Tag Archives: Lew Wallace

Montgomery County Newspapers: A Short History

Montgomery County, Indiana has a rich, colorful history of newspapers, both in their coverage and the personalities that ran them. In this post, we will share some highlights of this heritage and emphasize some of the papers that are available in Hoosier State Chronicles (HSC).

Crawfordsville Record, February 8, 1834. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The earliest paper from Montgomery County in HSC is the Crawfordsville Record. Editor Isaac F. Wade and printer Charles S. Bryant published its first issue on October 18, 1831. As Herman Fred Shermer noted in an article about Montgomery County publishing, the “type and presses for the Record plant were brought by freight wagons from Cincinnati, Ohio” and the cost of the publishing the first issue was approximately $400. While Wade and Bryant intended for the Record’s first issue to arrive in September, they were delayed a month because the printer required a capital “D” for typesetting. Wade, as a good Whig, believed that having that capital “D” was essential, as the paper would regularly refer to “Democrats and the Devil.” The paper ran until 1838, after the death of subsequent publisher William Harrison Holmes. A brief revival of the paper in 1839-40, led by William H. Webb and Henry S. Lane, never regained the paper’s subscription base and it ceased altogether.

Henry S. Lane. NARA/Wiki Commons.

Speaking of Henry S. Lane, he also co-founded one of Crawfordsville’s premier Whig newspapers during the 1840s, the People’s Press. Lane, along with a consortium of political and business leaders, established the People’s Press to be the official Whig party newspaper for Montgomery County. They recruited Pennsylvanian William H. Bausman as its editor. It ran from 1844 until 1848, when its “apparent financial success” waned due to “bad editorial management.” It then ran for a short, six-week stint as the Tomahawk until the paper was bought out by publishers Thomas Walker Fry and Jeremiah Keeney.

Crawfordsville Journal, September 14, 1865. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Out of the ashes of the People’s Press and Tomahawk, Fry and Keeney founded one of Montgomery County’s standard papers, one that still continues today (albeit in a different form). The Crawfordsville Journal started publication on July 27, 1848. Originally a Whig paper, the Journal embraced the newly-formed Republican Party in the mid-1850s. The Crawfordsville Review, founded in 1841 and purchased by Charles H. Bowen and Benjamin F. Stover in 1854, served as the Democratic foil to Journal’s Whig perspective.

Crawfordsville Review, September 16, 1865. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Journal’s Jeremiah Keeney and the Review’s Charles H. Bowen (Stover sold out to Bowen six months after their acquisition) maintained a years-long feud in their respective papers. As a recent article in the Crawfordsville Journal-Review noted, Keeney and Bowen exchanged pointed barbs at each other in the press. Here’s a few additional examples we found in Hoosier State Chronicles. In the June 7, 1855 issue of the Journal, Keeney wrote an editorial called “Clean Streets,” where he commended the public workers who swept the streets but then derided Bowen’s supposed quibble with cleanup. “Count Bowen and his clique are probably the only men in town, who will object to cleanliness, and the protection of shade trees,” Keeney declared. Keeney preferred name for the Review’s editor was “Count Bowen,” likely a jab at his purported leadership status in the town.

Crawfordsville Journal, June 7, 1855. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Bowen didn’t take insults lightly and routinely shot back at Keeney in the Review. In its October 7, 1865 issue, Bowen slammed Kenney for his comments on Democratic leaders in the county and threw his own rhetorical venom at the Journal’s publisher. Bowen wrote that Keeney’s targets should:

 [P]ay no attention to the filthy slang of this poor miserable creature, half idiotic and totally irresponsible, he should be passed by with total indifference and regarded only as a canker, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle upon the body of a corrupt and depraved humanity which purity should shun as a pestilence.

Bowen certainly elucidated his point, in the most elaborate way possible. Imagine if these two men were alive today, trading jabs on Twitter or in Facebook comments. Some things don’t change, after all.

