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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 58 - A Little Bit of Bump and Grind (Movement Week)

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Sam's Episode notes: Mary 'Stagecoach' Fields - The USA's first black, female, OAP stagecoach driver, horse wrestler, gun fighter and bar-brawler.

I've gone down a route of moving things today – in fact, specifically, moving mail, and the story of a particularly badass woman, Mary 'Stagecoach' Fields – that's obviously a nickname by the way and not just a great case of Nominative Determinism.

Now, Mary was a badass for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because she was the body building, gun toting, bar fighting, hard drinking, effing and blinding, first ever black woman to drive a US postal stagecoach. She was the mailwoman you wouldn't want to mess with, and the mailwoman everybody loved.

She was born a slave in Tennessee in 1832 and freed in 1865 with the end of the civil war. She worked for a judge for a while and, when his wife died, she took the families five children to live with their aunt, a mother superior called Mary Amadeus, which is a particularly good nun name.

Shortly afterwards, in 1884, Amadeus was sent to Montana to open up a school for native American girls and quickly came down with pneumonia. Fields rushed to rescue her and, once she'd recovered, stayed on as the forewoman of the school and convent – repairing buildings, painting, decorating, raising livestock and hitching wagons to haul goods to and from town. She got a reputation as being a fierce handler of horses, and even fiercer in a brawl. This was helped by her physical appearance – she was a bit of a tank, build like an eastern european shotputter and about 5'10” looking at photos of her – which was as tall or actually quite a bit taller than most men at the time. The nuns of this quiet and peaceful convent were apparently terrified of her, and her ability to swear like a sailor at anyone who walked on her freshly cut lawn or mopped floor.

After a long trip one day, she reportedly ordered one of the nuns to get her a whiskey and a cigar.

But whilst the nuns had a grudging admiration for her, the kids at the school were completely baffled. They called her White Crow – an only slightly offensive nickname based on the fact that she behaved like a white woman. One schoolgirl wrote in an essay that fields: "Drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature."

She lasted at the school for about 10 years, when she eventually got fired for getting into an armed argument with a janitor and drawing their guns at each other.

She quickly opened up a restaurant which went bust a year later because she gave free meals to anyone who couldn't pay, and then, at the ripe old age of 63, got a job as a star route carrier for the US postal service.

Now the star routes were routes which the postal service subcontracted out because they were too expensive or too dangerous to run themselves. The stagecoaches of Spaghetti Westerns? Those are the star routes. They were dangerous, dirty, and badly paid. Applicants had to be able to repair a shattered wagon wheel, fight off bandits and do it all on a schedule – they had to leave a bond with the postal service which would get cash docked off it for poor service. Fortunately, Mary could hitch up six horses faster than anyone else who applied and rode like the blazes, so in 1895, she won the Cascade County contract for central Montana, carrying the mail in an old coach donated by her old friend Mother Mary Amadeus.

And she was a badass. Riding over muddy roads and through terrible snowdrifts, when things got too bad she would either hitch up her faithful mule Moses and walk with him, or sling the mail over her back and snow shoe it across the mountains. Bear in mind this wasn't just letters but goods, parcels, and cash. It was a huge weight she'd be carrying. It's often said – though I can't find any evidence of this, that in her eight years on the trail she was never late once. Not one day. She always carried two guns, a rifle for seeing off threats at a distance and a pistol for getting up close and personal – which again there are lots of stories of her using, even seeing off a pack of wolves with her revolver one winter's night.

It wasn't all plain sailing – she frequently got into bar fights with men from the town, which being two inches taller than them and built like a brick shithouse she won - but most of the people of Cascade absolutely loved her. On her days off, she'd babysit for the kids of the town, and every year on her birthday, schools would close so the kids could go out and play with her. When she finally retired in about 1903 at the age of 71, she never had to buy a drink or meal in Cascade again. Probably because they were scared shitless of her.

In fact, when a law was passed by Montana which banned women from drinking in bars, she was specifically excluded from it by local ordinance.

She eventually died in 1914 at the age of 81, having lived as a slave in the South, a janitor, a nun (of sorts), and America's first black woman stagecoach driver in the frozen north. Actually, she was only the second female stagecoach driver overall.

Tom's notes:

I had an encounter with a famous person this week Sam.

I was walking through our village with the family and coming towards us was, prepare yourself for this, Ringo Starr.

I nudged my wife and said “that’s bloody Ringo Starr!”

He obviously heard me because when he got closer he said “are you that Tom chap from the That Was Genius? I love your podcast; it’s so informative and amusing. In fact, one of your episodes inspired me to write a song.”

Anyway, he passed me a cassette, one of those old 90s ones, with a recording of his new song, would you like to hear it?

I’d like to be, in an orchard tree

In a little hideaway amongst the leaves

I’d be there, eating a stolen pear

Looking for something to pinch for tea

> Then someone shouts very, aggressively

“Who the fuck is that sitting up there?”

I’d like to be, up in a tree

In Priapus’s garden, in the shade

With an angry throb, he points his oversized nob

Towards my little hideaway amongst the leaves

A randy gnome, with a very threatening tone

In Priapus’s garden, being abused

> He’ll swear and stomp around

Because he wants our arses to pound

Altogether now!

