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A pup named Vicksburg ‘passed this way’ in Australia



Vicksburg's monument in Australia. (Photo courtesy Gordon Cotton)

The monument is much like any other. It is white marble with a rounded top, standing several feet high and on a broad base. Attached to it is a brass plaque with an epitaph.

The tombstone is in a park-like area near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia on the country’s East Coast.

Nearby is another monument honoring American troops who were stationed there in World War II at Camp Gable. A plaque simply states, “They passed this way.”

The tombstone is for a sergeant in A Battery, 120th Field Artillery, 32nd Division, U.S. Army. He wasn’t your ordinary soldier — he was a little mongrel mascot named Vicksburg.

The strange story of the love of a dog and the men of the unit was told by Robert J. Doyle who wrote the account for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio and was first published Nov. 4, 1942. It was printed again in a book of funeral stories, “Just Passing Through,” which Charles Riles and I wrote in 2010.

I’m reprinting this story just as Doyle wrote it almost 80 years ago.

Somewhere in Australia, October 13 – (Delayed)

Vicksburg’s remarkable career in the United States Army began one midnight in Vicksburg, Miss. The bedraggled mongrel pup was sniffing hungrily at the door of a little restaurant when a young soldier came by on his way to the schoolhouse that was to be his barracks for the night.

“He looked pretty well beaten up,” recalled Sgt. Leo Outcelt of LaCrosse, Wis., as he put down his rifle and helmet in front of an artillery battery tent at a training camp here Oct. 13. Outcelt and several other soldiers glanced at a little mound roped off in the center of the battery area. It was decorated with green branches over the fresh dirt.

Outcelt, 23, was the soldier who picked up the pup in Vicksburg. He named it after the city, and that night the dog slept on the foot of Outcelt’s cot. The next morning Vicksburg rode in an army truck as his new master headed for camp.

“I guess he was part terrier, part dachshund and part Scotty,” said Sgt. Luther Paulson, 25, of LaCrosse. “He had long hair – brown, black and gray. He had a long body, but a pretty head.” Vicksburg soon had the run of the camp. He had the required shot for rabies, and Outcelt got a special permit from the provost marshal to keep him. For a few weeks Vicksburg slept only on Outcelt’s cot, but he soon came to know all the soldiers in the battery and divided his devotion, showing an understanding fondness for the group that operated the kitchen. Vicksburg quickly learned the battery “chow” call and usually was the first to the mess hall.

The soldiers made Vicksburg a jacket with sergeant’s chevrons on the shoulders. His rank was unofficial, but at regimental reviews Sgt. Vicksburg trotted proudly ahead of the battery.

Many times, Vicksburg’s life with the Army was threatened by an official order, but he always managed to pop up somehow. Take the time the battery packed up and left camp for good. There was a long train ride to the port of embarkation. As the battery boarded the train, Vicksburg twice was ordered off. Two days and several hundred miles later, the officer acting as trainmaster found Vicksburg in Outcelt’s compartment. The officer insisted on putting the dog off at the next stop but Outcelt pleaded.

“I said that they might as well let him stay on, as long as he had come that far,” Outcelt said. And Vicksburg stayed on.

But there was to be no monkey business when it came to boarding the ship for the long trip to Australia. There seems to be some question about how it happened, but it is possible that someone glanced the other way when a soldier came up the gangplank carrying on his shoulder a denim barracks bag that bounced a bit more than usual.

The day the men disembarked in Australia, Vicksburg was off the ship and in an army truck before you could say, “How did that dog get here?” but there was no chance for him at the camp in Australia. The ultimatum left no room for argument.

About a mile from the Australian camp a farmer’s wife listened sympathetically to the soldiers from the battery. So Vicksburg was tied in a farm yard, a very unhappy soldier. His rope held until the bugle sounded the next morning. A few minutes later he bounded into Outcelt’s tent, just too late to howl with the bugle. Outcelt hustled the dog back to the farm, but the same thing happened the next two mornings. Once Vicksburg arrived dragging a broken chain.