Crawfordsville Review, October 7, 1865. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Bowen wasn’t the only eccentric owner of the Review. Bayless W. Hanna, who purchased the newspaper in 1883, wore many hats, including newspaper man, diplomat—and music box operator. A short write-up from the Terre Haute Daily News noted that, “Bayless Hanna, with his monkey and box, was seen going down Eighth street [sic] this morning bound for the rural districts.” The very next week, the Daily News wrote about him again and it was even more interesting:

Bayless Hanna was seen to-day walking down Main street with his music box, following a one-armed soldier who had a hand-organ in a little boy’s express wagon. The soldier would occasionally stop in front of a business house and play a tune, while Bayless and Rodgers would stare with mouth wide open, at the wonderful machine.

He operated the Review for two years before President Grover Cleveland appointed him Minister to Iran and then Minister to Argentina, a position he held until his death in 1889. He died in 1891, in Crawfordsville.

Bayless W. Hanna. Find A Grave.

At a time when women were often delegated to domestic pursuits, Mary Hannah Krout completely bucked the trend. Born in Crawfordsville in 1851, Krout descended from a long-line of accomplished scholars. Specifically, her grandfather served as the state geologist and taught natural science at Butler University. However, her intellectual passion was writing, particularly poetry. She was a published poet in local newspapers as early as 10 years old and gave lectures in her teenage years.    This culminated in her decades-long work in newspaper journalism, with positions at the Terre Haute Weekly Express, the Crawfordsville Journal, and the Chicago Inter-Ocean, where she covered the Hawaiian revolution of 1893. Alongside her newspaper work, she authored eight books and helped Susan Wallace finish Lew Wallace’s Autobiography.

Mary Hannah Krout. Internet Archive.

As for Lew Wallace, a post about Montgomery County and newspapers wouldn’t be complete without a quick discussion of its most famous son. Wallace’s tenure during the Civil War received differing perspectives from the Crawfordsville newspapers. This stemmed from Wallace’s own political evolution; he started the war as a Democrat and ended it a Republican. This changed his relationship with the Crawfordsville Review, who held it against him in editorials. For example, a short piece in their May 19, 1866 issue took umbrage with his military assignment during the second French intervention in Mexico. The Review wrote:

Lew Wallace, who has been rusticating in our city for several weeks past, left suddenly for New York a few days since. Rumor has it that he is about to join a filibustering expedition against Mexico. Should he be so unlucky as to suffer capture by the French mercenaries of Maximillian, we trust he may be granted a fair trial before a drum-head court martial. We should regret very much to hear of his being arraigned before a civil tribunal.

Much like with Keeney and Bowen’s feud, the Review‘s strongly-worded opprobrium against Wallace emanated from intense political partisanship.

Lew Wallace, in full dress uniform. General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Another Crawfordsville paper, Thomas C. Pursel and Robert B. Wilson’s Evening Argus, first rolled off the press in 1882. “Argus” as a term seems relatively antiquarian to our ears; nevertheless, its etymology is fantastic. Originally a name for the “giant with 100 eyes” from classical mythology, it eventually meant “watchful guardian.” It seems safe to assume that the latter definition applies more as a name for a newspaper than the former. The daily newspaper had a brief three year run under the solo title of the Argus. In 1885, Walter E. Rosebro and Samuel M. Coffman purchased it and merged it with their paper, the News, to make the Argus-News. It continued to appear in weekly and daily formats until 1900, when Coffman purchased the Review. He dropped Argus from the name and re-branded the paper as the News-Review, which ran for eight years before abbreviating the title to the Review. Coffman later embarked on another newspaper venture, the Crawfordsville Daily Progressive, but it languished and he filed for bankruptcy in 1917.

New Richmond Record, October 15 1914. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Outside of the county seat, one of the more interesting Montgomery County papers available in Hoosier State Chronicles is the New Richmond Record. It ran from 1896 until 1924 under the sole ownership and editorship of Edgar Walts. Here’s an account of its publication from the A. W. Bowen’s History of Montgomery County (1913):

It is a six-column, six-page paper, run on a gasoline propelled power press. It is independent in politics, and makes a specialty of as much local news as is possible to furnish its readers with. It circulates in Montgomery, Tippecanoe and adjoining counties. It meets the requirements of the town and with it is connected a good job department.

