John’s Believe It Or Not… August 13th

In 1941 – National Defence establishes the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). In 1521 Aztec capital falls to Cortés. In 1952 “Hound Dog” is recorded for the first time by Big Mama Thornton. In 1931 Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman is born. In 1860 Annie Oakley is born.

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John Fioravanti standing in fron of his classroom blackboard.

It’s Sunday! Did you know…

* 1941 – National Defence establishes the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC).

The formation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War is a milestone in the history of women’s participation in the Canadian military.

In September 1939, Canada went to war. Within months, dozens of unofficial women’s corps, with thousands of members, organized across the country. These keenly patriotic women joined such groups as the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps, which operated in Québec, Ontario and the Maritimes, or the Canadian Auxiliary Territorial Service, which operated in Ontario and the western provinces. On their own time and at their own expense, these volunteers enrolled in military-related courses like Morse code signaling and map reading. Joan Kennedy’s group in British Columbia learned “regulation infantry drill” in militia armories, while in Montreal members of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada trained the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps in arms drill and physical conditioning.

The women wanted to be taken seriously. This was a “total war”, they argued, demanding a total effort by all Canadians. Up to the summer of 1941, they lobbied Ottawa repeatedly to form official women’s auxiliary services for the armed forces, correctly claiming that their members would make excellent recruits. Joan Kennedy, patriotic and energetic, was the driving force behind this groundswell of demands by Canadian women to serve their country. The important place of women in all three British armed services helped fuel their insistence. Britain’s example should have convinced the men directing the Canadian war effort of the value of women’s military service, but old attitudes die hard. The images of ‘women as warriors’ did not fit most mid-century gender stereotypes. What would happen to the family unit, asked skeptics, if both men and women were off serving their country? Industrialization had already drawn thousands of women into the paid labor force since the turn of the century and the war attracted hundreds of thousands more. Their skill and professionalism changed some minds, but the military establishment would prove a particularly tough nut to crack.

A diminishing supply of male labor and two years of Allied defeats helped force the issue, but it was mainly concern about the tightening supply of manpower for the rapidly expanding Canadian forces which overcame any lingering doubts in Ottawa regarding women’s military service. Women could replace men in non-combat duty, thereby freeing soldiers for service at the front. On 13 August 1941, the government authorized the formation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) to enlist several thousand women in support roles for the armed forces. Segregation by gender remained overt: the Corps was not formally part of the army nor subject to military discipline. Even rank designations and insignias did not follow army practice. Still, it was a step forward. Women trained as drivers, cooks, clerks, typists, stenographers, telephone operators, messengers, and quartermasters. Many had gained useful experience with one of the unofficial women’s paramilitary organizations formed between 1938 and 1941.

Poster: Canadian Women's Army Corps
(The Canadian Encyclopedia)

* 1521 Aztec capital falls to Cortés.

After a three-month siege, Spanish forces under Hernán Cortés capture Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire. Cortés’ men leveled the city and captured Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec emperor.

Tenochtitlán was founded in 1325 A.D. by a wandering tribe of hunters and gatherers on islands in Lake Texcoco, near the present site of Mexico City. In only one century, this civilization grew into the Aztec empire, largely because of its advanced system of agriculture. The empire came to dominate central Mexico and by the ascendance of Montezuma II in 1502 had reached its greatest extent, extending as far south as perhaps modern-day Nicaragua. At the time, the empire was held together primarily by Aztec military strength, and Montezuma II set about establishing a bureaucracy, creating provinces that would pay tribute to the imperial capital of Tenochtitlán. The conquered peoples resented the Aztec demands for tribute and victims for the religious sacrifices, but the Aztec military kept rebellion at bay.

Meanwhile, Hernán Cortés, a young Spanish-born noble, came to Hispaniola in the West Indies in 1504. In 1511, he sailed with Diego Velázquez to conquer Cuba and twice was elected mayor of Santiago, the capital of Hispaniola. In 1518, he was appointed captain general of a new Spanish expedition to the American mainland. Velázquez, the governor of Cuba, later rescinded the order, and Cortés sailed without permission. He visited the coast of Yucatán and in March 1519 landed at Tabasco in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche with 500 soldiers, 100 sailors, and 16 horses. There, he won over the local Indians and was given a female slave, Malinche–baptized Marina–who became his mistress and later bore him a son. She knew both Maya and Aztec and served as an interpreter. The expedition then proceeded up the Mexican coast, where Cortés founded Veracruz, mainly for the purpose of having himself elected captain general by the colony, thus shaking off the authority of Velázquez and making him responsible only to King Charles V of Spain.

