Monday, March 29, 2010

The Deadliest Gunmen of the Wild West. From VOA.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I'm Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we present the second of two programs about the Old American West. Experts disagree about who were the most dangerous gunmen of the Wild West. However, we will tell you about two of them. One was an outlaw. One was a lawman.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: There have been hundreds of movies and television programs about the wild and lawless American West. Thousands of books have been written about it. This famous time in American history only lasted about seventy years. The first recorded shooting incident by a person who was a professional gunman took place in Texas in eighteen fifty-four. This violent period ended in about nineteen twenty-four.

Some people living in the West at this time became famous. These include men who worked as professional officers of the law, and others who were criminals. Their names were Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok and the brothers Jesse and Frank James.

Books, movies and television programs have made these men more famous today than they were when they were alive. Some of the stories about them are true, but most are only stories.

Here are two true stories of the Old West. Our first story begins with a very old photograph that was made in the little town of Pecos, Texas.


STEVE EMBER: Close your eyes for a few moments and imagine a very old photograph. The photograph was taken inside a saloon -- a place that served alcohol drinks. It was also where people played card games for money. The photograph clearly shows a group of men sitting in chairs around two tables. Other men are standing against the wall.

It is easy to tell that it must be a cold day because several of the men are sitting near a wood stove for warmth. Most of the men are looking at the camera. Most wear boots and the large hats made famous by cowboys.

One man wears a smaller, white hat. He is not looking at the camera. He is playing a card game called faro. No one is sitting near him. His left hand is on the table near the cards he will play in the game. His right hand is below the table -- not far from the gun he always carried. His face shows little emotion.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This is one of the few photographs known to exist of a very dangerous man named James Miller. He was also known as “Killin’ Jim” or “Killer Miller”.

History records show that he was responsible for the deaths of at least twelve people. Jim Miller often said he had killed more than fifty people. The real number of people he killed will never be known.

Jim Miller killed people for money. He charged about one hundred fifty dollars to kill a person. He also killed anyone who caused him trouble. One man died a few days after he had spoken in court against Miller. There is no evidence to show who killed the man. However, people were sure Jim Miller was guilty of the crime.

STEVE EMBER: Miller was successful at what he did because there was little law enforcement in the areas of Texas and Oklahoma where he lived. And, people were afraid to say anything against Miller. They knew it would mean their lives.

One law officer got into a shooting incident with Miller. The lawman shot Miller three times in the chest. Miller fell to the ground. The officer was sure he had killed the dangerous man. A few minutes later, Miller got to his feet. He had not been hurt. He was wearing a steel plate under his shirt. The bullets had hit the steel. The force of the bullets had knocked him down, but had not hurt him. Later, the law officer died from gun shot wounds. No one was sure who shot him. However most people knew Miller had killed again.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In nineteen-oh-nine, Miller made a mistake. He was paid money to kill a man in the little town of Ada, Oklahoma. He killed the man in the dark of night. Later, Miller was arrested for the crime. The citizens of Ada knew he had been arrested several times but had always been released for lack of evidence. Also, many people were afraid to speak in court against Miller. Many of the citizens of Ada thought Miller would escape justice again.

On Sunday morning, April nineteenth, the citizens of Ada attacked the jail where Miller was being kept.

They took him to a barn and hanged him. No one was ever arrested for the hanging of Jim Miller. Most people thought justice had been done. One man said, “He was just a killer. He was the worst man I ever knew.”


STEVE EMBER: The Old American West had more than its share of bad people like "Killin’" Jim Miller. However, other people worked hard and found good lives in the West.

One of these was a man named John Horton Slaughter. He was sometimes called “Texas” John Slaughter. He was born in Louisiana in eighteen forty-one. His family moved to Texas when he was only three months old. He grew up with little education. However, he learned to raise cattle. He learned to speak Spanish. And he learned much from the Native American Indians.

He also fought against Indian raiders from the time he could ride a horse and carry a gun. He fought against both the Apache and the Comanche tribes.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: John Slaughter was not a very tall man. He was really very small. However, criminals became afraid just looking into his eyes. History records show that John Slaughter took part in at least eight gunfights. This does not include his time as a soldier in the Civil War or fighting against Indians. The records show that he was forced to kill at least four men and possibly two others. These recorded shooting incidents took place when he was an officer of the law. There may have been several more.

