Thursday, April 22, 2010

From Victoria Cross to Wyatt Earp

Today sees two historic peices of weird news.

The first Victoria Cross to be won by a British army soldier - along with the cannonball which blew off his arm - has fetched £252,000 at auction.

The medal, which is Britain's highest military award for valour, was given to Glasgow-born Major John Simpson Knox.

It was for acts of heroism between 1854 and 1855 during the Crimean War.

The medal and cannonball, which took off part of Major Knox's left arm, went under the hammer at Spink Auctioneers in London.

A fellow soldier had picked up the missile that hit Major Knox and later gave it to him.

Major Knox, who was born in 1828, ran away from home in Glasgow at 14 and illegally joined the Scots Fusilier Guards as he was under age.

By the time the Crimean War had begun in 1854 he was an acting sergeant major.
He performed the first of two acts of valour on 20 September 1854 during the Battle of the River Alma.

According to the citation for his medal, he "acted with conspicuous courage in reforming the ranks of the Guards at a decisive moment of the action".

The second act of valour occurred in June the following year.

Then, while serving as a lieutenant with the Rifle Brigade, he volunteered for an attack on heavily defended Russian positions at Sebastopol.

According to the citation: "He remained in the field until he was twice wounded, all the time acting with great gallantry."

It was during that attack, on a fortress defending the city of Sebastopol, that Major Knox was struck on the left arm by the cannonball.

After his retirement from the Army in 1872, he took up residence at Cheltenham where he died on 8 January 1897 and was buried in the town's cemetery.

Before the auction, medal expert Oliver Pepys, of Spink auctioneers, said: "Major Knox showed incredible bravery, losing his arm to cannon fire in the process.

"The medal is being sold with a Russian cannonball, the very one that smashed into Knox's arm. In all my years of working with rare medals and war artefacts I have never seen a more unusual keepsake."

Victoria Cross medals are still cast from bronze taken from cannons captured from the Russians at Sebastopol.

The VC was being sold along with three other medals he was awarded - the Crimea Medal, the French Legion of Honour and the Turkish Crimea Medal.

OK Corral documents discovered in court storeroom

Records from an inquest into the notorious 1881 shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, have been discovered in a court storeroom.

The scrawled notes are a transcript of a witness statement about the shootout between lawmen including Wyatt Earp and three outlaws, who were killed.

The documents were last seen about 1960 when they were photocopied.

Researchers hope that restoration by archivists will reveal margin notes not visible on the reproductions.

But the notes are unlikely to shed much new light on the incident, as researchers already had access to the copies.

The pages will soon be digitised and made available online to researchers and Wild West history buffs.

Thirty-second firefight

The yellowed pages, said to be as brittle as potato crisps, were discovered in a manila envelope by court staff assigned to clean out a storage room at Cochise County superior court in Bisbee, Arizona, about 23 miles (37km) south of Tombstone, the Arizona Daily Star newspaper reported.

On 26 October, 1881, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday confronted Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury behind the OK Corral.

The McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed in the ensuing 30-second firefight. The incident and subsequent investigation were covered heavily in the news media at the time.

The fight entered the folklore of the Wild West and made heroes of the Earps. It has been portrayed numerous times in film and in literature.

Nearly 130 years after the shootout, it remains unclear which party fired first and whether all of the outlaws were armed.

The Earps and Holliday said they were defending themselves, but supporters of the dead men said they were murdered.

The document appears to include testimony by William Claiborn, who a historian identified as a friend of the three dead men, according to the Associated Press news agency.

It was recorded as part of an inquiry by a local official into the shootout.

The document indicates that Doc Holliday was carrying a weapon concealed under a long coat.

The town of Tombstone celebrates its part in Wild West history, attracting tourists with re-enactments of the gun battle.

Earlier this month Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed into law a measure allowing Arizonans to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

Barry Eva (Storyheart)

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