During its run, the Record often praised its subscribers for continuing to patronize the paper, in a segment called the Record’s Honor Roll.” The “honor roll” listed all the “new subscribers and renewals to THE RECORD during the past week” from Montgomery County, Indiana, and across the country. His “honor roll” likely helped circulation; by 1920, the Record had a circulation of 500 (for a town whose population was 496, but whose readership likely extended into rural Coal Creek Township and the rest of the county).

New Richmond Record, January 7, 1915. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Today, readers in Montgomery County patronize two major newspapers. The Crawfordsville Journal-Review, founded in 1929 with the merger of two flagship county papers, publishes a Tuesday-Saturday print version and an online versionThe Paper of Montgomery County, established by Journal-Review veteran reporter Gaildene Hamilton in 2004, also delivers a daily print version and online version.

In all, Montgomery County’s newspapers often displayed the rough-and-tumble political winds of the nineteenth century, an era whose partisanship and vitriol mirrors our own. It wasn’t, however, the only part of their story. Montgomery County also facilitated forward-thinking pioneers like Mary Hannah Krout, Samuel Coffman, and Edgar Walts. Like much of history, Montgomery County’s heritage of newspapers exemplifies a nuanced, intriguing legacy.

When Jails Were Shaped Like Pies

The World (New York), October 3, 1897 (2)Crawfordsville, Indiana, has several claims to fame, most of them literary.  Once hailed as “The Athens of the Midwest,” the town was home to Ben-Hur’s author, the novelist and Civil War hero Lew Wallace.  For a few months in 1907 and 1908, it was also, briefly, home to the unconventional American poet Ezra Pound.

Born in Idaho, Pound was a flamboyant genius who later dabbled in Fascist politics in Mussolini’s Italy.  At the end of World War II, he was imprisoned by the U.S. Army, prosecuted for treason, and spent most of the 1950s confined at a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where the Federal government kept him up under watch.  Yet Pound might have considered Crawfordsville as the site of his first “incarceration.”

While still in his twenties, Ezra Pound taught Romance languages at Wabash College but found the school too conservative for his liking.  After the professor invited a stranded prostitute or traveling entertainer to sleep in his room one winter night — later insisting that he slept on the floor while she took over the bed — the 22-year-old Pound got the axe from the college president, just into his second semester as a language professor at Wabash in February 1908.  He immediately moved to Europe, going into poetry and the Modernist art world, describing Crawfordsville as “The sixth circle of hell.”


Ezra Pound 2
Ezra Pound not long after abandoning the Hoosier State with $80 in his pocket.

Ironically, both Lew Wallace and Ezra Pound had some unusual connections to incarceration — as did Crawfordsville itself.  In 1865, Wallace had headed the commission that investigated Henry Wirz, the infamous Swiss-born Confederate commandant of Andersonville prison camp in Georgia, where Union soldiers were starved during the Civil War and some were allegedly killed by Wirz’s bloodhounds.  (Wirz was executed following Wallace’s investigation.)  As for Pound’s own experience with jails, after the Allies and the Italian resistance toppled Benito Mussolini in 1944, the former Wabash College professor-turned-Fascist, who had done radio broadcasts in support of Il Duce, was shut up in one of the U.S. Army’s outdoor steel cages in Pisa, Italy.


Ezra Pound
Pound’s mugshot after turning himself in to the U.S. Army in Italy, May 1945.

Pisa jail
U.S. forces imprisoned the expatriate American poet in a special outdoor “security cage” in Pisa. Pound was soon transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a mental facility in Washington, D.C., under charges of being an “intellectual crackpot.” He spent over a decade there, refusing to talk to doctors with Jewish-sounding names. Pound wasn’t released until 1958, when he returned to Italy.