People who knew John Slaughter said there was no doubt they were dealing with an extremely serious man -- a man who could be very dangerous. One friend of John Slaughter said Texas John was the meanest good man he ever met.


STEVE EMBER: John Slaughter worked all his life in the cattle business. He took part in some of the first movements of huge cattle herds from Texas to the railroads in the state of Kansas. He moved from Texas to New Mexico and then to Arizona.

In Arizona, he bought a huge ranch to raise cattle. The ranch had more than twenty-six thousand hectares. Part of it was in Arizona, part in Mexico.

In eighteen eighty-six, he was elected the lawman or sheriff of Douglas, Arizona, the town near his ranch. Several groups of criminals were working in the area at the time. Soon, many of these outlaws were in jail. Most refused to fight Texas John Slaughter. They surrendered instead. Those who would not immediately surrender faced Sheriff Slaughter’s guns.

After two terms as the sheriff, John Slaughter helped the United States Army seek out the famous Apache warrior Geronimo. He helped start the bank in Douglas, Arizona. He later became a representative in the Territorial Government and worked to have Arizona admitted as a state.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: John Slaughter continued his work on his ranch. He became very wealthy. When he was not working, he was in a local hotel playing card games for large amounts of money. He would often play these games for more than twenty-four hours at a time.

John Slaughter represented what was good about the American West. During his long life, Texas John Slaughter was a gunfighter, lawman, soldier, cattle rancher, professional card player and a representative of the state of Arizona.

He died in his sleep in February, nineteen twenty-two, at the age of eighty-one. Viola Slaughter, his wife of forty-one years, was by his side.

STEVE EMBER: The wild times in the American West ended at about the time of John Slaughter’s death. It was still the American West, but men like John Slaughter made sure it was no longer wild. They helped to bring law and order to the West.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember. Visit our re-designed Web site at You can read and listen to our programs and add your comments. You can also find a link to our videos on YouTube. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

"Famous Outlaws and Gunman of The Old West"
Part One

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Famous Outlaws and Gunmen of the Wild West", from VOA.

FAITH LAPIDUS: This is Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English. Today we present the first of two programs about some of the most famous people who lived in the American West many years ago. We tell about lawmen, criminals and gunfighters. And we will try to tell as much truth as possible about this interesting time in American history.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Our story begins in eighteen eighty-three in Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was a railroad town. Huge herds of cattle were brought there from western states to be transported by railroad to markets in the eastern United States.

A man named Luke Short owned a small store where he sold alcohol. People also took part in gambling -- games of chance -- in his store. Several people who owned similar businesses wanted Luke Short to leave Dodge City. They did not like the business competition. Luke Short was threatened several times. He knew his life was in danger. So he left Dodge City.

STEVE EMBER: Several weeks later, the people in Dodge City began to see something that frightened them. Strangers were entering the town. All of these men carried guns. The men said they were friends of Luke Short. They caused no trouble. A newspaper in Dodge City printed a story that identified the men.

One of the first of these men to arrive was a former Dodge City lawman. His name was William Masterson. The newspaper said he was well known as an expert with guns and had killed several men. His friends called him “Bat.”

Wyatt EarpWyatt Earp

Two other men arrived together. One was Wyatt Earp. He was a famous gunfighter from Tombstone, in the Arizona territory. He also was a former lawman who had killed men in gunfights. With him was his friend, a dentist, John Holliday, who also survived several shooting incidents. His friends called him “Doc.”

About twelve other men also arrived in Dodge City to help Luke Short. They were not as famous as the three named in the newspaper. But they were also considered to be very dangerous.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Luke Short returned to Dodge City wearing his guns. The chief lawman of the town quickly sent a telegram to the governor of the state asking for help. He was afraid a major civil war would begin in his town. The men who had forced Luke Short out of town decided to negotiate a settlement. They did not want to face his many dangerous friends.

A few days after the settlement, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the other dangerous friends of Luke Short left Dodge City. No one ever fired a shot. No one was even threatened. All it took to force a negotiated settlement was for these dangerous men to show their faces in Dodge City. Just the fear of them settled the argument in favor of Luke Short. No one wanted to deal with men who were not afraid of a gunfight.