At Veracruz, Cortés trained his army and then burned his ships to ensure loyalty to his plans for conquest. Having learned of political strife in the Aztec empire, Cortés led his force into the Mexican interior. On the way to Tenochtitlán, he clashed with local Indians, but many of these people, including the nation of Tlaxcala, became his allies after learning of his plan to conquer their hated Aztec rulers. Hearing of the approach of Cortés, with his frightful horses and sophisticated weapons, Montezuma II tried to buy him off, but Cortés would not be dissuaded. On November 8, 1519, the Spaniards and their 1,000 Tlaxcaltec warriors were allowed to enter Tenochtitlán unopposed.

Montezuma suspected them to be divine envoys of the god Quetzalcoatl, who was prophesied to return from the east in a “One Reed” year, which was 1519 on the Aztec calendar. The Spaniards were greeted with great honor, and Cortés seized the opportunity, taking Montezuma hostage so that he might govern the empire through him. His mistress, Marina, was a great help in this endeavor and succeeded in convincing Montezuma to cooperate fully.

In the spring of 1520, Cortés learned of the arrival of a Spanish force from Cuba, led by Pánfilo Narvaez and sent by Velázquez to deprive Cortés of his command. Cortés led his army out of Tenochtitlán to meet them, leaving behind a garrison of 80 Spaniards and a few hundred Tlaxcaltecs to govern the city. Cortés defeated Narvaez and enlisted Narvaez’ army into his own. When he returned to Tenochtitlán in June, he found the garrison under siege from the Aztecs, who had rebelled after the subordinate whom Cortés left in command of the city massacred several Aztec chiefs and the population on the brink of revolt. On June 30, under pressure and lacking food, Cortés and his men fought their way out of the capital at a heavy cost. Known to the Spanish as La Noche Triste, or “the Night of Sadness,” many soldiers drowned in Lake Texcoco when the vessel carrying them and Aztec treasures hoarded by Cortés sank. Montezuma was killed in the fighting–in Aztec reports by the Spaniards, and in Spanish reports by an Aztec mob bitter at Montezuma’s subservience to Spanish rule. He was succeeded as emperor by his brother, Cuitláhuac.

During the Spaniards’ retreat, they defeated a large Aztec army at Otumba and then rejoined their Tlaxcaltec allies. In May 1521, Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán, and after a three-month siege, the city fell. This victory marked the fall of the Aztec empire. Cuauhtámoc, Cuitláhuac’s successor as emperor, was taken prisoner and later executed, and Cortés became the ruler of a vast Mexican empire.

Painting: final conquest of Tenochtitlan
The final conquest of Tenochtitlan (slideshare.net)

* 1952 “Hound Dog” is recorded for the first time by Big Mama Thornton.

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” (1956) is one of the biggest and most instantly recognizable pop songs in history. It’s a song so closely associated with the King of Rock and Roll, in fact, that many may mistakenly assume that it was a Presley original. In fact, the story of the song that gave Elvis his longest-running #1 hit (11 weeks) in the summer of 1956 began four years earlier, when “Hound Dog” was recorded for the very first time by the rhythm-and-blues singer Ellie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in Los Angeles, California.

Big Mama Thornton was a native of Montgomery, Alabama, who came of age on the R&B circuit in the 1940s after starting her professional career in 1941 at the age of 14. In 1951, she signed her first record contract with Peacock Records and was soon paired with another of its artists, bandleader Johnny Otis, who brought Thornton out to join his band in California. It was there, in late 1952, that Otis asked two young songwriters on the Los Angeles music scene if they would write something especially for Thornton. Those songwriters were Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who would go on to have an enormous impact on R&B and early rock and roll through their work with groups like the Coasters and the Drifters. But hits like “Yakkity Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” “Stand By Me,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Potion No. 9″ were still ahead of Lieber and Stoller when they did what Otis asked and came back to him with a 12-bar country blues tune called “Hound Dog.”

On this day in 1953, Big Mama Thornton and the Johnny Otis Band recorded “Hound Dog” and turned it into a smash hit on the R&B charts, where it stayed at #1 for seven weeks. It wasn’t Thornton’s recording, however, that inspired Elvis to record “Hound Dog” three years later. Presley’s inspiration came from a rewrite by a singer named Freddie Bell, who changed the original lyrics to include the now-familiar “Cryin’ all the time” and “You ain’t never caught a rabbit.” During his first Las Vegas engagement in the spring of 1956, Elvis Presley heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys performing the reworked “Hound Dog” and added it to his repertoire almost immediately.

