Col. James Mulligan, a tough Irish-American, had 3,500 Union soldiers at Lexington. While Price’s Confederates numbered more than 12,000, Mulligan decided to fight anyway. He dug trenches and earthworks atop a hill with a commanding view of the town. A stone building that served as a Masonic College added extra protection. The rebels arrived on September 13 and immediately surrounded the position. For a week they sniped at the Union troops on the hill. Volunteers swarmed in from the countryside to join Price. An account tells of how one local, an old man, arrived every morning with an antiquated flintlock rifle and a packed lunch, spent the day blasting away at the Yankees, and went home every evening.

Inside the fort Mulligan and his men grimly held on. No help came, and after a few days the rebels cut off their water supply. They threw back several determined attacks, and when the rebels heated up their cannonballs in an attempt to set the Masonic College on fire, Mulligan sent a boy with a shovel running around inside the college building, picking up the red-hot iron balls and chucking them out the window.

Frank James must have been getting nervous by this point. It had been a week and the fort still hadn’t fallen. Sooner or later a Union relief force would show up and there’d be real trouble. Then someone hit upon a clever idea. Missouri was one of the nation’s largest hemp regions. The cannabis plant was used for rope, paper, cloth, and many other purposes besides the recreational smoking that eventually got it banned. The harvest had just been brought in and the river port was filled with heavy bales of hemp. The rebels made a wall of these bales, soaked them with water so they wouldn’t be set on fire by hot lead, and started moving this wall up the hill.

Mulligan’s Union soldiers soon discovered these bales were bulletproof. Even cannonballs only rocked them. From behind the wall of hemp Frank James and his friends were able to get better shots at the defenders and the Union casualties began to mount. The noose tightened. Cut off, low on water, and with no help in sight, the defenders finally surrendered. Marijuana had won a victory for the Confederacy.

It wouldn’t last long. General Price realized his position was too exposed and headed back south. Frank fell sick with measles, a potentially fatal illness in those day, and got left behind. He was captured, gave an oath of loyalty to the Union, and returned home. Soon he was back in the saddle, however, joining William Quantrill’s guerrillas. Later he followed one of Quantrill’s lieutenants, Bloody Bill Anderson, and his younger brother Jesse joined him.

Frank and Jesse James’ war years were the beginning of their training as America’s most famous outlaws. They learned to ride, shoot, and hide out in the woods. Fellow members of Bloody Bill’s group formed the core of their bandit gang. With these experienced warriors they’d blaze across half a dozen states and into American folklore.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield has a museum and tours. The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site also has a museum (with a hemp bale they had to get special permission to import) and is in the center of a fine old town with lots of historic buildings. Check them out for more information about two Civil War battles that aren’t very well known outside of Missouri.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: On the trail of Jesse James.

Coming up next: Jesse James’ greatest escape

[Image of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek courtesy user Americasroof via Wikimedia Commons]

Scratch and sniff cannabis cards distributed by Dutch police

The new government of The Netherlands has been cracking down on marijuana-serving coffee shops lately, and now it’s setting its sights on marijuana cultivation.

Police are distributing 30,000 scratch and sniff cards to homes in Rotterdam and The Hague to help people identify the smell of cannabis. That’s right, many Dutch people apparently don’t know what pot smells like. Just because something’s decriminalized doesn’t mean everyone does it.

While possession of up to five grams of pot and the cultivation of up to five plants is decriminalized, large-scale growing is illegal and authorities consider it a problem. The cops are hoping people will scratch the cards, take a good whiff, and then sniff around near their neighbors’ backyards and narc on them if they turn out to be growing something they shouldn’t be.

The cards also ask citizens to be vigilant in noticing if their neighbors keep their blinds closed, have ventilators running all the time, or use a lot of electricity.

This latest move appears to be attacking coffee shops from another direction. While some localities are closing shops down or making them members-only to keep out the tourists, the authorities recognize that illegal farms (up to 40,000 in the entire country, they estimate) are needed to supply the shops with weed.

[Photo courtesy user Bastique via Wikimedia Commons]

Amsterdam coffee shops – the inside scoop

Amsterdam is an exciting cultural center, full of houseboats and bicycles, trains, museums, a legendary red light district with legal drugs and the one thing which seems to come to many minds first: coffee shops where you can buy and smoke pot.

Cannabis is decriminalized and cheap in Amsterdam, and you can buy seeds at shops like the Sensi Seed Bank all over town. You can also buy a lot of other things (see the gallery for goods like magic mushrooms, herbal opium and liquid coke). That doesn’t mean there are no rules; for one thing, you can’t smoke marijuana in the street — though that’s even less well-enforced that it is in NYC; not very well — and you can’t smoke it in bars, either. There is no alcohol permitted in coffee shops, and no pot where you can buy alcohol. In other words, in Amsterdam, you have to pick your poison.
You also have to be 18 or older to purchase cannabis (prices are in the gallery), and coffee shops are only permitted to sell 5 grams to a person at a time. There is a tobacco ban in Amsterdam, so if you want to smoke regular cigarettes or marijuana blended with tobacco, you must find a shop with a sealed area designated for tobacco smoking.Like in American coffee shops, when you enter a coffee shop in Amsterdam like The Bushdocter Coffeeshop, above, you walk up to the counter to place your order, then take your selections to your seat. You’ll find there is a menu of coffee and tea, but the first thing you’ll be presented with at the counter is their list of marijuana wares. Choices range from bags for take-away to brownies and cakes with strange names and daring ingredients and, of course, pre-rolled joints for smoking at your table, including the infamously strong Ice-o-lator hash.