STEVE EMBER: Who were these dangerous men? Why did people fear them so much? Why did they become so famous? The story of these famous men began a little before the American Civil War of the eighteen sixties.

This wild and lawless period in the West has been shown in hundreds of movies, television programs and books. It only lasted for about seventy years. The first shooting incident by a person who could be considered a professional gunman took place in Texas in eighteen fifty-four.

Most of the shooting incidents between professional lawmen and outlaws took place during the eighteen seventies in Texas.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The real movement into the American West began after the Civil War. Many families moved west to build new lives after the war. Land was almost free. Some people wanted to find gold or silver and become rich. Other families wanted to raise cows or horses or begin a farm and start a new life.

But living in the American West was not easy. There were no laws, no courts and little or no government. There were few lawmen to keep order. The people who arrived in the West included many criminals. Many were escaping punishment from their crimes. They knew that an area with no law would provide them with safety. These professional criminals often used force to take what they wanted -- cows, horses or money. Often, there was little to stop them.


STEVE EMBER: Honest people who moved to the West carried weapons to protect themselves and their property. These settlers began to build small towns when they found areas they liked. They tried to improve their towns with churches, schools and the rule of law. But it was often difficult.

To protect their towns, the settlers often had to employ people who were expert in the use of firearms. Several lawmen in the Old West had learned to use their weapons when they were criminals.

Both the outlaws and the lawmen in the Old West had something else in common. They could do something many other people could not. They were willing to risk their lives to enforce the law or to commit a crime. And they were willing to do this with a gun.

FAITH LAPIDUS: A good example was a man named William Matthew Tilghman. He was arrested two times and charged with stealing when he was a young man. However, he later became a deputy United States marshal, a law officer.

On July fourth, eighteen eighty-eight, a man named Ed Prather began shooting his gun in the street in Farmer City, Kansas. People ran away in fear. Tilghman made him stop. Prather left the street angry and went into a drinking place. He began drinking alcohol and making threats.

Later, Tilghman went into the drinking place looking for Prather. Prather put his hand on the gun he was carrying. Tilghman told him to move his hand away from the gun. When he did not obey, Bill Tilghman pulled out his gun and shot Ed Prather two times. He died immediately.

STEVE EMBER: That was only one of the many times Bill Tilghman used his gun as a law officer. He served in many other towns. Often, all he had to do was walk into a room to stop a fight. Outlaws feared and obeyed him. Most criminals stayed away from a town where Bill Tilghman was the marshal.

Bill Tilghman was shot to death on November first, nineteen twenty-four. He was trying to arrest a man who had been drinking too much alcohol. He was seventy years old and still working as the marshal of Cromwell, Oklahoma. His life had lasted exactly the seventy years of the American Wild West.


FAITH LAPIDUS: The famous American gunman named Wyatt Earp has been the subject of at least four major motion pictures, one television series and many books. He served as a marshal in Tombstone, Arizona. He took part in one of the most famous gunfights in American history -- the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Wyatt Earp was once asked how to win a gunfight. He said a good gunfighter took his time. He said he had to go into action as quickly as possible -- as fast as he could move. But then he should take his time with the shooting. He said a successful gunfighter could not let fear or anything else force him to shoot too soon and miss the target. Missing the target could get him killed.

Wyatt Earp was very successful. He was only wounded once in a gunfight. He is one of the few successful gunfighters who lived to old age. He died in nineteen twenty-nine. He was eighty-one years old.


STEVE EMBER: Experts on the American West often disagree about who were the most dangerous gunmen in that period of American history. Was it one of the famous lawmen? Was it Bill Tilghman, or perhaps Wyatt Earp?

Or was it one of the outlaws? Maybe it was the famous bank robber Jesse James or an extremely dangerous gunman named John Wesley Hardin.Those questions will never truly be answered. However, join us next week when we tell about two of the most dangerous gunfighters of the Old West.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in Special English on the Voice of America.

Part Two of "Outlaws of The Old West" is "The Deadliest Gunmen of The Wild West."

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Simon Rodia, Creator of The Watts Towers" from Edcon Publishing.