“Then they tied him to a big dog owned by the farmer,” Outcelt said. “The big dog wouldn’t leave the farmyard, so Vicksburg had to stay. We used to get over to see him often.

“Every pay day we passed a helmet in the battery. Every man dropped in some Australian Dins and every month we gave the woman at the farm $12 to $16.”

When the battery moved to the present training camp, part of the trip was by train. Vicksburg rode some of the time on a truck or a railroad car and part of the time in a locomotive cab. He had a way of getting where things were going on. Then, on Oct. 8, Vicksburg was killed. It happened while the men were building a road. Vicksburg got in the way of a falling tree. He was buried on the spot, but two days later his body was removed for a military burial, where trails cross in the battery area.

The battery turned out for the funeral Oct. 10. The soldiers asked Chaplain Austin Henry of Milwaukee to take charge. Chaplain Henry, a major, talked about loyalty, using Vicksburg’s life for his text.

The soldiers watched silently as four pallbearers picked up the rifle box that was Vicksburg’s casket and carried it to the grave. Four men raised their rifles and fired a salute.

While the rifle box was lowered, the battery bugler sounded taps. And every soldier missed the note of Sgt. Vicksburg’s howl.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.


Zachary Taylor: Mississippi’s unclaimed president



Portrait of Zachary Taylor by James Lambdin (public domain)

He was born in Virginia, grew up in Kentucky, and lived in many parts of the country, but when Zachary Taylor was elected president of the United States in 1848, he was a resident of Mississippi, living in Cypress Grove, his plantation south of Rodney in Jefferson County.

Taylor bought the plantation, just shy of 2,000 acres bordering the Mississippi River, in 1842 for $95,000 (about $3 million in today’s dollars) — $60,000 in cash and the rest in notes. The sale included a home, farm buildings and 81 slaves.

A sketch of the place in 1849 in Graham’s Magazine showed the house was a relatively simple farm dwelling, not at all palatial, for “Old Rough and Ready,” as Taylor was called, and his wife Margaret were not at all pretentious.

Taylor had owned the place a little more than a year when he began to seriously doubt the wisdom of his purchase. The flooding river was a problem, and the plantation was not as financially profitable as he had expected.

The last time Taylor saw Cypress Grove was in the pre-dawn hours of the last day in January 1849, the day he left for his inauguration as president (inaugurations then were held in March). He was aroused from a deep sleep by a blast of a steamboat whistle from the landing a few hundred yards from the house, and the old general, his wife, and the official escorting party sleepily walked down to the river, boarded the boat and went to the staterooms to finish their interrupted sleep.

It was midmorning when a ruckus on deck aroused the Taylors. The president elect eventually emerged from his room to discover he was on the wrong boat. He was to have ridden the elegant Tennessee but instead was a passenger on the less-luxurious Saladin.

It was really no accident. Capt. Tom Coleman of the Saladin, a friend — possibly a relative — of the Taylors had wanted the privilege of transporting Taylor to Washington, but Whig party officials had decided otherwise. That’s when the 24-year-old captain took matters into his own hands and docked at Cypress Grove.

The first member of Taylor’s escorting party to discover the ruse had accused Coleman of kidnapping Gen. Taylor. Coleman insisted he had done no such thing. He said Taylor had boarded the Saladin of his own free will, was uninvited, but Coleman would certainly not be so rude as to put the future president off the boat. If he wanted off, he would have to say so.

Gen. Taylor looked quite solemn when he confronted Coleman. He walked over to him, shaking his finger in his face “Tom, you scamp. What do you mean by getting me into this?” Taylor asked. And then he turned to the escorting committee: “Gentlemen, I reckon about all we can do now is take a drink.”

The Saladin brought Taylor on to Vicksburg where he made his first official stop for a reception on Court Square, where the Old Court House now stands. When he left Vicksburg after midnight, the Tennessee had still not caught up with him.

