Tales turn into ‘facts’
When something is repeated often enough it may be believed and elevated to fact. That something could be a lie, a misunderstanding, an opinion, a rumor or even an unsubstantiated piece of history.
One of these yielded speculation about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The oft repeated (but incorrect) assumption that those two were involved was disproven in Dr. James McLaird’s book, “Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend.” McLaird was a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D. The rumor interested him and he spent some 18 years researching to either prove or disprove the relationship. When his book was published in 2005, and he meticulously debunked the idea, I was sure it had been put to rest. But I was wrong. Articles that embrace the myth keep popping up.
Custer, S.D., has a beautiful log community building and the story goes that it was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which existed from March 31, 1933 to June 30, 1942. Perhaps the rumor started because it is a beautiful old log building. But it was dedicated by Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, when they stayed in the Black Hills in the summer of 1927. The State Game Lodge was their Black Hills White House.
Another misconception in Custer State Park is that the CCC built Blue Bell Lodge. In fact, there used to be a bronze marker in front of the building that gave that information. The last time I was there I didn’t see the sign so perhaps they realized it was incorrect and retired the marker. Blue Bell was actually constructed by C.L. (Chris) Jensen of Hot Springs, S.D. It was started in autumn of 1926 and was a work in progress when Coolidge was in the hills. Jensen died in 1929. His son, Leslie, inherited the beautiful, completed lodge. Custer State Park bought it in 1935 and it remains in use for dining and lodging, as does the State Game Lodge.
Throw Find A Grave into the mix and a researcher can be confronted with having to disprove the posted results. When I submitted an article on Badger Clark to “Wild West” magazine, I mentioned that Badger and his father “batched” for a period of time, after the Badger’s mother died of TB. The magazine’s fact checker insisted that Find A Grave showed Badger had a sister and she was tending to the home needs. The names didn’t match but it didn’t matter to him because someone put them together on the Find A Grave site. I ended up contacting Badger’s great niece and she explained it to Wild West for me. Yes, sometimes it is who you know.
Apparently, there is truth to the quote “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend” which was spoken in director John Ford’s movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” in 1962. If the legend is said over and over, as time passes, it becomes the perceived reality. ❖
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