Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: “Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Events” by Larry Wood

General Information

This book is a collection of twenty-five short chapters (5-13 pages each) about various gunfights, outlaws, and crimes in the Ozark area (SW Missouri, NW Arkansas, NE Oklahoma, and SE Kansas). Each chapter is on a specific event or person. The book covers the period from post - Civil War (starting with “Wild Bill” Hickok’s shoot out in Springfield, MO, in 1865) to the mid-1930’s (with Bonnie & Clyde’s shoot out in Joplin, MO, 1933), and one chapter about a 1950’s crime. There are quite a few B&W pictures scattered throughout the book, including pictures from the time and contemporary pictures of areas, buildings, or graves as they look like today. The chapters are actually different magazine articles written by the author (but one was co-written by the author) for various Western magazines.

The Good

I enjoy this book for a couple of reasons, besides the obvious interest in the topic. First is that the chapters are fairly short and secondly, they are fairly straight to the point with details. This makes for an easy and fast read for each chapter. Since each chapter is a completely separate event/person, one can choose to read one chapter and not another if they choose to do so. 

The Bad

In some ways, I wish that there were more details, but with this being a collection of articles for magazines instead a continuously flowing book, some details had to be dropped.

Stuff of Interest for Gamers

There are some chapters that could work out for a tabletop Western era bank robberies, but generally they are pretty one sided or fairly small and would work for a solo or two person game only. Most of the more detailed bank robberies discussed take place in the 1890’s to 1920’s. While this is out of the period, as well as regionally, to what most people considered to be the “Wild West”, there were a lot of infamous gangs or outlaws that are associated with this area and period: the Daltons, the Doolin’s “Wild Bunch”, and Roy “Arkansas Tom” Daugherty for examples. 

In some of the very earlier issues of “Miniature Wargames”, there were articles about three of the events or outlaws covered in this book. If you are interested more into this, I highly encourage you to look up those magazine articles for more details on how to table top those events. I would consider writing something up, but I don’t want to plagiarize any of these articles, plus I am lacking the free time to take that task to hand.

Miniature Wargames” Issue #41 covers the Dalton’s raid on the Coffeyville, KS, banks. Issue #42 covers the Doolin’s “Wild Bunch” hold-up in Ingalls, OK. Issue #46 covers the Doolin’s “Wild Bunch” robbery of a bank in Southwest City, MO.

Wargames Illustrated Issue number 127 also covers the Dalton’s raid at Coffeyville, KS.

Next Review

It is back to the islands with “Nine Battles to Stanley” by Nicolas van der Bijl. I decided to read this book for two reasons. First, I read his book on the British army in Northern Ireland and enjoyed it. Secondly, he was the sole Intelligence staff officer for the 3 Commando Brigade on the liberating of the Falklands in 1982. I figured with his background as an intelligence officer, he should be able to provide some good insight into the operations done by 3 Commando Bde and the Falklands as a hold. I plan to read Thompson’s “No Picnic” immediately after this one, since Thompson was the commander of 3 Commando Bde.

Book Review: “Slow Boat on Rum Row” by Fraser Miles

General Information
 
This is an autobiography of a Canadian rum runner on the Pacific coast line. The author was 18 years old when he went to sea and spent two years as a short wave wireless operator and 2nd Engineer on the rum runners, Ruth B and Ryou II. His career ended with the abolishment of Prohibition. The book is broken down into two main sections, the story of his life from childhood leading up to becoming a rum runner and his years as a rum runner. There are several appendices that cover other items related to Canadian rum runners, which will be discussed below. The book is 221 pages long, including 40 more pages for the appendices. There are many B&W pictures scattered throughout the book of actual rum running ships, their crews, and a few pictures of Fraser Miles childhood.

The Good

I will admit that I had some reservations about this book after I got it when I saw that 81 of the 221 pages was about his personal life a kid. I am now glad that I read it as the author was very good at keeping the stories interesting. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the author states that he took to rum running for the money, but was only making about sixteen cents per case during his years running rum! That was a very insignificant payment when one considers that the average case probably sold up to $200 depending on the label. But the amount of cases that his ship handled, still gave him roughly $125 a month for his pay. So one can do some quick math to figure out how many cases his ship handled in a month!

The author was a short wave wireless operator for a shipping company that was a front for a rum running operation out of Vancouver, Canada. He landed the job quite by accident, without going into a lot of it, basically he showed up in place of another friend, who was asked to show up because the regular operator did not show up. While serving on the rum runners, he kept a diary of his trips which allowed the author to have a fairly clear memory of what happen when he wrote this book much later. The author’s service was pretty much uneventful, but as with his childhood, the author is very entertaining with his telling.

The Bad

I enjoyed it, but I can see where some will found this very boring. If you think that the life of a rum runner was filled with shoot out with the Coast Guard, pirates, or rival rum runners…then you will be very disappointed in this book.

Stuff of Interest for Gamers

There really is not much for miniature gamers other then the description of the paint jobs of the type of ships. The “fireboats”, which was the high speed boats that took the case of alcohol to the beach, were painted dark grey. The delivery ship, which is what the author served on, would transport the alcohol from the “Mother ships” located on ‘Rum Row’ to the 12-mile limit to meet up with the “fireboats.” The delivery ships were painted light grey.

