Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.

A common question asked in interviews is what period of history do I find to be the most exciting and interesting. The answer is 1990 to 2020 and 1890 to 1930. That in turn usually leads to an expression of surprise followed by a series of related questions. The swirl of past, present, and future during the 1890 to 1930 period is an endless source of fascination. As an example, consider this. Buffalo Bill, the legendary frontiersman, purchased a Kalamazoo manufactured Michigan in 1903, and played an important role in the development of the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in the southwest.

Edsel Ford, Emily Post and thousands upon thousands of tourists were discovering the wonders of the great southwest by following the National Old Trails Road to California for the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. This was the year that the Dodge brothers launched an automotive empire that would in time challenge the dominance of Henry Ford. And in Europe, for the first time airplanes were being used in combat. Meanwhile, in remote areas of Arizona stagecoaches were still in use.

Henry Starr

On this past weeks episode of Coffee With Jim, I referenced Henry Starr, the 6′ 7″ Cherokee that was born in 1873 in the Oklahoma Territory. He was a prolific bank robber and in 1893 killed a U.S. Marshall. While in prison he learned Latin, began studying the law, and developed an educational program for illiterate prisoners. The latter led to President Theodore Roosevelt issuing a pardon. But almost as soon as he was released, Starr resumed his career as a bank robber.

This was followed by another prison stint, another pardon and then a daring attempt to rob two banks simultaneously in Stroud, Oklahoma. This time he was wounded and arrested. Shortly after release from prison his life took a dramatic and unexpected turn, a movie star that played the role of western outlaw and bank robber. His first film was a moderate success, and there was every indication that he was on the cusp of a new career.

Instead he returned to Oklahoma and began making illegal withdrawals from rural banks. His luck ran out in 1921 when in the course of a robbery he was mortally wounded and died four days later. Starr began his career as a bank robber escaping posses on horseback. He ended it with escapes, or attempted escapes, in a Hudson or Studebaker. Changing times.

I reference the current era as it is also a period of dramatic transformation. As a point of reference just consider how dramatically 2020 has forever changed the world. Still, as exciting as it is, to be honest, there are days when I reflect on how nice it would be to read about this era in a history book instead of live through it. As I recall the years 1890 to 1930 opened the door to a pretty tumultuous period of time, and there are ample indications that we could witness a replay of sorts in the not so distant future.




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