Fort Reno

[A repeat from April 23, 2015] In August 1865, the terrible pain of the Civil War was still white hot. Thousands of Confederate soldiers remained in Union prison camps. Cities in the South smoldered in ruin and the dead of both sides — 620,000 of them (2% of America’s population) — were still being buried.   Eight hundred miles west, Chief Red Cloud of the Cheyenne Nation began objecting – with violence – to the incursion of troops along the Bozeman Trail. 

So, in August 1865, two forts were built along the Powder River in Wyoming — Fort Connor and Fort Reno.  To staff these forts, the United States offered some Confederate prisoners the option of swearing allegiance to the United States and then going off to fight the Cheyenne in Wyoming.  Many signed on.  This contingent of newly-minted American soldiers was called “galvanized Yankees.”  They went out to Wyoming, took care of business and came home — to help rebuild the South.  Fort Reno and Fort Connor were abandoned in 1868 and disintegrated.  Fort Connor became a part of the meandering Powder River and Fort Reno was overgrown and disappeared from view. 

In 1969, while I was hoofing around Wyoming, I was in Lysite (population perhaps 20) – along the Powder River – and met with Mr. Skiles — a rancher.  He took me to the site of Old Fort Reno and pointed the way through perhaps a mile of high grass.  I waded through the brush and finally arrived at a place where nothing but a few brick foundations remained.  I pulled out my trusty metal detector and went to work . . . . . After a few hours, I had found some heavily-rusted artifacts:  some nails, a few horse bridle parts and two really neat pieces — the top of a cooking pot and — a perfect axe head formed by one piece of folded steel.  The axe head had been perhaps a foot beneath the surface — in a position where it leaned against the brick foundation.  I’ve got these pieces at home.  One on my desk.  Pretty special to think about those pieces being used by some chaps — 150 years ago.  No one remembers galvanized Yankees or Fort Reno.  But I sure do. 

The Parrot

(A repeat from July 19, 2012)

A man was looking for a present to buy his elderly mother. What to get he thought. An idea came to him. His mother had lived alone for years.  Maybe a pet?  Not a dog or cat – too much work.  So he went to the pet shop.

The owner said “I’ve got just the thing. I have a parrot. Smart as a whip. Speaks seven languages. Friendly.   She can talk to him.  Great companion.  Bird likes to watch t.v. too.”   The owner named a hefty price.

The man grimaced but said “I’ll take him.”  He had the pet store deliver the parrot to his mother.  And he called her the following week. 

Hi MomHey how do you like the parrot I sent you?”

He was delicious,” the mother said.

WHATDon’t tell me you ate him!” 

Of course I did.” 

Mom – that parrot was supposed to be a pet!  He spoke seven languages.”

Well he should have said something.”


I enjoy good coffee. Over the years, my mornings have included 2 cups of strong coffee with a little milk. However, since the pandemic erupted and I began working from home (with an eye toward retirement), my coffee consumption has edged up. Of late, it’s 3-4 cups in the morning and I put one large cup of coffee in the frig – to have with lunch. The cold coffee business is not new. Golfing buds with whom I lunch after a Saturday round know that my staple beverage is iced coffee (ideally a mix of regular and expresso). Oh – and the coffee I drink is “regular.” None of that decaf stuff for me. Besides – decaf gives me a headache.

In my house, I am the capo de tutti capi of coffee. I make the coffee in the morning (I use a locally roasted Alchemy coffee – “Harar” – from the Harar region of Ethiopia. “Harar” means “freedom” in Arabic). The water is filtered. And I normally run extra water through when the pot gets low. So in the mornings, Donna and I sit. Read two newspapers. Watch a little “Squawk Box” or the “Today” show. Work a Sudoku. Have breakfast. And sip good coffee. Ahhhhhh. . . . .

There are varied health benefits from drinking coffee. Statistically, they say coffee can improve energy levels, make you smarter, burn fat, improve physical performance, lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, some cancers (for men it reduces the risk of prostate cancer), and possibly Alzheimers. It may protect your liver, fight depression and make you happier. In short, I don’t see much downside to knocking back a few cups of java.

Grilled Peanut Butter

[Here’s a repeat from December 20, 2012]

Did you ever have a special dish added to a restaurant menu?  I did.   Once.                                                                                                      

When I was in college, I was a night owl.  I studied until the wee hours.   Often as the second hand approached midnight, a few other guys and I would hitchhike to the Round the Clock Restaurant in downtown Rock Island.  And I would order a grilled peanut butter sandwich. With a dill pickle on the side.  And a tall glass of milk.  The interesting thing was that grilled peanut butter was not on the menu.  

