Sanders: Repetition does not equal fact
We know that when a myth/rumor/lie is repeated often enough it becomes accepted as fact. History is replete with stories that are built on reports rarely verified for truth or untruth. I happened upon two of these tales and have tried to get them corrected.
Hot Springs, S.D., has a grand old locally quarried sandstone building that was constructed as the Evans Hotel by Fred Evans in 1892. (It now is a beautiful high rise for low income/elderly and is simply called The Evans.)
Somehow, during the years, the story was told that the Evans Hotel was fashioned after the King David Hotel in Jerusalem; that rumor is even permanently proclaimed on a bronze plaque near The Evans.
While I was preparing a talk for a historical group and searched for a photo of the Israeli hotel, I noticed its history. There is a resemblance, however the King David was opened in 1931 while the Evans was finished in 1892.
Another rumor that just refuses to die is that Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were romantically involved. James McLaird, professor of history emeritus at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., spent over 15 years researching the two before he wrote the definitive work, “Calamity Jane: the Woman and the Legend,” in which he unequivocally disproves the rumor.
Calamity Jane was the subject of another rumor in Hot Springs. In 1983, Bud Soper of Hot Springs was tearing down a house and he uncovered an old jail around which the house had been built. The jail was salvaged and moved, and it now sits next to the Union Depot in Hot Springs. Historian Helen Magee gave an estimated year of construction of the jail as 1885 or 1886.
A sign on the old jail says that Calamity Jane spent a night within, but that was disproved, again, inadvertently. The city contacted me to volunteer to do the research on the old jail. I think they wished they hadn’t, due to what I found.
The Hot Springs Star mentioned Calamity Jane was in town from Sunday, Nov. 10, 1895, through the morning of Nov. 13, when she returned to Rapid City, S.D. While in Hot Springs, she met some old acquaintances and sold photos. By Tuesday night she was on a drunken rampage. As long as she wasn’t hurting anyone, Mayor Hargens told the chief of police that after the bars were closed to put her in a jail cell so she could sleep it off.
The historical fact was Hot Springs’ city hall was constructed in 1893 and a jail was part of that new building. So Calamity Jane spent the night in the Hot Springs jail, located in City Hall, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1895, not in the older, found jail circa 1885.
The odd thing is I had no reason to doubt either of the history tales I’d heard and repeated over the years. I just stumbled upon the truths. So it is sometimes in life.❖