But for the role-player, there is tons of useful information about the daily life on the rum runners. One of the things that I thought is a great tool is the author gives an example of what a typical rum runner signal code matrix looks like and this could a layer of interesting game resource. Also in the appendices, is a USCG’s report on how they were able to triangulate the Ryou II’s location by listening to the Ryou II’s wireless transmissions.

There is a ton of information in the appendix on the various rum running ships or ships that thought were involved in rum running. This section is 17 pages long and has various information like who owned the ship, the length of the ship, when it was built, and a sentence or two about it history if know.

Next Review

Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Events” by Larry Wood, is a collection of chapters about different gunfights, criminals, and lawmen in the post Civil War southwest Missouri, up to the 1930’s, and including on 1950’s event.

Book Review: “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by David Okrent

General Information

The book is 398 pages long, including the appendices, but excluding the cited material, index, and pages with the pictures. The book is broken into four main sections, each containing four or seven chapters. The first main section cover the history of alcohol in the US prior to Prohibition, to include the rise of the various anti-alcohol societies and individuals, various court cases involving alcohol, and the political scene leading to the vote for the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The section main section covers the Volstead Act, or the methods to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, and the histories of the various legal alcohols allowed under the Volstead Act (pre-Prohibition personal stocks, wine/cider making, religious wines, medical alcohol, industrial alcohol, and near beers) and how the legal alcohol clauses were abused. The third section covers the illegal alcohol and the rise of various criminal powers. The final section is the rise of the rise of the anti-Prohibition movements and the end of Prohibition. There are three sections of B&W photographs with 61 pictures combined. Finally, this book is to be made into a Ken Burn’s documentary for PBS.

The Good

This is a very good book, period! It reads very well and the author does a great job in the flow of information from one subject to another. The author covers a lot of ground and gives a lot of information, but it never seems rushed, incomplete, or overwhelming to me while reading it. I think that this will make a great Ken Burn’s documentary.
The author did a great job discussing the various ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ factions and leaders and some of their reasons for why they were either for or against the Prohibition. Some of these groups or individuals are sort of surprising. For example, the Ku Klux Klan were a ‘dry’ faction because they viewed the power behind the alcohol industries where foreigners and that by keeping alcohol way from African-Americans, that they will not get ‘out-of-hand’. Whereas some of the more powerful ‘wet’ leaders included Pierre du Pont, the owner of DuPont Chemicals, because he was against the income tax laws. He believed that by repealing Prohibition, that the need for income taxes will cease since prior to Prohibition the alcohol taxes was so great, that there was no need for income taxes!

What is so amazing is the absolute amount of hypocrisy by the ‘dry’ leaders and organizations. The amount of corruption, ineptitude, and just out right insane logic is just amazing by the various ‘dry’ leaders. That is not to say that the ‘wet’ were plaster saints by any means, but they were not the ones claiming to be morally good either. Also, I was not aware of the Jones Law before this book. The Jones Law was passed in 1929 and it made alcohol related offences have far more severe punishments, including life imprisonment for a fourth alcohol conviction!

This book also has one of my favor titles for a chapter, “The Hummingbird That Went to Mars”. I don’t know why I really like it, but I do. The title is a reply to the remark made by the author of the Eighteenth Amendment, Morris Sheppard in 1930. When asked what he thought the chances of the Eighteenth Amendment being repealed were, he replied back, “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tailed to its tail.” Needless to say, that this chapter deals with the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Thank goodness for that hummingbird!

The Bad

I have nothing. The author was very well informed on the history of Prohibition and is a good writer. I really enjoyed it all.

Stuff of Interest for Gamers

Really, there is nothing that will be useful for a miniature gamer, like specific shootouts that can be gamed on the table. But for role-players with games set in the 1920’s, like Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium, this book is an invaluable resource for understanding the total aspects of the Prohibition. It covers the loopholes of the Volstead Act, what individuals and groups supported the “Dry’s” or the “Wets”, and key events in Prohibition.

There is one event that is talked about in the book which could make a great plot for a scenario for a detective RPG game (and could be done as a Cthulhu horror as well.) The incident happened in September, 1923, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A 107’ Canadian steam trawler, the John Dwight, was captured and scuttled by an opposing gang. Eight of the crew’s bloated bodies were found on washed up on the beach, with three of them having their faces skinned off and the others with their eyes gouged out and their fingertips burned away by acid so they could not be recognized. The captain of the John Dwight was founded adrift in a dinghy with his skull fractured and shoved underneath the bench. This could make for an interesting game of investigating some of the upper society for bootleg / criminal ties or possibly some horrid evil cult!
It could also be a great resource for an abstract matrix game on Prohibition in the US with the players representing various factions (like the Anti-Saloon League or Pierre du Pont) on either keeping Prohibition or ending Prohibition and still getting their primary / secondary goals (such as women’s equal rights or to end the income tax laws) in as well by dealing with the other players.

Next Review

Slow Boat on Rum Row” by Fraser Miles; it is an autobiography of a Canadian rum runner.