Let’s back up a few months. One o dark thirty night at the Round the Clock, I had noticed a “peanut butter & jelly sandwich” on the menu.  I was not about to order a PB & J, but it occurred to me that a grilled peanut butter sandwich might be just the ticket.  We slid into the booth and I ordered a “grilled peanut butter sandwich.”  The waitress looked at me like I was a moon rock.  I said “same as a grilled cheese but use peanut butter instead of cheese.”   I felt like Jack Nicholson in the “Five Easy Pieces” diner scene.  She walked away shaking her head.  She used gestures to explain the order at the window to the kitchen. She pointed at the nerdy kid in the booth. At least it worked (unlike Jack Nicholson’s experience).   

After a few weeks of this, when I walked in the door, the waitress would give me that knowing look “grilled peanut butter“?  she would ask.  I’d nod and smile “yes ma’am.”  A few months later, “Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich” made its debut on the Round the Clock’s menu.  And I became a legend.  At least in my own mind.   

Warren Wilhelm Jr.

Warren Wilhelm Jr. was born in New York City in 1961. He received a B.A. from NYU and an M.A. in International Affairs from Columbia University. In 1987, he became a political organizer at the Quixote Center in Maryland. A year later, he traveled to Nicaragua to distribute food and medicine during the Revolution. Mr. Wilhelm was an ardent supporter of the Sandinista Movement and the National Liberation Front. He served as a fundraiser for the Sandinistas in New York. He considers himself a democratic socialist and he has espoused the tenets and policies of that party.

He married in 1994 and honeymooned in Cuba despite the U.S. travel ban. Mr. Wilhelm has been active in politics in New York. In 2001, Warren Wilhelm Jr. changed his name. To Bill de Blasio. . . . .

Paper Gets a Second Chance

I do a fair amount of writing on paper. Notes. Phone numbers. Shopping list. Flow charts. Ideas. Cartoons.  Meaningful quotes. Letters. And so on. If I no longer need my scribbles, I put the sheet in recycling and move on to a fresh, blank page.  What’s interesting is that my meanderings are usually penned on used paper. Let me explain.

My printer often spits out more paper than needed.  Rather than toss out the nearly-blank pages, I save them.  Turn them over and clip them together.  And use these slightly-used sheets as my pad of paper.  I have been doing this for years. It started at work – creating my own legal pads from “used” paper. Paper that is blank on one side with printing or writing on the other.

I feel strongly about conservation.  And recycling.  My trademark JUST TURN IT OFF® says it all (see post of July 23, 2011).  Each one of us has the capacity to conserve water, energy and clean air (see May 21, 2012); stretch products like shampoo (see April 11, 2013); reuse “zarfs” (see October 29, 2015); reuse bags (see August 6, 2012).  There are major efforts on a grand scale to address climate change by restructuring energy and transportation systems. And yet — each one of us has potential to make a difference in the world.  Just think if every person saved one sheet of paper, one gallon of water, one kilowatt of energy – each day. . . .  

It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.”   — John Wooden 

I Don’t Want to Drop Her

I was “there” when our daughter Lauren was born. Around 2:00 a.m. on the big day, I was sound asleep but I sensed Donna pacing around the bedroom. I drifted out of sleep and mumbled “what are you doing?” And Donna said “I think I’m in labor.” My eyes jerked open and I catapulted out of bed. “Let’s go to the hospital” and I started pulling on my trousers. Donna – calm and cool – said “maybe we should wait a little bit.” And we did until 5:00 a.m. when Donna said “okay – let’s go.

Lauren was born in the mid afternoon of that Thursday, June 24th. As she arrived, a nurse wiped her down, wrapped her up and handed her to me. What happened next has become legend in our family. Picture this – I’m holding my brand-new, just born baby girl. I walked over stood – with my left arm propped against a wall. The nurse – who had been walking around – came over to me and said “Mister Petersen, what are you doing?” I responded “I want to make sure I don’t drop her.” The nurse laughed “Mister Petersen – you will not drop her.” And so far, I haven’t. . . . .

When Lauren was married, my father of the bride speech bore a reflection of that day. Of that special moment. I quoted Psalm 17:8 in saying that Lauren would always be the apple of my eye – and in the shadow of my wings.