I’d like to be, up in a tree

In Priapus’s garden, being abused

Hear him shout “I’ve got it out”

“And I’m about to bludgeon you with me cock”

Oh what a fun, fun for everyone

Having your feet grabbed by a rapey diety

> I would be, so happy in this tree

Laughing at this randy Monty Don

I’d like to be, in an orchard tree

In Priapus’s garden, being abused

Unbelievable stuff. I think that’s a cracker Sam. He’s still got it hasn’t he?

So this week is about movement. I was planning to go down a slightly different route this week. I was going to look into the etymology of phrases related to dance. That’s not history I hear your scream! That’s linguistics. Well, regardless, there weren’t many good examples. This was one of the few…

“All singing and all dancing”

This comes from the 1929 film Broadway Melody, the top grossing film of 1929 and winner of an Oscar for best picture that year. Although apparently it’s a bit shit to watch now. It was at the time very innovative is often considered to be the first full-on musical. On the posters for the movie was the phrase “all talking, all singing, all dancing”.

So, I thought I’d talk about a dance

· A naughty and frivolous dance, a rude dance with body contact.

· It’s disgusting! I couldn’t believe my eyes! So I kept looking! I even made some drawings.

· And to continue my research into this foulsome pastime, I asked to take part.

· Disgusting, men pressing themselves up against me, I felt revolting! I just had to go back the next night to check it was as disgusting as I remembered. And it was!

Yes, I am talking about the Waltz, that famously understated, unerogenous ballroom dance performed on Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing With The Stars.

· Yes, it was a very controversial dance when it first came on the scene. You may know a bit about this Sam but many of our listeners probably don’t. And it’s quite funny.

It seems difficult to accurately describe the origins of the Waltz, because it’s basically dancing with someone with body contact. I’m sure people have been doing this since the dawn of time. Back as far as the Discolithic, through the Boogielithic and also during the Pelvic-thrustolithic which proceeded the Bronze Age.

The consensus seems to be that the dance evolved from the Volta that was popular amongst the wealthy as far back as the 16th century. In addition, the Landler probably influenced the Waltz, this was a very Alpine dance, enjoyed by lederhosen wearing, thigh slapping, yodelling, beer swigging working Germans. Both of these dances were a tad controversial at the time for the same reasons that the Waltz became controversial; I’ll get on to this shortly! Louis XIII actually banned the Volta in France and the bishops of Wurzburg and Fulda issued decrees prohibiting gliding and waltzing as a result of the popularity of the Landler.

· The church; misers since the 3rd century.

· Ello, ello, ello, what’s going on ‘ere then? Did I observe Sir gliding down the pavement? Was that a surreptious fleckle I spotted as you alighted the sidewalk? May I politely remind your good sir that such namby-pamby, waltzy cavorting is banned in this here bishopric?

o But I’m singing in the rain?

o Stop it! You’ll be singing in a prison cell if you don’t watch yourself

By the middle of the 18th century, peasants in modern day Austria and Southern Germany were dancing the Waltz.

· Incidentally, a faster version of a Waltz was known as either a Geschwindwalzer or a Galloppwalzer.

· Do you know what the Viennese Waltz is called? The Wiener Walzer.

· I’m not going to do into detail about the subtleties of the dance, but I will say this, it was controversial because of the close body contact, it was fast and the fact that two individuals focussed on each other (i.e. they were facing in) rather than the traditional dances (you know, the really boring looking ones you see in period dramas) where everyone moves around each other in pattern, dancers face in and out, and the audience are as involved as the dancers. In addition, the Volta had a particular move that involved the man touching the ladies thigh, Lord above!

It became popular with young noble men and women, who were a bit tired of the stuffy old dances that their parents used to get the juices flowing so by the end of the 18th century, partly thanks to the Napoleonic Wars, it was very popular in courts throughout Europe.

Here’s a chap called von Goethe, quote, “When the waltz commenced, and the dancers whirled around each other in the giddy maze . . . Never did I dance more lightly. I felt myself more than mortal, holding this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying, with her as rapidly as the wind, till I lost sight of every other object.” Presumably because hefty Helga his dance partner had just thrown him out of a window like a discuss.

Not everyone was so delighted with the dance…

· A chap called Wolf published a pamphlet entitled ‘Proof that waltzing is a main source of the weakness of the body and mind of our generation’ in 1797.

· Lord Byron wrote a critical poem about the dance too. I would quote it at length, but I’m not a big fan of poetry, I find it all a bit difficult to understand. Try this for size, quote "a huge hussar-looking gentleman, turning round and round to a confounded see-saw, up-down sort of turn like two cockchafers spitted on the same bodkin".

· In 1833 a manual for good manners published in Britain recommended that it be performed only by married women.

· I did a quick search on Project Gutenberg’s website (a great resource for online historical sources) and found a document called the Dance of Death from 1877 in which the author, it turns out sarcastically, criticises the vulgarity of the dance (obviously because it was considered very vulgar in London at the time, a full 60-70 years after it was first introduced to Britain.

So that’s the controversial Waltz.

On a side note, I did also come across in my research the wonderful dance venues of Vienna.

· The Apollo Dance hall had an artificial waterfall and lake with swans and trees, all inside!

· The Tivoli Pleasure Gardens apparently had a dancehall looking out over Vienna. As part of the fun, and I couldn’t find out as much about this as I wanted to, there was apparently a toboggan for patrons!

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