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You may be familiar with an experiment involving five monkeys in a cage, a bunch of bananas on a string, and a ladder. The story has been around for many years.

Sometimes, it’s presented as a scientific study that actually happened (apparently not true). More often, it’s used as an allegory — a parable, fable, cautionary tale, or whatever — that equates the behavior of monkeys to that of people.

The point is to illustrate the absurdity and the dangers of passive thinking. Of mindlessly following the herd.

First the story, then we can discuss.

———

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, suspend a bunch of bananas on a string, out of reach. Place a ladder under the bananas. Before long, one of the monkeys will try to climb the ladder to reach the bananas.

As soon as he touches the ladder, spray the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, a second monkey will make the same attempt. Again, spray all the other monkeys with cold water.

Soon, when any monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys will act together to forcefully prevent it.

At this point, stop using cold water to punish the monkeys.

Remove one monkey from the cage, and replace it with a new monkey. The newcomer will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. To his surprise, the other monkeys will attack him.

After another attempt and another attack, he understands that if he tries to climb the ladder, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove a second of the original five monkeys, and replace it with a new one. Newcomer #2 will try to use the ladder to get the bananas and will be attacked. Note that Newcomer #1 will participate in the group attack.

Replace another of the original five monkeys with a new one. Newcomer #3 will try to get the bananas and also will be attacked.

At this point, two of the four attacking monkeys have been sprayed with cold water, but the other two have not; newcomers #1 and #2 have no idea why they aren’t permitted to climb the ladder and no idea why the group attacks Newcomer #3.

Continue this process and replace the fourth and fifth original monkeys. Now all five monkeys in the cage are newcomers and were never sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey will approach the ladder. Why not?

Because, as far as they know, things always have been done that way.

———

This story is especially interesting because of it’s similarity to the beliefs of behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner made the controversial claim that “free will” does not exist. He said people inevitably act and react based on previous experience — based on whether a previous action had good or bad consequences.

Skinner believed this opens the door to controlling group behavior, which he called “cultural engineering.” He saw this as a good thing, a means of creating a benevolent utopian society.

Maybe so, but the concept also has ominous Big Brother and 1984 overtones.

Personally, I’m a big fan of critical thinking. Objective analysis. A rational evaluation of the facts. In short, the scientific method.

That approach works pretty well everywhere, not just in the realm of science. For example, in the Marine Corps, in addition to the official motto “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful), many units have adopted the unofficial mantra “Improvise, Adapt. Overcome.”

Excellent advice. But probably not in the lexicon of the average monkey.

Five monkeys

 

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Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919), the son of socialite parents, was a fascinating and influential figure in American history. At various times, he was a working cowboy, Rough Rider, scholar of naval history, writer, conservationist, and politician. He served as the 33rd Governor of New York, the 25th Vice President, and the 26th President.

Roosevelt was an exuberant personality with a spirited joie de vivre. His public image (and self-image) was that of a robust, manly man. I’ve written about him several times on this blog, to wit “Teddy and Edwin,” “Princess Alice,” and “To Mar the Wonderful Grandeur.”

When Roosevelt and his family moved into the White House in 1901, they proved to be, no surprise, a colorful and entertaining bunch. Teddy was Teddy, and the six Roosevelt children (Quentin, Archie, Ethel, Kermit, Ted Jr., and Alice, ranging in age from four to 17) were pampered and high-spirited.

The Roosevelts, all of them, were ardent animal lovers. During Teddy’s eight years in office, a wide range of pets, livestock, and exotic creatures resided in and around the White House.

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Teddy and friends.

Among the family dogs were Manchu, a Pekingese; Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; Pete, most likely a Bull Terrier; Rollo, a 200-pound Saint Bernard; Skip, a Rat Terrier mix; and Jack, a Manchester Terrier.

Stabled on the White House grounds were 10 horses (Bleistein, Grey Dawn, Jocko Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, General, Judge, and Yagenka) and two ponies for the children (Algonquin and General Grant).

Other family pets: five guinea pigs (Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady); Eli Yale, a blue macaw; Loretta the parrot; and two cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.

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Quentin and Slippers.

Alice, the oldest child, had a pet snake named Emily Spinach. She explained that it was as green as spinach and as thin as her Aunt Emily.

Also part of the Roosevelt menagerie: Jonathan, a piebald rat; two kangaroo rats; a flying squirrel; a barn owl; two parrots; a raccoon; a coyote; a zebra; a wildcat; five bears; Joe the lion; and Bill the hyena.

Also, Maude, a white pig; Peter the rabbit; Bill the lizard; Baron Spreckle, a hen; and a one-legged rooster whose name I couldn’t ferret out.