Like the army’s open-air “security cages” in Pisa, “benighted” Crawfordsville once experimented with ventilation.  The Indiana town actually helped pioneer a new type of jail in the 1880s, when “The Athens of the Midwest” became home to one of today’s few surviving “rotary jails.”  This was an architectural twist on the traditional one-room slammer that turned frontier clinkers into revolving, newfangled structures that looked something like a fresh-baked pie — at least on paper.  (Ezra Pound might have compared them to an Italian pizza pie.)


W.H. Brown Jail Door Patent 4


In 1881, two men from Indianapolis — architect William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, owner of the Haugh Iron Works on Indy’s West Side — filed a patent for an ingenious invention.  They later filed several variations on this patent, but the 1881 original begins:

The object of our invention is to produce a jail or prison in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard, and incidentally to provide it with sundry conveniences and advantages not usually found in prisons; and it consists, first, of a circular cell structure of considerable size (inside the usual prison-building) divided into several cells capable of being rotated, and surrounded by a grating in close proximity thereto, which has only such number of openings (usually one) as is necessary for the convenient handling of the prisoners; second, in the combination, with said cell structure, of a system of shafts and gears, or their equivalents, for the purpose of rotating the same;  third, in constructing within said circular cell structure a central space for the purposes of ventilation and the disposition of offal, &c.;  fourth, in constructing niches in the side of the cells next said central opening to serve as water-closets, and arranging underneath said niches a continuous trough to contain water, to receive and convey away into a sewer with which it is connected all the offal deposited therein by the prisoners in all the cells. . . .

In other words, one of the primary goals of the revolving jail was to facilitate the disposal of human waste without having to ever release the prisoner from his cell or even to come into any contact with him at all.  The other goal was to render escapes and prison riots virtually impossible.


The World (New York), October 3, 1897
The World, New York City, October 3, 1897.

Operating a hand crank, a guard could literally spin an entire block of wedge-shaped cells.  Prisoners would be moved around without ever exiting through the block’s one access point.  In addition to improving ventilation and drainage — the system involved an advanced “soil-pipe” or sewer — Brown and Haugh’s patent explained that one of the real safety feature of the rotary jail was for the sheriff or guard himself:

The prisoners are handled without any possible chance for personal contact with any except the one desired, as the cell structure is rotated until the door-opening of the cell desired is brought opposite the general door opening in the outside grating, and while one cell occupies this position the rest must of necessity be securely closed. This arrangement makes the whole prison as convenient to the keeper as though it consisted of but a single cell, and as safe as if it contained but a single prisoner.


Crawfordsville Rotary Jail -- Library of Congress Photographs Division
Double-tiered rotary cell block, Montgomery County jail, 1970s. Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey.

Crawfordsville Rotary Jail -- Library of Congress Photographs Division (3)
“General View of Circular Room in Cellar Showing Steel Support Structure for Rotating Cell Blocks,” 1970s. Montgomery County Jail. Library of Congress.

Crawfordsville Rotary Jail -- Library of Congress Photographs Division (5)
Exterior view of the old Montgomery County Jail, built in 1882. If the jail looks like a residence, it is: the county sheriff and his family lived in the front part of this building. The impressive architecture of these old-time slammers, including one in Council Bluffs, Iowa, belies their popular name, “squirrel cages.” Other nicknames included “lazy Susans” and “human rotaries.”

Plans for a “rat trap” or “steel trap” prison were being considered by the New York Penological Society in 1897.  A syndicated news story incorrectly states that “It is an English idea.”  It was a Hoosier one.


Chicago Daily Tribune, October 10, 1897 (1)

Chicago Daily Tribune, October 10, 1897 (2)
Chicago Daily Tribune, October 10, 1897.

Columbus Journal (Columbus, Nebraska), January 19, 1898
Columbus Journal, Columbus, Nebraska, January 19, 1898.

San Francisco Call, October 12, 1897
San Francisco Call, October 12, 1897.