Big Mama Thornton CD : Hound Dog - The Peacock Recordings - Bear Family Records
Big Mama Thornton CD: Hound Dog – The Peacock Recordings – (Bear Family Records)

* 1931 Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman is born.

William Goldman is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He came to prominence in the 1950s as a novelist, before turning to writing for film. He has won two Academy Awards for his screenplays, first for the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and again for All the President’s Men (1976), about journalists who broke the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon. Both films starred Robert Redford.

His other notable works include his thriller novel Marathon Man and the comedy-fantasy novel The Princess Bride, both of which Goldman adapted for film.

Author Sean Egan has described Goldman as “one of the late twentieth century’s most popular storytellers.”

Head shot of William Goldman
(Alchetron)

* 1860 Annie Oakley is born.

Annie Oakley, one of the greatest female sharpshooters in American history, is born in Patterson Township, Ohio.

Born Phoebe Ann Oakley Moses, Oakley demonstrated an uncanny gift for marksmanship at an early age. “I was eight years old when I made my first shot,” she later recalled, “and I still consider it one of the best shots I ever made.” After spotting a squirrel on the fence in her front yard, the young Oakley took a loaded rifle from the house. She steadied the gun on a porch rail, and shot the squirrel through the head, skillfully preserving the meat for the stew pot.

After that, Oakley’s honed her sharpshooting talents. She was never a stereotypical Wild West woman who adopted the dress and ways of men. To the contrary, Oakley prided herself on her feminine appearance and skills. She embroidered nearly as well as she shot, liked to read the Bible in the evenings, and favored gingham dresses and demure sunbonnets.

In 1876, a Cincinnati hotelkeeper that heard of Oakley’s marksmanship set up a Thanksgiving Day shooting match between Oakley and a traveling exhibition sharpshooter named Frank Butler. Annie managed to outshoot the professional by one clay pigeon. Oakley’s skills and attractive appearance impressed Butler, and he continued to correspond with the young woman while he traveled. By June, the couple had married, and Oakley joined her husband’s act as “Annie Oakley” the “peerless wing and rifle shot.”

In 1885, the couple joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and Oakley soon became one of the most popular acts. A typical show consisted of Oakley shooting a cigarette out of her husband’s mouth or a dime from his fingers. She also did backward trick shots where she sighted her target only with a mirror. Her ability to shoot holes through playing cards led Americans of the day to refer to any free ticket to an event as an “Annie Oakley,” a reference to the holes that were often punched in the ticket for validation. When the great Sioux war chief Sitting Bull briefly traveled with the show, he grew fond of Oakley and gave her the nickname Watanya Cicilia—Little Sure Shot.

Oakley stayed with the traveling show for more than 15 years, giving performances around the world. In 1901, a head-on collision with a freight train injured Oakley’s back. She returned to performing after a year of rest and toured with several shows for the next decade. In 1913, Oakley and Butler retired, though they continued to give occasional demonstrations for good causes.

In 1921, a devastating auto accident permanently crippled Oakley. She and Butler moved to Greenville, Ohio, her home county, and she lived the remaining years of her life in the quiet countryside. She died there in 1926 at the age of 66.

US rodeo star Annie Oakley (1860 - 1926) the highly skilled trick shooter
US rodeo star Annie Oakley (1860 – 1926) the highly skilled trick shooter (Getty Images)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* Canadian War Museum                                             http://www.warmuseum.ca/learn/dispatches/the-canadian-womens-army-corps-1941-1946/#tabs

* Wikipedia                                                           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Goldman

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

15 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… August 13th”

  1. Fascinating blog posts, John. I didn’t know that Annie Oakley was in an accident and suffered as she did. I also did not know about “Big Mama” Thornton. I will try to find her on YouTube – thank you! I suspect she was pleased that Elvis immortalized her song. 🙂 Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought at first that it was going to be a women’s day – what with the Canadian Women’s corps, Annie Oakley and Big Mama Thornton. But The Spanish conquistadors weren’t women were they? And William Goldman was male. I love Big Mama – she was great. I have a few CDs of her. Also Rufus Thomas who recorded Bear Cat – a musical reply to Hound Dog.

    Liked by 1 person

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