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Manchu was a black Pekingese, a gift to Alice from the Empress of China. Alice relished the dramatic, and she claimed she once saw Manchu dancing on his hind legs on the White House lawn in the moonlight.

Teddy wrote that one of his favorite dogs, Sailor Boy, “had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty.” He said the dog always broke up fights among the other dogs and “himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it.”

In 1907, the President wrote to his son Kermit that Pete the Bull Terrier had killed four squirrels. Teddy said it was proof that “the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow.”

In time, Pete acquired the unfortunate habit of biting people. His victims included a naval officer, a policeman, and a cabinet minister. At first, Teddy said it was “the nature of the breed,” and he resisted getting rid of Pete.

But Pete sealed his own fate when he attacked the French Ambassador. Reportedly, Pete chased the Ambassador down a White House corridor, caught him, and tore the bottom out of his pants.

The French government filed a formal complaint; Pete was exiled to the family’s Long Island estate.

Teddy bragged that Jack the Manchester Terrier “was human in his intelligence and affection; he learned all kinds of tricks and was a high-bred gentleman.” Jack also was known to gnaw on books, and he was afraid of the female cat, Tom Quartz.

When Jack died, he was buried on the White House grounds. But the First Lady soon had second thoughts. She said she didn’t want to leave Jack behind “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Accordingly, when the Roosevelts left Washington in 1908, Jack’s remains were moved to the family estate on Long Island.

TR-4

Jack the Manchester Terrier.

Algonquin was a Shetland pony belonging to Archie. In 1903, while Archie was in bed recovering from measles, he told his mother he missed Algonquin and wanted to go to the stables to see him. His mother told Archie he was too ill and needed to stay in bed.

While Archie sulked, one of the stable hands suggested to the First Lady that they bring the pony to Archie. With the First Lady’s approval, Algonquin was walked into the White House, onto an elevator, up to the second floor, and down the hall to Archie’s bedroom, where a joyful reunion ensued.

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Archie astride Algonquin.

Eli Yale, a Hyacinth Macaw, was the beloved pet of 14-year-old Ted Jr. The bird was named after Elihu Yale, the British philanthropist and namesake of Yale University. The President wrote, “Eli is the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boilerplate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”

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Ted Jr. and Eli Yale.

Archie had a pet badger named Josiah that was said to be friendly, but occasionally short-tempered. Once, when Teddy saw Archie carrying Josiah in his arms, he warned his son that the badger might bite his face.

Archie replied, “He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces.”

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Archie and Josiah.

Most of the exotic and wild animals were gifts from world leaders. Bill the hyena, for example, was presented to Roosevelt in 1904 by the Emperor of Ethiopia.

According to White House archives, Teddy was reluctant to accept the animal, being of the opinion that hyenas are cowardly creatures.

But he relented, and soon, Bill was allowed inside the White House, where he was known to beg for scraps at the dinner table.

Joe the lion, also a gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia, never set a paw on the White House grounds. Like the zebra, the wildcat, and others, Joe was taken on arrival to the National Zoo.

For reasons I couldn’t determine, Bill the hyena eventually joined him there.

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The Roosevelt family. Left to right: Quentin, Teddy, Ted Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

 

 

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The Questions…

1. The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense, has 284 restrooms, twice as many as the occupant level requires. Why is that?

2. What American president financed his first run for public office with poker winnings?

3. Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. How many?

4. In 1865, Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of President Abraham Lincoln, fell from a platform in a busy New Jersey train station into the path of an oncoming train. Who stepped forward from the crowd and pulled young Lincoln to safety?

5. Rodney Dangerfield, the “I don’t get no respect” comedian, died in 2004 and is buried in Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles. What epitaph is inscribed on his tombstone?

The Answers…

1. When the Pentagon was under construction in 1943, Virginia insisted that it have racially segregated restrooms in accordance with state law. To avoid a hassle, the feds complied and built extra restrooms. But they never posted white and colored signs, thus leaving the facilities open to both black and white employees. Touché.

2. Richard Nixon. He was a skillful poker player while an ensign in the Navy, and he used $5,000 of his winnings to finance his successful run for Congress in 1946.

3. Nobody knows exactly, but at least three million.

4. The well-known actor Edwin Booth. A few months later, Booth’s brother John assassinated President Lincoln.

5. “…There goes the neighborhood.”

Pentagon

Dangerfield

 

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Useless Facts

— In 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, he instructed the men to be on the lookout for woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths. In Jefferson’s day, extinction was a fuzzy concept.

