The Shadow Rider

Out of the pages of history galloping across the western plains of the Old West rides a lone crusader bringing law and order to an otherwise lawless land. With stealth and cunning many an outlaw met his fate. Horace Mann was broad of shoulder and narrow at the hip and everywhere he went the long arm of the law was not far away. With steely blue eyes wearing his white Stetson he struck terror in those who broke the law. The Stetson, the hat that was to become synonymous with western lore became the embodiment of truth and justice which set him apart from the outlaws of the time. Atop his Appaloosa sitting tall in the saddle with his Winchester at the ready everyone knew in an instant that justice would soon be served. As fast as he was with a six shooter the deadly aim of his Winchester many an outlaw found himself entombed on Boot Hill. His fame and his legend spread through-out the West. Soon news of his exploits reached places like New York where newspapers dubbed him The Shadow Rider. The man and his Winchester found it’s way into dime novels where many a young boy fantasized riding the plains of the wild west.

It wasn’t soon after that one of those dime novels made their way to the desk of Grover Cleveland. Intrigued by his exploits and with consistent news of Indian uprisings and cattle rustling through-out the Dakota and Wyoming territories the President looked no further when he read of the daring do of the Shadow Rider to restore order and peace. By the summer of 1887 the Indian affairs office was alerted to a potential all out war brewing in the plains of Wyoming and the Dakotas. The Sioux and the Arapaho were joining forces with the Cheyenne. The tribes realized that their way of life was being threatened. The buffalo herds that were once so plentiful now were disappearing. Tensions were high, violence was all to commonplace, and the only law was the quick of the draw or the straight of an arrow. To tame this troubled land there was only one man, The Shadow Rider.

While the Arapaho and the Sioux were sounding war drums the existing climate of lawlessness and tolerance by lenient judges and juries sympathetic to rustlers continued to spark more violence into an already violent land. To make matters worse the onslaught of homesteaders made the cattle barons eager to do anything to stop the influx of people who have threatened their livelihoods. Wyoming during the 1880′s was the epicenter for violent confrontation with the combined tribes of the Arapaho, Sioux, the Cheyenne, the homesteaders, and the cattle barons. A tough spot for Horace Mann to be in. But if one person could defuse this ticking time bomb the Shadow Rider was the one person who could.

At once the President put out a telegraph to Fort Laramie where Col. Trenton could contact Horace Mann and give him the dispatch that the President had sent. As the sun was setting over the Western sky Horace Mann was just riding into Fort Laramie. The sound of Taps was ringing through the evening air as the Flag was being lowered into the waiting arms of Sergeant Howard. The sober tone of the bugle is a constant reminder of the violent struggles between the encroaching white settlers, the Indian tribes and the cattle rustlers that have covered the hills of the Dakotas with blood. Sent on a mission from the President, Horace is well equipped. Mann had an unusual ability with foreign languages, a talent that likely stemmed from his early years in a bilingual family and community where he grew up. He knew German and learned to speak fluent Spanish and Indian dialects. This ability allowed him to communicate with native American tribes. It also gave him a degree of power over those for whom he was translating. For over a decade those years of reigning in cattle rustlers and navigating through the uprisings of the Sioux and the Cheyenne has earned him the fame and recognition as the one man that could tame this lawless land.

This lone crusader sent on a perilous mission was now conferring with Col. Trenton on what was needed to restore law and order for all. This was a period in American history when many settlers were not only passing through the Dakota’s but ending up settling in Wyoming. During the 1870′s the cattle herds were replacing the disappearing Buffalo herds had made life for the native American tribes almost unbearable. In 1870, Wyoming had a population of roughly 9,118 people. By 1890, that number reached 62,555. The Homestead Act of 1862, the Timber Culture Act of 1872 and the Desert Land Act of 1877, all of which offered government land for free or at very low cost, attracted the influx of white settlers. Meanwhile cattle barons began gobbling immense land holdings in which to raise their cattle. As a result of this population boom the wild buffalo herds were being slaughtered leaving the native Indians feeling threatened. The great land grab was just beginning pushing the Indian tribes out of their familiar hunting lands.They were forced to migrate following the remaining buffalo herds that were fast becoming extinct.

This influx of homesteaders during the late 1870′s settlers increased the violence between cattlemen and the native Americans who were being displaced. The urgency to restore peace and stop an all out war was becoming more imperative every day. As dawn broke on the morning of November 10th this lone crusader, this Shadow Rider, rode out of Fort Laramie to find Little Wolf chief of the Cheyenne. It was a little after noon on this cold and damp November day when just over the horizon Cheyenne warriors were fast approaching. Upon seeing the white Stetson and the Appaloosa 12 Cheyenne realized it was Horace Mann. They knew that whenever Horace spoke he did so without forked tongue. His reputation for truth and justice preceded him. It was his unwavering insistence that the truth be told and for justice to be served that endeared him to every native American tribe.

It was well into the evening when this band of Cheyenne warriors and Horace Mann reached the Cheyenne Village. Waiting at the center tepee was Little Wolf. In no time at all Little Wolf was encouraged by what Horace had to say. Mann produced a written treaty signed by President Cleveland. A treaty guaranteeing land with water, protection against white poachers of the Buffalo and protection against the racial tensions that have been built up from years of fighting. The next morning Little Wolf with 12 Cheyenne warriors rode off with the Shadow Rider in search of Chief Black Coal and Chief Red Cloud.