Constructed in 1882, the Montgomery County Jail was one of at least eight rotary jails built in the U.S., though by some accounts there were around eighteen total, spread between Kentucky and Utah.  Salt Lake City was the only large city that seems to have had one, and the plan was considered best for small-town jails.   Only four of them survive today, with none still operating as a jail.  The Pottawattamie County Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was the last rotary jail to still be in use.  It was discontinued in 1969.

Although the website for Crawfordsville’s Rotary Jail Museum claims that the real motivation behind Brown and Haugh’s patent was “to help maintain strict Victorian social order,” revolving cell blocks were almost definitely an improvement on the pits that 19th-century prisoners were frequently chucked into.

Yet as these new jails were built, their advantages were soon shown to be mostly theoretical.  By the 1930s, in fact, the Montgomery County Jail came under criticism for poor ventilation, bad natural lighting, unsanitary conditions, and an “old, insecure, unsafe” structure — all problems that its designers had meant to resolve.  Over the years, too, the limbs of inmates in American rotary jails occasionally got caught in the rotating bars, crushing or maiming them.

A critic in Wichita, Kansas, in 1917 called the rotating cages a “medieval relic of barbarism.”


Wichita Beacon, October 9, 1917 (2)
Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, October 9, 1917. Kansas reformers should probably not have imitated Indiana’s experiment with a penal farm.

Crawfordsville jailers tried to make improvements, but the town’s old rotary jail was finally abandoned in 1967.  Montgomery County officially took it out of use in 1973.  Like a couple of its historic kindred in Missouri and Iowa, it survives as a museum known as the Rotary Jail Museum.


Moberly Monitor-Index, Moberly, Missouri, July 6, 1960
Moberly Monitor-Index, Moberly, Missouri, July 6, 1960.

W.H. Brown Illuminated Anti-Slipping Walkway 1899
Hoosier architect William H. Brown tried out various other designs for safety, both inside and outside jails. This 1899 patent is for an “illuminated anti-slipping walkway.”

Ironically, the iron that went into Indiana’s lone rotary jail came from Haughville on Indianapolis’ West Side.

Haugh, Ketchum & Co. Iron Works had moved from downtown west of the White River in 1880, just a year before owner Benjamin F. Haugh filed his patent with William Brown for a revolving cell block. Haughville or “Haughsville” in the 1880’s soon became known for its busy foundries, which included the rival National Malleable Castings Company, and it was considered a prosperous town when Indianapolis annexed it in 1897.  Local industries attracted thousands of German, Irish, and Slovene immigrants to the area.


Benjamin F. Haugh
Indianapolis iron industrialist Benjamin Franklin Haugh, 1830-1912.

Hendricks County Union (Danville), January 4, 1871 (2)
Hendricks County Union, Danville, Indiana, January 4, 1871. This clip advertised the Haugh Iron Works’ old location on South Pennsylvania Street downtown. The foundry moved west nine years later. A decade before the rotary jail patent, the company was already turning out jail doors.

Haugh -- Indianapolis News April 6 1882
The new Haughville iron foundry created the material for many major government buildings around the U.S., including the old Marion County Courthouse, demolished in 1963 to make way for the City-County Building, one of the city’s worst eye-sores. Indianapolis News, April 6, 1882.

By the early 1900s, Haughville had become the center of Indianapolis’ Eastern European population, including Slovenes, Croats, Macedonians, and Hungarians.  A wave of Southerners, both black and white, moved in after World War I.  Haughville’s industries, however, slowly declined.  When its two major employers, Link-Belt and National Casting, shut down in 1959 and 1962, the neighborhood slipped into serious decline and has never recovered.  The closing of Washington High School and the old Central State Hospital (a huge mental institution which probably incorporated a lot of locally-produced iron) also hurt the area.

Efforts have been made to revitalize Haughville, but this part of Indianapolis that once created iron for jails remains a feared part of the city, suffering from serious gang violence, drug addiction, and one of the highest rates of poverty and crime in the Midwest.