— The television network C-SPAN was created in 1979 by the cable TV industry as a public service. C-SPAN is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

— Eric Clapton is the only musician elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. He was inducted in 1992 as a member of The Yardbirds, in 1993 as a member of Cream, and in 2000 as a solo performer.

— The resting heart rate of a hummingbird is about 250 beats per minute. (In adult humans, the rate is 75-80 beats per minute.) When a hummingbird is in flight, the rate can increase to 1,200 beats per minute.

Hummingbird wings do not flap. They rotate in a full circle, at up to 70 rotations per second.

Hummingbird

The French equivalent of the acronym “LOL” (laughing out loud) is “MDR,” which means “mort de rire” (dying of laughter).

— The British Museum in London, usually considered the largest and most comprehensive in the world, houses a vast collection that documents the entirety of human culture. Over 230 million objects are preserved by the institution, and its website hosts the world’s largest online museum database.

— In 1957, two business partners in New Jersey tried to develop a new type of wallpaper by sealing two shower curtains together. The idea proved impractical, but the material they created was ideal for protecting products in shipment. Their company still manufactures a wide range of Bubble Wrap® products today.

— The first known e-commerce transaction, in which an online buyer used a credit card protected by encryption technology, occurred on August 11, 1994. On that date, the website NetMarket, operated by a 21-year-old entrepreneur from New Hampshire, sold a Sting CD to a buyer in Philadelphia for $12.48 plus shipping.

Sting CD

— Between 1964 and 1966, The Beatles visited the U.S. four times and performed 56 live concerts. At each concert, the band’s legal contract stipulated that they would not perform before a racially segregated audience.

— Sixteen percent of the population suffers from trypophobia, the fear of clusters of irregular holes, such as those found in sponges and honeycombs.

— The record for the world’s tallest known man is held by Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) of Alton, Illinois. His height was verified as 8 feet, 11.1 inches. The title of the world’s tallest known woman is held by Zeng Jinlian (1964-1982) of Hunan, China. She was 8 feet, 1.75 inches tall.

— The scarlet jellyfish, a small species found in the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, has the unique ability to rejuvenate itself rather than die. When old, sick, or stressed, it can revert to its polyp stage and basically start its life over. Theoretically, this process can go on indefinitely, making the animal biologically immortal. In nature, however, they eventually succumb to disease or predation.

Scarlet jellyfish

 

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The Number Seven

The number seven has juice like no other number. For thousands of years, civilizations have empowered seven with a special mystique and significance. Just look around…

— The week has seven days.

— The Earth has seven continents. (Not really, but it sounds good.)

138-world-continents-bathymetry-political-vm-wkworld-c8-1

— God created the world and rested on the seventh day.

— The Koran and the Talmud both speak of seven heavens.

— Hinduism describes the existence of seven “upper worlds” out of 14.

— Hell, according to the Jain religion of ancient India, consists of seven levels.

— The Japanese are protected by the Seven Gods of Fortune.

— Christianity teaches of the Seven Deadly Sins. Dante listed them as avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

— Catholicism tells of the Seven Heavenly Virtues — justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance, faith, hope, and charity.

— The Japanese code of Bushido sets down the Seven Virtues of a Samurai warrior.

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— In some parts of the world, the seventh son of a seventh son is said to have supernatural powers.

— Spouses, beware of the seven-year itch.

Want more?

— We define a rainbow as having seven colors (red orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).

— The earth has seven major oceans — aka the “Seven Seas” — the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic.

— We celebrate not the five, not the 10, but the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — specifically, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

— Shakespeare described the Seven Ages of Man (helpless infant, whining schoolboy, emotional lover, devoted soldier, wise judge, on the decline, and incapacitated).

— The seven visible stars in the constellation Taurus, known as the Seven Sisters, are named for the seven daughters of Atlas from Greek mythology (Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope, and Taygete).

— In the world of gambling, seven is the big kahuna. Score triple sevens on a slot machine and reap the big payout.

— Dice are six-sided, with opposing sides of one and six, two and five, and three and four. In each case, a total of seven.

Seven’s legacy dates back to the dawn of civilization, and it remains on a roll today.

— In Rogers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapp family had seven children: Brigitta, Friedrich, Gretyl, Kurt, Liesel, Louisa, and Marta.

Seven-3

The 1954 movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers could have been about any number of brothers and brides, but seven it was.

Also in 1954, the acclaimed Japanese film “Shichinin No Samurai” (Seven Samurai) celebrated the gallant warriors Kambei, Gorōbei, Shichirōji, Kyūzō, Heihachi, Katsushirō, and Kikuchiyo.

— In 1960, the same story became an American western, “The Magnificent Seven.” This time, the warriors were gunslingers Chris, Vin, Bernardo, Britt, Harry, Lee, and Chico.

