Tag Archives: The American Experience

Looking for John Washington Butler and Finding Johnny Cash

2 Jun

The Scopes Monkey Trial is one of my favorite topics to discuss with students, and it ranks high for several reasons. First, it took place in Tennessee, and it is important for them to know that not all important events happen in faraway places. Second, it was a debate between religion and science, and that debate continues ninety years later. Third, it is an interesting story with interesting people.

When we talk about the trial, a few people tend to stand out. William Jennings Bryan had been a leader in the Democratic Party for thirty years and saw this as one last fight for ordinary citizens. Clarence Darrow was the most famous lawyer in the country and also viewed himself as a defender of the people. John Scopes was a high school teacher and coach who agreed to a publicity stunt and ended up with his name in the history books.

Of course, a lot of other people played important roles, and I try to talk about as many as possible. However, there is one person who played a vital role who tends to get skimmed over.

A lot of time is spent on the Butler Act, the law that banned the teaching of evolution, but little time is spent on its author, John Washington Butler. I know from an episode of American Experience that he was a member of the Tennessee legislature and that he represented the counties of Macon, Sumner and Trousdale, all of which are just across the Cumberland River from where I am sitting. However, that is about it.

With that in mind, I went looking for John Washington Butler. First, I wanted a picture of him and found it at findagrave.com.Butler

Then, I did what I tell my students not to do. I went to Wikipedia and found an article that was three sentences long. Obviously, that did not provide much information. However, there is one thing useful about Wikipedia. The sources at the bottom of the articles can be valuable.

Butler’s page has two links. The first is an entry by Jeanette Keith in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. It is a short sketch of the man and provides some insight into why he pushed for the ban on teaching evolution. I know this is a good place to find information because I wrote an article about a local sportswriter for the online encyclopedia.

The second source links to an article by Doug Linder for the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. It goes into great detail about Butler’s life and political career. It also describes the morning when Butler wrote the bill in his home.

My problem is that I do not know where the writer got this information. There are a few notes, but they do not provide much help. Also, there is another issue that may have been an accident but may also lead to questions about this article. When describing the trial, the following is written.

Sue Hicks, a local member of the prosecution team, ridicules the defense claim of unconstitutionality. It is “perfectly ridiculous to say,” Hicks says, “that a teacher…can go in and teach any kind of doctrine he wants.” What if, she wondered, a teacher hired to teach arithmetic decided he would rather teach architecture?

I highlighted the pronoun because Sue Hicks was a man. Legend states that he was the inspiration for “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. The story goes that the writer, Shel Silverstein, attended a speech by Hicks and was inspired to write the song.

That is an interesting story, but it has gotten me off subject. After my search for John Washington Butler, I know more than when I started. I know what he looks like. I know some things about his life and his career. However, I do not know as much as the Internet would like for me to believe.


Events of the Evening

30 Nov

This was going to be a simple evening. After work and a waxing, the plan was to head to my girlfriend’s house to decorate the Christmas tree. Work went well. The waxing went well, if slightly painful. Then, it was time for the fun to start. And, start it did.

First, I get a call from the fairgrounds. I am on the oversight committee, and a meeting had been called at the last-minute to discuss an upcoming event. Wait, it’s not really an upcoming event. It’s an event that we hope is upcoming. Right away, obstacles were being thrown into my path, but this one was easily handled. I didn’t go to the meeting.

Excitement abounds.

Excitement abounds.

The drive to her house was pleasant. It’s a winding road that goes through the countryside. The deer were not out yet, so there was not danger that I would run over a large animal. However, there was the danger that I would get caught behind a tractor, and that danger presented itself.

One of the hazards of living in the South.

One of the hazards of living in the South.

After some slow going, I made it to her house with the anticipation of eating good pizza and hanging good ornaments. Then, I heard the news. Her cousin, the hair stylist (in the old days they were called hair dressers), was coming over to work on my girlfriend’s hair. I decided to take a nap.

I’m not sure how long the nap lasted, but, for some reason, I dreamed that I was in an old timey beauty shop with women talking and those big hair dryers blowing. You know, the ones that women would sit under.

Take us to your leader.

Take us to your leader.

Anyway, I was awakened from this dream and told that it was time to get the pizza. At the pizza place, the guy was full of questions. My girlfriend lives in a really small town where everyone knows everyone else. He didn’t know me. After answering his questions satisfactorily, I was allowed to leave with the pizza.

When I got to the house, we scarfed the pizza down, and, with the hair far from being done, I hopped onto the iPad. Through the next couple of hours, I randomly went through the Internet and looked up the following:

The cast of Megaforce, a great 1980s movie starring Barry Bostwick

Yes, it is a flying motorcycle. Never say movies of the 80s were not classics.

Yes, it is a flying motorcycle. Never say movies of the 80s were not classics.

The farewell speech by Richard Nixon on the last day as president

His father had the poorest lemon farm in California.

His father had the poorest lemon farm in California.

The best songs of Eddie and the Cruisers

SPOILER: Eddie lives.

SPOILER: Eddie lives.

The previews for several episodes of The American Experience, with a special focus on George Armstrong Custer

During Custer's Last Stand, I don't think he was standing.

During Custer’s Last Stand, I don’t think he was standing.

The last speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The night before his tragic assassination, Martin Luther King said that he had "seen the Promised Land".

The night before his tragic assassination, Martin Luther King said that he had “seen the Promised Land”.

There was more, but you get the point. I was all over the place. Then, my girlfriend brought her cousin into the room so I could tell her about Abraham Lincoln. We saw Lincoln last night, and my girlfriend didn’t understand why politicians were debating about outlawing slavery at the end of the Civil War when the war was being fought to end slavery.

I am not going to get into a big historical discussion here, but I had to explain that the Civil War was not as simple as many people have been taught.

I write all of that to write this: I went to my girlfriend’s house to decorate the tree, and we did everything but decorate the tree. After she got her hair colored, she spent the rest of the night fretting over how bad it looked. After filling my mind with Internet info, I was fretting over my head beginning to hurt.

In the end, we decided to go ahead and decorate the tree. We didn’t know when we would be able to do it again, and we knew that her daughter would be disappointed if we didn’t do what we had planned on.