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Lew Wallace and the Circassian Girl Hoax

an_odalisque_joseph_douglas

In the early 1880s, Indiana’s great novelist and war hero, General Lew Wallace, author of the bestselling Ben-Hur, got caught up in one of the more trumped-up tales of nineteenth-century journalism — a story which, it turns out, has an incredibly bizarre “cousin” today. The mildly erotic tale begins around 1883, when Wallace was a well-known American public figure.  To quickly recap his bio: son of Governor David Wallace of Indiana, the “militant romantic” had served in the worst battles of the Civil War; sat on the trials of the Lincoln conspirators and Henry Wirz, the Swiss-born Confederate commander of Andersonville prison; fought as a Juarista general in the Mexican Army during the French invasion of 1865; and as Territorial Governor of New Mexico, he helped reign in the outlaw Billy the Kid.

Slowly propelled to greater fame when the novel Ben-Hur came out, Wallace  went to Constantinople in 1881 as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire.  The general and his wife, writer Susan Wallace, were ardent Orientalists. Yet Ben-Hur, set in Palestine, was published a year before they ever saw the Middle East, its description based on research in the Library of Congress.  The couple traveled around the eastern Mediterranean.

During his four years as an American diplomat in Constantinople, the Hoosier writer became close friends with Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamid II — though Wallace famously became “the first person to demand that the sultan shake his hand.”  When Grover Cleveland was elected U.S. President in 1884, Wallace’s term ended.  Abdül Hamid tried to get his friend to stay on and represent Turkish interests in Europe.  Wallace, instead, came home to Montgomery County.


       feb14lewwallace      Sultan Abdul Hamid II


Lew Wallace Autobiography

(Lew Wallace described watching a Turkish infantry and Circassian cavalry drill with the Ottoman Sultan in his Autobiography, published in 1906.)


The gossip mill, however, was already rolling years before Wallace sailed home to the States.  As early as September 2, 1882, the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted a dramatic story from The Wasp, San Francisco’s acerbic satirical weekly perhaps best-known for its lurid political cartoons attacking Chinese immigration to the West Coast.  (The Wasp has been called California’s version of Puck).

“An Unwelcome Present” was syndicated in other papers as far away as New Zealand and often got subtitled along the lines of “What the General’s Wife Thought of the Sultan’s Present.”

As far as I can tell, the tale first originated in the pages of The Wasp on August 5, 1882, where it ran under the title “That Present.”  What I find especially fascinating is that the magazine’s editor from 1881 to 1885 was no less than the sardonic Hoosier cynic Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary had its genesis as a column in the California weekly.

Ambrose Bierce in Civil War

Like Wallace, Bierce fought at the terrifying Battle of Shiloh in 1862, serving as First Lieutenant in the ranks of the Ninth Indiana Infantry.  During his days as a journalist, Bierce also worked for William Randolph Hearst at The San Francisco Examiner.  To sell papers, the newspaper giant “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.”


The Wasp August 2 1882
Collections of the California State Library at www.archive.org.

Did Bierce pen some “yellow journalism” about Lew Wallace and a Turkish harem girl?  I wouldn’t put it past him.  The Wasp’s  editor was one of the biggest misogynists of his day and took constant swipes at women.  To me, “An Unwelcome Present” sounds like one of Bierce’s tales or epigrams about the diabolical battle between the sexes, which he always portrayed as just slightly less gory than the bloodbath he and Wallace survived at Shiloh.  In any case, the gossipy piece about his fellow Hoosier got published on Ambrose Bierce’s editorial watch.

Here’s the whole comic tale as it appeared on the front page of the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail:

An Unwelcome Present (1)

An Unwelcome Present (2)

An Unwelcome Present (3)

Writer and poet Susan Wallace, who grew up in Crawfordsville and married Lew in 1852, had no reason to fear her husband would take up with a concubine.  Yet Circassian beauties were all the rage during the long heyday of Orientalism.