— The Brothers Grimm published the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1812. The Disney cartoon version in 1937 popularized them as Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy.

— Between 1940 and 1962, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made seven “Road to” movies. The seven destinations: Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and Hong Kong.

So, what’s going on with the number seven? Why the attraction to that number above others? The experts have some thoughts about that.

First, of course, we are conditioned to see seven as special because of its long history of being linked to the mystical, the spiritual, and the superstitious. No surprise there.

Second, seven is unique in actual fact. It’s a prime number. It can’t be divided neatly into smaller parts. It has two syllables, whereas all the other single-digit numbers have one. And it sounds good. “Six Brides for Six Brothers?” The Eight Dwarfs? Puh-leeze.

Third, there is scientific evidence that we are naturally attracted to the number seven because of the way our brains function.

In 1956, psychologist George Miller argued that our short-term memories seem to function best when handling between five and nine — ideally, seven — chunks of information.

That theory was bolstered in 2008 by a study of neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory specialist. The study found that the neurons appear to function best when their dendrites have seven branches.

(I looked it up. Dendrites are spiny little extensions on nerve cells. The job of the dendrites is to transmit information via chemical synapse. Seven spines per dendrite is thought to be the most optimal for learning and memory.)

So, our brains seem to have a natural affinity for the number seven. The science is, of course, subject to change when new information surfaces, as it assuredly will.

But for the moment, it appears that we gravitate to the number seven because it feels right. And it feels right because it’s ingrained in us — hard-wired in our brains down to the very synapses.

Which probably explains why your lucky number is seven.

Seven-4

 

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The Questions…

1. Candy corn was first marketed in the 1880s under a different name. What was it?

2. How big and how heavy, exactly, are cumulus clouds (the fluffy white ones you see on a pretty day)?

3. The first food eaten in space was squeezed from an aluminum tube by astronaut John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962. It was an experiment to see if humans could swallow and digest food in a weightless environment. What was in the tube?

4. A blacksmith is a craftsman with a general knowledge of forging metal, usually iron and steel. How did the term blacksmith originate?

5. What is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia?

The Answers…

1. “Chicken Feed.” The logo was a rooster, the tag line “Something worth crowing for.”

2. On average, cumulus clouds are roughly half a mile in width, length, and height. The water in the cloud weighs about one million pounds. Or 500 tons. Or 100 elephants.

3. Applesauce.

4. A “smith” is a craftsman skilled in a particular specialty — gunsmith, locksmith, coppersmith — and in the old days, iron was known as “black metal.”

5. That’s the scientific name for an ice-cream headache, aka brain freeze. The literal meaning of the term is pain in the ganglia (nerve cell clusters) in your palate.

Candy corn

Ice cream headache

 

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Merrick and Mitchell

Few places in the country are as spectacular and scenic, or as iconic, as Arizona’s Monument Valley. When people think of the desert southwest, this may be the landscape they envision.

Monument Valley

The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indian hunters, who arrived around 12,000 BC. They were followed by Archaic hunter-gatherers from about 6,000 BC to 1 AD; then by Anasazi farmers through the 1300s; then by Paiutes and Navajos. Today, the place is Navajo country.

As you may know, Monument Valley isn’t a valley, but a plateau. Over the last 50 million years, wind and water have eroded most of the rock, leaving behind the majestic buttes and mesas. In time, they will be gone, too.

Monument Valley came to popular national attention in 1939, when John Ford filmed the movie “Stagecoach” there. Dozens of films have been made in the valley since.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Monument Valley is a tale worthy of a Hollywood western: the story of James Merrick and Ernest Mitchell, two ill-fated fortune-hunters of the post-Civil-War years.

———

Many of the early Spanish explorers visited the Four Corners region, often clashing with the Navajo and Paiutes, but no expedition reported seeing Monument Valley. Apparently, the first outsiders to find it were Mexican soldiers in 1822.

For the most part, white settlers dismissed the place as ugly and useless. In 1849, one year after the Mexican-American War, an Army captain mapping the area called it “as desolate and repulsive looking a country as can be imagined.”

By 1863, as European expansion was accelerating and the pesky natives were in the way, Army Col. Kit Carson and his men were detailed to round up and relocate the Navajo people — the Diné — en masse. The soldiers marched the captives in small groups 350 miles south to the compound of Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

In all, about 9,000 Navajo made the “Long Walk.” At least 200 died on the way.

The internment camps at Bosque Redondo were a disaster. Food, water, and supplies were inadequate, and most of the crops became diseased and failed. The overseers were inept and corrupt. The relocation was costing the U.S. government unexpected millions.

