17 June 2013

Reverend Kerby Warns Against the Dime Novel

Being the second of three posts on George W. Kerby's The Broken Tail.
Because he was a man of the cloth, I'm inclined to give Rev Kerby the benefit of the doubt. I believe he was told that crazy stuff about an orphaned lad and his evil uncle, just as I believe that the teller walked from Calgary to Winnipeg in the dead of winter. What I doubt is that the man's name was Wilbur Wolfendon. Rev Kerby tells us that the trek received a good deal of attention, so how else can we explain why, apart from scans of this book, the name has virtually no web presence?

A greater mystery is why Rev Kerby chooses to hide the identity the man at the centre of "The Desperado", his second tale. The sorry soul the pastor refers to as "Ernest            " is Ernest Cashel, an American outlaw who had made headlines throughout Canada and the United States in the years before The Broken Trail was published.

The Californian, 11 December 1903
But as we all know, the Mounties always get their man.

The Yukon Sun, 24 January 1904
Rev Kerby isn't so much concerned with the sin as the sinner. We're told nothing of the murder that brought Cashel's death sentence. There is a loose account of the prison break and subsequent recapture, but most of "The Desperado" has to do with the pastor's work to secure the condemned man's salvation.

The Globe & Mail, 3 February 1904

Not everyone accepted the story, but I again find myself giving Rev Kerby the benefit of the doubt. I believe him when he writes that Cashel confessed, repented and received communion in the last minute or so before his execution.

Cashel blamed novels for his fate. Such was his conviction (no pun intended) that he left behind a warning, which Rev Kerby shared in the pages of this book and at a special post-execution event held at Hull's Opera House:
Young men of Calgary: —
     Remember, boys, I am not In a position to make any exaggeration. Here is my experience in regard to books, such as Diamond Dick's, Nick Carter's, Buffalo Bill's and James Boys'. I think by my own experience they are the starting of a romantic life. I know I used to read those books before I left home, and think how nice it would be if I could belong to a gang of brigands. Well, boys, I did have lots of fun as long as it lasted. But when my days were numbered I thought of my romantic life, boys. Oh, boys, take my advice and stay away from saloons, gambling-houses, and shun bad company, especially the house of ill-fame, for you know one bad woman is worse than ten bad men. She can lead you into the clutches of the devil before you are aware of the fact, and I tell you with a true heart, stay away from those bad women.
     Here is the story of my life, boys. I used to read novels when I was home, and that started me to going into bad company, drinking, gambling, and the first thing I knew I was looking out from behind the bars. I met some bad men in jail, and we planned, and I got out, but they caught me again, and I got out again, and so on for five years, till I landed in a condemned cell. Escaped again, but Providence proved against me, and I was fetched back to meet my fatal doom on the scaffold. I had to leave my dear ones at home and go among strangers, lay out nights, go without anything to eat for two days at a time, be wet and cold, and I have sat down many a time and thought of my dear old mother at home, breaking her heart, longing for her boy.
     Oh, boys! don't go away from home. Just think of Ernest — me in my doomed cell. I would die a dozen times to take the disgrace off my family. But, boys, it is too late now. Oh, what is my dear old mother doing to-day? Maybe she is dead. I wish I could see her, but she is far, far away from here, and I am going to be hanged in about twenty-four hours. Take my advice, dear boys, and stay at home, shun novels, bad company, drink and cigarettes. Don't do anything you are afraid to let your mother know.
One hundred and nine years later, the dime novel is long gone and the Twinkie looks to be in trouble.

What to blame next?

Ernest Cashel
c. 1882 - 1904
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  1. There was no Alberta in 1903? I noticed Calgary, N.W.T. I'm guessing that stands for that Northwest Territories. How big were the N.W.T? Did they extend all the way to B.C.? Now you've got me interested in the history of the provinces. Your fascinating post on Cashel and Kerby was a good read, too.

    1. John, your guess is correct in that the NWT did extend all the way out to BC - and east as far as Labrador. Northern Quebec, Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut have been hived off over the last 14 or so decades, yet it lives on.