Not only was Taylor on the wrong boat, but he almost missed the boat entirely as far as the presidency was concerned, all because of a postage-due letter. When Whig Party supporters tendered the nomination, their letter arrived via steamboat, as was the custom of the day, and 10 cents postage was due. Taylor simply refused to accept the letter or pay the dime, so the captain paid it and Taylor eventually gave the OK.

He got the nomination without trying, even after having said “I do not care a fig about the office” and declaring he wouldn’t be interested even if he had no opposition. But, after edging out Winfield “Old Fuss and Feathers” Scott and Henry Clay at the convention (which he did not attend) he went on to defeat the Democrat, Lewis Cass, without campaigning. He was an ideal candidate — a national hero following the war with Mexico. He had no known political opinions, thus no political enemies. He had never voted. The Whigs needed a winner, and that man was Zachary Taylor. He didn’t look presidential, but his vice president, Millard Fillmore, did.

Though Washington, D.C., was far from Cypress Grove, when a young lady from England was making a tour of the country, collecting material for a book, Taylor insisted she visit his Jefferson County plantation. She arrived there Dec. 18, 1850, some six months after the president’s untimely death. She wrote that she was made comfortable before a blazing fire in the “primitive, though comfortable drawing room” until Richard Taylor, the president’s son, arrived from supervising the construction of a new steam sawmill.

The slaves were summoned to come to the house to greet the English visitor, and in less than 10 minutes they were there, the women wearing neat white dresses and woolen shawls and the men in flannel.

Taylor gave them some tobacco and then explained the operation of the plantation. Each day the slaves were furnished milk, bread, vegetables and meat, and on Sundays they were given coffee and butter and the ingredients to make pastries. The journalist later visited the quarters and met some of the children. She left the next day.

Though Zachary Taylor was to never return to Cypress Grove, he remained a legend on the plantation for many years. When explorer Willard Glazier canoed the Mississippi in 1881 and visited the place, he wrote that he listened to stories of “Old Zach” related with enthusiasm by former slaves.

Eventually Zachary Taylor’s descendants sold the plantation and little remains as he knew it. The diesel drone of a fleet of tractors has replaced the chant of those who once worked the seemingly endless fields. The house where they lived and Buena Vista Church where they worshiped — gone — yet their cemetery remains in an oasis of trees amid the freshly plowed cotton rows. Bits of broken glass designate the site of the big house, and from a river towhead several miles away comes the sound of a boat whistle, for the river that once flowed a few hundred yards in front of the house has moved.

Maps no longer carry the plantation name (which was changed to Buena Vista). Only Taylor Bayou and Zachary Taylor Light on the river hint at the importance of the place in history. When I visited there several years ago, workers on the plantation were unaware that it was once the home of a president.

“Zachary Taylor — wasn’t he president or something?” I was asked.

“Old Zach” is no longer a legend at Cypress Grove and remains unclaimed in Mississippi history.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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A piece of Vicksburg history is officially no more



The former WQBC studio, (photo by Thomas Parker)

WQBC radio was believed to be the oldest radio station in the state of Mississippi. Operating on AM frequency 1420, the call letters were reportedly for the words “We Quote Better Cotton” from radio’s heyday when farm market prices were a staple of daily programming.

The station dates back to 1928 when it was first licensed to Utica. In 1931 the station was purchased by the Cashman family and moved to Vicksburg. FCC rules against cross ownership with a newspaper forced the family to sell the station.

Notable alumni include world renowned blues musician Willie Dixon, Adrian Cronauer, who was the inspiration for the movie “Good Morning Vietnam,” and Woodie Assaf, who cut his teeth in radio before becoming the nation’s longest serving weather man on WLBT.

On Sept. 28, 2020, the last owners, COSTAR Broadcasting, surrendered the license to the Federal Communications Commission.  