The exotic Circassian mystique had been around for many decades.   Inhabiting the Caucasus Mountains at the eastern end of the Black Sea near Sochi (the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics), Circassians were hailed by 19th-century anthropologists as the apogee of the human form.  “Circassophilia” churned out many exotic myths about these people in Europe and America.  During the Enlightenment, the French writer Voltaire popularized a belief that Circassian women were the most beautiful on earth, “a trait that he linked to their practice of inoculating babies with the smallpox virus.”  In the 1790s, the invention of the so-called “Caucasian” race occurred when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the founders of physical anthropology, compared the anatomy of the beautiful, martial Circassians of what became North Turkey and southern Russia with the rest of humanity and categorized the mountain folk as the least “degenerate” humans.

Yet by the time of Wallace’s tenure in the Middle East in the 1880s, these tough mountaineers had been subdued by the Russians and Ottomans after long years of bloody warfare.  Legends about dazzling Circassian beauties abounded even as Circassia itself disappeared from the map.  One popular story went that the main source of wealth for fathers in the region was their breathtakingly beautiful daughters, whom they sold off to Turkish slave markets, though as writer in The Penny Magazine thought in 1838, Circassian women were “exceedingly anxious to be sold,” since life in a Turkish harem was “preferable to their own customs.”  In Constantinople, they were highly prized in harems — not to be confused with Western prostitution.  American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Lydia Maria Child devoted a chapter to Circassia in her 1838 History of the Condition of Women.


Circassian Cream
(Women from the Caucasus were known for their luxuriant hair and fueled idealized notions of female beauty in the West. So-called Circassian hair oils, dyes, and creams were enormously popular at the time of the American Civil War.)

circassian women 2
A photo of Circassian beauties, circa 1880.

The horrible trade in female slaves from the Caucasus was alive and well in the mid-1800s, when an alleged glut in the market led to their devaluation.  Good timing for American circus mogul P.T. Barnum.  In May 1864, he wrote to one of his employees, John Greenwood, who had traveled to Ottoman Cyprus to try to buy a Circassian girl on Barnum’s behalf.  Over a year after the Emancipation Proclamation in America, the circus owner wrote:

I still have faith in a beautiful Circassian girl if you can get one very beautiful. But if they ask $4000 each, probably one would be better than two, for $8000 in gold is worth about $14,500 in U.S. currency. So one of the most beautiful would do. . . But look out that in Paris they don’t try the law and set her free. It must be understood she is free. . .  Yours Truly, P.T. Barnum

Barnum’s fascination with acquiring and exhibiting women in his shows took on the elements of a personal erotic and racial fantasy.  Though most were “local girls,” as newspapers knew, Barnum billed his “Circassians” as escaped sex slaves and “the purest specimens of the white race.”  Figments of Barnum’s imagination, these women joined the ranks of the dime-show freaks, part of the offbeat spectacle of bearded ladies, sword-swallowers, and snake-handlers that drew in paying crowds.  Barnum’s harem girls enhanced their hair with beer to create a farfetched “Afro” look.


Circassian Girl - Matthew Brady New York 1861
Daguerreotype of a “Circassian beauty” by Matthew Brady, New York, circa 1861. These intentional freaks dressed in the very opposite attire of their modest Central Asian “sisters.”

Circassian Girl ad
(A major feature of the post-bellum American sideshows, Barnum’s racial and sexual fantasies showed up on postcards, cigarette advertisements, and fliers. An impressive gallery of “Moss-Haired Girls,” as these women were called, has been collected online at Sideshow World.

This was not the kind of Circassian girl alleged by a “yellow journalist” to have been bestowed to Lew Wallace in Turkey. On the eve of his return to America, the General tried to clear things up with the press.  The Indianapolis Journal carried this twist in the story on June 30, 1884:

Lew Wallace - That Circassian Girl - Indianapolis Journal June 30 1884The website of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville gives a slightly different perspective altogether:

As his tour of duty as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1884, Lew Wallace was offered a number of gifts from his friend, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These included Arabian horses, jewels, and works of art. As a representative of the government of the United States, Wallace graciously declined these expressions of friendship and gratitude. According to legend, as Wallace closed his office and packed his residence, the Sultan was able to secretly include the painting called The Turkish Princess, some elaborate carpets and a few other items in the shipping crates. The crates were delivered to Crawfordsville before Lew and Susan returned home. These items sent by the Sultan remained undiscovered by Wallace until he was back in Crawfordsville and opened the crates. The Turkish Princess, said to be one of the Sultan’s daughters, remains one of the highlights of the Study.