That was unacceptable. The idea was to remove the Navajo to make room for white settlers, not to spend money. Thus, in 1868, to correct the situation, the U.S. relented and signed a treaty with the tribe. A reservation was established on part of their original land, and the Diné set out on the Long Walk home.

When the Army first rounded up the Navajo in 1863, two of the young soldiers serving under Kit Carson were Jack Merrick, a Colorado miner, and Ernest Mitchell, newly-arrived from the east. Merrick and Mitchell became keenly interested in the finely-tooled pendants, bracelets, and other silver jewelry crafted by the Navajo.

Jewelry

Being familiar with the Monument Valley area after months of patrols, they concluded that the silver was being mined locally, not brought in from elsewhere. The Navajo, when pressed for information on the subject, denied that any silver mines existed in the valley.

In the late 1860s, at about the time the Navajo returned to Monument Valley from Bosque Redondo, Merrick and Mitchell mustered out of the Army. They resolved that they would return to the valley someday and find the source of the Navajo silver.

At this point, Historians relate two versions of the story. In one, Merrick went to Monument Valley alone in the late 1870s, discovered a silver lode, and enlisted Mitchell’s help to transport ore samples to the assay office in Colorado.

In the other version, Merrick and Mitchell entered the valley together, carrying the gear of typical fur trappers. While they set lines of traps as a cover, they surreptitiously looked for evidence of mining activity.

In both versions of the story, the men were being watched.

Kit Carson‘s soldiers had apprehended most of the Navajo in the valley, but some resourceful warriors eluded them. That group was led by Hoskaninni, “The Angry One.” When the Navajo returned home from exile in New Mexico, Hoskaninni became their chief.

Hoskaninni soon concluded that Merrick and Mitchell were searching for silver. He went to their camp and ordered them to leave the valley, vowing to kill them if they returned.

As Merrick and Mitchell agonized over their plight -- fearing for their lives, but obsessed with finding silver -- fate intervened. The two men stumbled upon a hidden silver mine with tantalizing amounts of high-quality ore.

With samples in their saddlebags, the two men fled Monument Valley and rode east to Cortez, Colorado.

For the next few months, Merrick and Mitchell traveled around Southwest Colorado with the ore samples, trying to find financial backers. Setting up the mining operation would be costly.

Finally, they succeeded in lining up several investors. But the backers had a condition: they wanted to see a new set of ore samples to confirm the existence of the mine and the quality of the silver.

Merrick and Mitchell had told no one about Hoskaninni's threat, so asking them to return to the valley was a reasonable business request.

In the end, the lure of imminent riches seems to have convinced the two men that the mission was worth the risk.

Cautiously, Merrick and Mitchell returned to the mine and collected more ore samples. There was no sign of Hoskaninni's warriors. According to some accounts, the two men relaxed, concluding that Hoskaninni had not spotted them or perhaps was away from the area.

They were wrong. The following night, as the men rested at the base of a butte, cooking supper over a campfire, Hoskaninni's warriors attacked out of the darkness.

Merrick was shot and killed on the spot. Mitchell was wounded, but managed to escape into the darkness. He fled west across the valley on foot.

Several miles later, at the base of a large butte, he found a crevice formed where a large slab of rock had fallen. He hid inside.

When he emerged at daybreak, Hoskaninni's men were waiting. Mitchell was killed.

Weeks later, word of the deaths reached Cortez. A posse of 20 men rode to Monument Valley and confronted Hoskaninni.

The chief claimed that Merrick and Mitchell had been killed by a band of Paiutes, led by a renegade called No-Neck, when the men were caught stealing water. Graciously, the Navajo had buried the bodies. Members of the posse were shown the burial sites. Hoskaninni said the Navajo knew of no silver mines in Monument Valley.

The members of the posse believed otherwise, and some wanted to search for the mine themselves, but the Diné outnumbered them. They returned to Cortez.

---------

The present-day Navajo admit that silver mines, do, in fact, exist in Monument Valley. But they explain that, by tradition, only a few select tribal leaders at a time knew their locations. Unfortunately, some decades ago, the last chief who held the secret died before relaying the information to his successor. Thus, the locations of the mines are now unknown. A complete mystery. Yep.

Today, the butte in Monument Valley where Merrick and Mitchell cooked their last meal, and where Jack Merrick went to his reward, is known as Merrick Butte.

A few miles away, the landform that towers over the grave of Ernest Mitchell is called Mitchell Butte.

Those are the Anglo names. I assume the Diné call them something else.

Merrick Butte

Merrick Butte.

Mitchell Butte

Mitchell Butte.

Monument Valley map

 

 

 

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