Watts Towers in Wikipedia
Sam Rodia in Wikipedia
The Story of Sam Rodia, Audio File:

A place you will read about:
Watts - A section in the city of Los Angeles in California
Someone you will read about: Sam Rodia - an Italian immigrant

When Sam Rodia built the Watts Towers, he built them with more than cement and tile. He put in his heart and soul.

Carlos gathered the seven-up bottles, wine bottles and broken pottery and dropped them into a burlap bag. "Are you going to see the creations of the crazy old man again?" asked his mother.

Like many of the residents in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Carlos's mother couldn't understand why old Simon Rodia, or Sam, as everyone called him, wandered through the shabby alleys collecting broken bottles, dishes and bathroom tiles from trash cans. Sometimes the Italian immigrant, who had come to America at the age of ten, walked the twenty miles to Long Beach to collect seashells.

He worked for eight hours every day as a tile setter, then worked for eight hours more in his backyard building cement towers, fountains, birdbaths, benches, and even a replica of a ship, whose mast formed a tower. These cement creations were decorated with mosaics made of broken bottles, tiles, dishes and shells. The garden was surrounded by a cement fence which had been built by Sam and decorated with red, blue and green tiles. On the gate of the wall was Sam's name for his garden, "Nuestro Pueblo" which is Spanish for "Our Town" or "Our People." Sam had also printed his initials into the cement: S.R.

Sam was building his fifth tower now, and Carlos liked to bring him bags of trash. Who else could create a fairyland from household discards? He would watch as old Sam pressed the handle of a water faucet into the wet cement, and the faucet formed a rose. Under the rose design, Sam worked with his simple tools: a hammer, file, a pair of pliers and a
screwdriver. Carlos knew that Sam was specia. He could find beauty in the everyday objects that people discarded.

Carlos watched as the old man climbed to the top of a tower with a bucket of cement, a bag of tiles, and a string of lights so that he could work in the dark.

"Why do you work so hard on these towers, Sam? You've worked for over thirty years and you've never received any compensation."

"I don't work for compensation, Carlos. A man has to be very good or very bad to be remembered. Some of the people think that I am crazy, but others say,'He's going to do something', and I am going to do something," Sam told him.

Not only was Sam a talented man, but he was a dedicated one. He tried to offer the town beauty, a new "monument," that they could be proud of, but they did not appreciate it.

"How many bags of cement do you think you've used in your garden, Sam?" asked Carlos.

"Oh, about 7,000 sacks, I think," replied Sam. "And over 70,000 seashells."

Carlos loved to sit on the decorated bench under the mosaic arch in Sam's garden and observe the birdbath covered with Seven Up bottles, the replica of a sailing ship, and the lacy spires of the towers. The tallest of the towers was ringed by spokes and circles which seemed like spider webs to Carlos. Inside the walls of this fantastic garden, he could forget the dreary alleys of Watts, the poverty, the blaring radios and the roaring trains. Sometimes, in the evening, Carlos would climb
the spires of the tower and look beyond the shabby streets of Watts to the glittering lights of the city. He could see the rest of the "world" from his perch, and more than that, he could see his future.

Not all the neighborhood children appreciated Sam's creations as Carlos did, however. When Sam was away collecting shells or bottles, they would deface the garden walls, and would throw rocks at the towers, breaking plates and tiles. When old Sam climbed the spires of his towers they would even throw rocks at him, and Carlos noticed that Sam grew wearier every time he visited the garden.

One day, Carlos had collected a bag of broken pottery and tiles to cheer the old man, but when he opened the gate, he found the garden empty and the door of Sam's cottage open. Simon Rodia had abandoned his creation, at the age of 79. He had decided to discontinue his work on his beloved towers. No one in the neighborhood knew where the old man had gone. Some said he returned to Italy, but others said he had gone away to die.
Five years passed and Carlos often walked by the towers on his way to high school. It saddened him to see how the neighborhood children had defaced the beautiful walls. He was glad that old Sam was not there to see it.

Carlos noticed an inspector from the building department of the city of Los Angeles nailing a sign on the towers.

"These towers will have to come down," the inspector said. "They are unsafe. The Italian immigrant who built them had no education. He didn't have the knowledge to build towers that are structurally sound."