Will Little Wolf and the Shadow Rider be able reach the tribe of the Arapaho and the Sioux in time to convince both chiefs to accept the President’s treaty to thwart an all out war. Or will these tribes escalate the already violent attacks between the Army, the homesteaders and the cattle barons? The clock is ticking. Stay tuned for Chapter Two of the Shadow Rider.

The Mystery of Queen Elizabeth I’s Possible Imposter

One of history’s most unusual conspiracy theories involved Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of England’s King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. During the first half of the sixteenth century, Elizabeth was born to the tyrannical English king. When she was about ten years old, she was taken from Henry’s court in plague-ridden London to Bisley, a small town Southwest of London, because he wanted to protect her from getting sick.

According to legend, young Elizabeth died in Bisley. Her caretakers panicked when they found her body, and knew that Henry would return sooner than expected to visit his daughter. Afraid for their lives, they anxiously searched the town to find a girl who looked like Elizabeth. After a futile attempt to find a read-haired girl, they found a boy with red hair who was about the same height as Elizabeth. This boy, whose name was Neville was actually a friend or relative who played with Elizabeth. They brought him back to their home and dressed him in Elizabeth’s clothes. Apparently, when Henry returned he couldn’t tell the difference between the boy and Elizabeth. So, the boy kept assuming the role as the dead princess and continued pretending to be the future queen.

Bram Stoker, the famous author of the novel Dracula, wrote a book called Famous Imposters in 1910. In one of its chapters called, The Bisley Boy, Stoker presents solid evidence that Elizabeth was actually a man. Stoker defends this story with the following facts:

1. In the 1800′s, a trusted clergyman who lived in Bisley reported discovering a coffin in Bisley, which contained the skeleton of a young girl dressed in clothes typical of the Renaissance upper-classes.

2. Despite legitimate offers, the grown Elizabeth never consented to marriage. As a matter of fact, she did not have any intimate relationships with any males. This fact might contribute to the reason why she was called, “The Virgin Queen.”

3. In most of her portraits, Elizabeth has a masculine face.

4. Historians have described her taking action to protect England, more like a confident king than a “womanly” queen.

5. A nobleman had once written regarding Elizabeth that “for a certain reason which they have recently given me, I understand that she will not bear children.”

6. There was a marked difference in the form and content of letters she wrote before and after her stay in Bisley.

7. She owned a large collection of wigs and wore them at all occasions where she would be seen.

8. She would only be seen by carefully selected doctors.

9. Elizabeth made her doctors swear not to do an autopsy of her body after she died.

Although Stoker supports a solid case that Elizabeth I was actually a man, his story was not well received by readers. Many thought that the story was preposterous because if she had been a male, somebody close to her court would have known and the news would have leaked out. However, when Stoker investigated the story, he met a large number of people who really believed the story. Interesting enough, those who supported the story lived in Bisley a few years after the discovery of the skeleton of a little girl, dressed in Renaissance clothes by a trusted clergyman. Whatever the case may be regarding the queen’s identity, “Elizabeth I” ruled England with true loyalty for England and her people and was committed to preserving English peace and stability. After her death, at seventy years old in 1603, she was missed by many of her subjects.

Durga Puja – Nothing Short of a Bienalle?

If you’ve never been pandal-hopping in Kolkata, you have never seen this side of the City of Joy. As Durga Puja arrives, the city gears up to a whole new level of excitement with colourful lights setting the stage for the most sought after festival of the city. From the brightly lit alleys, to the sound of the dhak and gong peeling through the night and mouth-watering delicacies available at almost every street corner, the bar of excellence is only being raised with each passing year.

So deep is the love for this festival in peoples’ hearts that no matter how long the queues are before the biggest of the pandals, or how crowded the streets are, they wait patiently in their heavy silk sarees or crisp batik shirts to catch a glimpse of their beloved Goddess.

Each year, the puja organisers try to attract visitors with the most innovate puja pandals constructed. There are unique themes and artistic renditions and sculptures that not only aim to be distinctive but also deliver a message. By addressing relevant topics affecting a daily man to current affairs, pandal-hopping is not only a matter of fun but also a way to realise the kind of ideologies that are dominating our society.

Every year, artists come up with different themes to delight visitors, which involves months of planning and tedious amount of hard work. There exists a level of friendly competition amid the Puja organisers and this year the Kolkata festive landscape was adorned by the Goddess made of Bamboos, characters of Satyajit Ray’s books coming alive, animals and birds lighting to express the theme of Holi in Autumn, to pandals made as a Pagoda and the Kolkata-Dhaka Express Train – there is something for every art enthusiast!

There is but one problem: It is impossible to visit every pandal in the city in the span of a week. And that’s a pity as every pandal is an installation par excellence. The craftsmanship, the conceptualisation, the finesse and the level of detailing is nothing short of an annual exhibition that could draw a global audience.

If only the Government was more futuristic in its outlook and curated the annual Durga Puja Festival into an art festival drawing audiences across the globe! After all do we not make it a point to attend the Venice or London Art/Design Weeks if we happen to be around town then?