The station last operated from a studio and tower location on Porter’s Chapel Road. Those facilities have been torn down. With the license surrender, a piece of Vicksburg and Mississippi broadcasting history died along with it. 

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Vicksburg: ‘a scene to delight a boy’s heart’



Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903 (Photo in the public domain)

As shots rang out just above the trees, the boys who were perched among the branches “came out of those trees like overripe pears falling,” wrote the late Vicksburg historian V. Blaine Russell .

The lads thought they had found the perfect — and free — vantage point to see the show at the fairgrounds. The man with the gun, who pretended he didn’t see the youngsters, was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who brought his Wild West Show to Vicksburg Nov. 17, 1908.

It was a typical performance, complete with a cast of hundreds. There were stagecoach holdups, Indians, cowboys and pretty girls and, of course, the star of the show, Buffalo Bill.

It wasn’t the first time he had brought his show to Vicksburg. His troupe had come to the River City Nov. 26, 1874, and had staged “The Indian Ball Play” featuring 30 Choctaws, but the show, including a dance afterward, wasn’t much of a success, according to John G. Cashman, editor of The Daily Vicksburger.

Despite the poor attendance, the troupe came back July 2, 1886, and put on “a grand Indian Ball Play and War Dance” according to the Vicksburg Herald. The paper also stated that “Sixty genuine scalp-taking Redmen” would parade downtown.

When the show returned to Vicksburg in 1908, it wasn’t just with dancing Indians but with a variety show. A writer for The Vicksburg Evening Post described it as “a thrilling piece of acting as the Indians ride like mad after the coach filled with terrified passengers. From the top of the swaying vehicle the fearless cowboys pour in a steady fire on the galloping redskins. The driver lashes the horses into a wild run. This is a scene to delight a boy’s heart and make one’s pulse beat a little faster.”

Cast of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1890. (Photo in the public domain)

The Buffalo Bill show included 550 horses, and the Post noted that “no bolder or better horsemen have ever been seen. … the fiercest bucking broncos were ridden with grace by the hardy cowboys and cowgirls. … Picking up handkerchiefs from the ground. while running their ponies at breakneck speed was something the girls did to elicit applause.”

There were a variety of other acts, too, including precision drills by a company of Zouaves, Indian war dances and a horse that “did the hoocheecoochee dance — quite remarkable.”

Another act was possibly the forerunner of donkey basketball popular in later years: It was a football game played on horseback. The horses wore breast plates, knee pads, shin guards, boots and nose pads. The riders didn’t touch the ball, but the horses pushed, shoved and kicked it.

The highlight of the show was not the dancing girls, Indians and horses but Buffalo Bill himself, “gray and old, still robust and active and quick of eye, who was tumultuously applauded …” He was noted for his ability to shoot, and he gave a demonstration as “from the back of a galloping horse the old scout and hero of a hundred Indian fights was able to crack every glass ball pitched into the air, no matter how fast or furious the tossing was done.”

The day before his Vicksburg performance, Buffalo Bill had set up a tipi at the Kleinston landing where admirers visited with him while his workers set up the props for the show.

The old man told a Post reporter that his show had been on the road for 30 years, and he had missed only two performances.

Buffalo Bill Cody in 1911. (Photo in the public domain)

He interrupted the conversation once, saying “Here, have a cigar. I have this kind made for me by thousands.” The reporter wrote that “the old scout puffed on a big black cigar and then there was good opportunity to watch those bright blue eyes in thought as he gazed alternately out of the tent and then at the curling smoke. His hair has turned snow white but he has plenty of it. He is six feet tall and straight as a young Indian.”

The newspaper said about 8,000 people had seen the two performances paying either 50 cents or a dollar for a glimpse of life as it used to be. “In this prosaic age of the trolley and pullman and the steamboat, it is hard for us to appreciate conditions that existed on the Western prairies …” The show was said to be “clean, moral and wholesome and provided lessons for the young and refreshes the memories of the old.”

Buffalo Bill had brought a taste of the Old West to the Old South.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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