Artists around the country read of the city's decision to tear down the towers. The Los Angeles Art Department called the towers a distinguished work of art. The director of a New York museum visited the towers and pronounced them a unique example of folk art. Artists protested to the city and formed a committee to save the towers.

The city building department had agreed to a safety test: if the tallest tower could withstand ten thousand pounds of pull, they would leave the towers intact. As television crews and spectators gathered around the garden on 107th Street on the morning of the test, Carlos was among them. He watched as the Watts Towers committee erected a sign reading, "The Watts Towers belong to the people of Los Angeles," while next to it, a city official nailed a sign reading, "Unsafe."

The reactions of the spectators varied. Some thought the towers should be preserved while others laughed and waited to see the towers collapse.
The man beside Carlos grumbled, "The towers of that crazy old immigrant can't possibly remain intact."

Carlos disagreed, "I watched old Sam erect these towers. He used steel rods, strengthened with wire and covered them with cement. They won't fall," he predicted.

Carlos knew that the towers had been built to last. He knew that they had not been damaged by the daily thunder of trains or even the earthquake of 1933. Sam Rodia did not have an engineering degree, but he knew how to build. Carlos watched breathlessly as the official attached the cable to the tower. The truck pulled, as he announced, "30% load ... everybody back ... 40% load clear the area ... 100% load ... 10,000 pounds."

The giant beam supporting the cable began to bend after one minute of pressure, and only one shell fell from the tower. The crowd laughed then cheered as the cable snapped. The city discontinued the test. The towers built by the uneducated Italian immigrant stood intact. Carlos grinned as the city inspector removed the unsafe sign.

No one really knows why Sam Rodia left his towers. Perhaps it would have been some compensation for Sam to know that a committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts repaired the tiles which had been defaced by the children and opened the Sam Rodia Art Center in a house near the towers, where children attend free art and music classes. Sam was finally located by a committee member, living in a tiny room in northern California.

When asked if he would like to return to Watts to visit the towers, he replied, "Dear young lady, I am too old. I broke my heart there," and Sam never saw his towers again.

Comprehension Check: Choose the best answer.

1. Sam Rodia built the towers because he __________________
a. wanted to be remembered.
b. wanted to become an engineer.
c. was a bitter, lonely man.
d. wanted to help people.

2. Sam Rodia's towers were going to be torn down because ______________
a. the city officials thought they were not structurally sound.
b. Sam was an Italian immigrant.
c. the neighbors complained about them.
d. they were truly unsafe and falling down.

3. Carlos ________________________
a. was destructive and nasty.
b. liked to tease Sam Rodia.
c. took advantage of the builder.
d. was sensitive and helpful.

4. According to the selection, which of the following was not used to build Sam's towers?
a. Shells and pottery
b. Cement and broken bottles
c. Paste and sponges
d. Wire and steel

5.The people of the Watts community ________________________
a. always took a great deal of interest in the
b. did not want to give Sam any satisfaction.
c. knew the value of the towers immediately.
d. were slow to realize what Sam had contributed.

6. Sam named his garden _________________________
a. "Our People."
b. "Our Courtyard."
c. "Simon's City."
d. "Watts Towers."

7. First, Sam abandoned his towers and moved away. Then, the building department posted an "unsafe" sign on them. Next,_______________________
a. the city decided to test the towers.
b. the L.A. Art Department protested.
c. the city decided to tear down the towers.
d. the neighborhood people got involved.

8. Simon's garden _______________________
a. served no purpose.
b. was a true contribution.
c. was similar to one in Italy.
d. was always appreciated.

9. Another name for this selection could be ______________________
a. "Towers For Sale."
b. "A Crazy Old Man."
c. "A Builder of Dreams."
d. "Life in Watts."

10. This selection is mainly about ____________________
a. a man who loved to build towers for his friends.
b. a man with talent that came from his heart and his hands.
c. a set of towers that have served as an inspiration.
d. a young boy and his relationship with a famous builder.

Beautiful Images of Sam Rodia's Work. Click on the photograph to
advance the slide show:
Watts Towers Slide Show
Sam Rodia in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Los Angeles in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Enrico Caruso, Youtube
Watts Towers and The Getty Museum, Youtube