Wallace’s biographers Robert and Katharine Morsberger add a further note: “Malicious gossip-mongers claimed that the sultan had also provided Wallace a Circassian slave girl for his carnal pleasures and commiserated with Susan Wallace on her husband’s alleged concubine.  Both the sultan and the American minister had too much honor and mutual respect for such an arrangement.”


Lew Wallace Stuy
(The Turkish Princess, by Austrian Orientalist painter Leopold Müller, is the real Circassian girl and hangs in Wallace’s study in Crawfordsville to this day.)

Notable Hoosier Obits: Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace – New York Daily Tribune – February 16 1905 – Chronicling America.

109 years ago tomorrow, in 1905, Indiana author, soldier, and statesman Lew Wallace died.

Wallace was born on April 10, 1827 in Brookville, Indiana.  His father, David, was a future governor of Indiana, and his mother, Esther, was the daughter of a three-term Congressman. Wallace spent his youth in Covington, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, and Centerville.  He enlisted in an Indiana regiment at 19 years old and served in the Mexican-American War.  After the war, he began a law practice, won election as prosecuting attorney for Indiana’s first district, married (Susan Elston), had a son (Henry Lane Wallace), and served in the Indiana Senate.  He moved to Crawfordsville after the birth of his son, and maintained a permanent residence there the rest of his life.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Governor Morton commissioned Wallace as adjutant general to recruit and organize Indiana’s quota of troops.  Wallace subsequently became colonel of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.  He rose through the ranks, and became a major-general by 1862.  He participated in the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Monocacy.  He also administered the Middle Department and 8th Army Corps in Maryland and Delaware.  He subsequently sat on the court-martials of Abraham Lincoln’s assassins and Henry Wirtz.

New York Daily Tribune, February 16, 1905. Chronicling America.

After the war, he served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878-1881, and U.S. Minister to Turkey from 1881-1885.  He also began a literary career with his first novel, The Fair God, published in 1873.  He followed his debut novel with Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1880, which became one of the best-selling novels of the 19th century.

He returned home to Indiana in 1885, continued to write, and administer his intellectual property, including the adaptation of Ben-Hur for the stage. Wallace died on February 15, 1905 at his home in Crawfordsville.  You can find a sample of the many obituaries about him from across the country (from Hawaii to Vermont, from Minnesota to Florida) at the links below:

A High Tribute to General Lew Wallace,” Pensacola [FL] Journal.

The Author of Ben Hui [sic] Is Dead,” Hawaiian [Honolulu] Star

Career Over for Gen. Lew Wallace,” Washington [DC] Times.

Death Summons General Wallace,” Minneapolis Journal.

General Lew Wallace,” Bourbon [Paris, KY] News.

General Lew Wallace Dead at Crawfordsville, Ind., Home,” Rice Belt Journal [Welsh, LA].

General Wallace Dead,” Alexandria [VA] Gazette.

Gen. Lew Wallace, Author of “Ben Hur” Is Dead,” Deseret Evening News [Salt Lake City, UT]

Gen. Lew Wallace Dead,” Brownsville [TX] Daily Herald.

Gen. Wallace Dead,” Washington [DC] Evening Star.

Great Man Passes Away,” Tazewell [VA] Republican.

Lew Wallace,” Salt Lake Tribune.

Lew Wallace Dead,” Bennington [VT] Evening Banner.

Lew Wallace Dead Stanch [sic] Friend of West End Came Quietly,” Bisbee [AZ] Daily Review.

Noted Author of “Ben Hur” Dead,” Los Angeles Herald.