The One that Got Away

When I was a freshman at Augustana College, I pledged the Gamma Alpha Beta (“GAB”) fraternity. I was one of 12 pledge brothers. The Brahmins of the fraternity scheduled a school dance for a Saturday night – “The GAB a GO GO.” My pledge brothers and I were tasked to put up a sign to hang between the Science Building and the Student Union. We had to do it at midnight – to provide amazement, astonishment, revelation and wonder for those seeing it the next morning. Great.

At the appointed hour, my brothers and I gathered in the black of night between the two buildings. Not another soul around. The problem was getting the sign high enough between the buildings. So two enterprising brothers went off to look for a ladder. They found one – leaning against a house – across from campus. They figured why not – and brought it back. Little did they know that the homeowner was awake, heard noise, saw the filch – and called the police.

We were all puttering around with the sign when I noticed some vehicles – lights off – driving slowly up a center road on campus. And I thought uh oh. . . . . The Science Building had a fire escape held up by angled struts. I climbed up on a metal rail surrounding a window well and jumped for the strut. I grabbed the strut and pulled myself up on the fire escape just as the cars – and a coterie of uniformed police – turned on their lights.  I lay face down on the fire escape.  Watching. The police loaded my eleven brothers into the vehicles – and off they went. Leaving me alone.  In the dark.

I ran to a dorm and banged on the door of my Big Brother – Bob A. He, Bill L., Warren and I piled into a car and drove to the Rock Island Police Station. We arrived just as my brothers were being released from a jail cell. It had been determined it was all a misunderstanding. I recounted this event – briefly – on December 5, 2019. But this event continues to bring a smile to everyone’s face. Especially mine. . . . 🙂

A Charity “D”

There is a movement today for schools to drop grading systems (so students are more equal), to eliminate the SAT (“to reduce and simplify demands on students“) and to drop “honors” classes (to combat academic tracking). The reason is that since some students are “not prepared” for such challenges, it is better to eliminate the challenge. Rather than fix the problem, we simply dumb down our schools.

When it comes to math, I take off my socks and shoes to count to “20.” Math is not my strong suit. When I was a junior in high school, I was required to take a course in algebra. And I was dismal. And after a few weeks in the course – I was failing. And I continued to fail well into the semester.

My teacher – Miss Delp – approached me one day after class and asked if I wanted to fail. Obviously I did not. But understanding this stuff was very difficult for my small brain. So she made me an offer. She said that if I came in after school for tutoring – at least twice a week for the rest of the semester – she would give me a “charity D.” If by some miracle I excelled, I might even get a C minus. So I agreed.

Now for all that sank in, she might well have been teaching me in Arabic. But I stuck to it. And fortunately, so did Miss Delp. And at the end of the semester, I was quite proud. I got a “D” in algebra.

From my perspective, I believe there is merit in challenging students to excel. And to grade accordingly. When we take away incentive, everyone loses. Today – I still have no clue what the product of two constants, three coefficients and a variable is (did I say that right?). But I am certainly grateful – to have been challenged mightily. And to have had the support of a teacher who pushed me to succeed.

Save for the soles of her feet

[A repeat from July 7, 2018] As Assistant States Attorneys, we dealt with murder.  All the time. The files always included in depth police reports, crime scene and morgue photos and a litany of witnesses and grand jury or preliminary hearing testimony.  It was one thing to handle a double homicide at a local bar. Or a home invasion murder.  But the files that were hard to take were those where the victims were children.  I could only read the files for short periods.  Often eyes misty.  And then I had to turn to something else.   

In one particularly horrific case, a 6 year old girl was forced to stand on all fours.  While a boyfriend of the mother would beat her.  He’d use the buckle end of the belt.  If she cried or whimpered, an avalanche of trauma rained down on the little girl.  He would stand over her.  Waiting for her to flinch.  After months of torture, trauma, beatings and horror, the little girl – her name was “April” – finally succumbed after a punch that split her sternum.  And the boyfriend – Felix F. – was charged with her murder. 

The coroner – always a staple in a murder case – took the stand and testified that the little girl’s hypothalamus had literally disappeared given the daily beatings and chronic fear that she endured.  The good doctor testified – I remember well – that there was not one square inch of her body that had not been brutally traumatized “save for the soles of her feet.”  Felix was convicted and sentenced to a long term.     

I know.  This is hard to read.  But – what do we do with such people?
[Post script – with the “de fund the police” movement, he might not have been arrested. And if he was, the movement that objects to cash bail for those arrested would probably have let him back onto the street]