The coffee shops are smoky. Even if you just sat down for a cup of tea, you’d probably get a little second-hand high. Most shops are brightly, psychedelically colored, if you will, with eclectic art and other features which seem to exist solely for the purpose of starting conversations, trains of thought, and for something to stare at for like half an hour without realizing it. At Bushdocter, there was also a vending machine with chips and candy bars for your munching pleasure.

One thing that’s rare to see is someone sitting alone — the coffee shop is definitely a social place in Amsterdam. If one were going to smoke on his or her own, they’d buy a joint or bag and return home. This is not for tourists, though; most hotels have a strict policy about smoking in the rooms. Be sure and ask before smoking (anything) in your hotel or you could be saddled with a hefty fine.

If you’re heading to Amsterdam and would like to visit a coffee shop, check out this interactive map and reviews and more information here.

This trip was paid for by the Netherlands Board of Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own. Also, at no point did the NTB escort me into a coffee shop.

Nimbin: Australia’s Answer to Woodstock

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Sydney, Australia visiting my good friend Sarah. Rather than hang around in Sydney, we elected to road trip up to Byron Bay. Byron is a great little beach town in the northern portion of New South Wales and we had a great trip. But that’s a post for another day. Because, while we were in Byron Bay, we took a side trip to Nimbin. Everyone in Sydney had told us that if we were heading up to Byron Bay, that we had to go to Nimbin. It’s a “must see,” they told us. And it has that reputation for one reason and one reason only. Marijuana.

It’s about an hour drive to Nimbin from Byron Bay. As you leave the coast, you enter a landscape made up of farms, meadows and rolling hills. It’s breathtaking. The trip is along winding country roads and you wonder if you’ll ever encounter a town as things become more and more rural. Eventually, though, seemingly out of nowhere, the village of Nimbin appears.

We pulled right into the village and parked on the main street. The street was lined with shops specializing in hemp products, organic foods, information on medical marijuana and tourists. By no means were the sidewalks packed, but we certainly were not the only out-of-towners popping into Nimbin to see the hippies, snap some photos and check out the cannabis-crazed town.

It’s worth noting at this point that marijuana is illegal in Australia. Penalties and policies vary by state, but typically possession of small amounts can result in nothing more than a warning. For years, police looked the other way in Nimbin as marijuana sales grew more and more common. The annual Mardigrass festival brought tourists (and money) into Nimbin as people gathered to promote the repeal of cannabis prohibition. But as the drug trade grew and gangs took over the trafficking, police began to crack down and close establishments that allowed the sale or use of cannabis.

Still, everyone I spoke to said that you could buy marijuana with great ease in Nimbin. One person even told me that he was accosted by a girl with a suitcase full of cannabis looking to make a sale. Of course, neither Gadling nor I promote or encourage drug use or the violation of the laws of your country or a country in which you are traveling. I’m telling you this story purely for entertainment and educational purposes.

We strolled the main street for a bit, poked our heads into shops selling hemp clothing and pot leaf necklaces and mostly laughed at how Nimbin looks like the set of a bad movie about a hippie town. But Nimbin is very real and people take their cannabis products and promotion seriously. No one offered us drugs while on the main street, though. In fact, a police car was parked right in the middle of town and officers were walking amongst the tourists. And shopkeepers will thank you not to ask them about where you can purchase narcotics.

We were about to head back to Byron Bay, feeling a tad like failures for not having had the “true” Nimbin experience of having been offered marijuana, when I noticed a sign next to a cafe. It pointed towards “Mingle Park.” On a whim, I decided to walk into this back alley behind the cafe. American hip hop music was blasting from the speakers inside. Immediately upon reaching the “park” (it was more of a vacant lot), two young men asked us if we were looking to buy.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I played dumb. “What are looking for?,” one of them asked us. “What do you have?,” I replied.” In response, he unfurled a large plastic bag filled with marijuana. Clearly, he was comfortable with public transactions. I inquired some more about prices, quality and the like. We did this all under the clear blue Australian sky in an open space loosely occupied by about ten people leisurely milling about. I felt exposed. But I also felt like my trip to Nimbin was complete.

What happened next? Did I leave Nimbin with a special souvenir? Whoa, are you a NARC?

I guess some stories are best left unfinished. And I think this is one of them.

Check out some of my photos from Nimbin in the gallery below.

South African flight crews know how to get high

If you’re having trouble staying awake or just like to party, book your next flight on South African Airways. The UK Border Agency arrested 15 SAA crew members – nine men and six women – at Heathrow Airport. Why are they now guests of the Queen? This crew was caught trying to slip 11 lbs of cocaine into the country.

The episode is just another example of poor timing. The drugs are estimated to have a street value of ???250,000. If nose candy is pegged to the U.S. dollar, it would have been worth almost twice as much six months ago.

Last month, another 15 SAA crew members were busted at Heathrow for hauling cocaine and cannabis into England. They were a bit more ambitious, with a haul with an estimated value of ???310,000. The outcome, however, was the same. BBC News calls it a separate incident, but it smells like a pattern to me … and my nasal passages are clean.

The most recent perps were given bail and instructed to return to court on March 23. The only question that remains is how much more cocaine they’ll have to “import” to cover their legal fees.

[Via BBC News]

Only these women have caused more problems than SAA’s pilots!