From the American Journey website (

"Join the American Journey Experience and our partner WallBuilders for two weeks and discover the truth about our nation, our past, and how to lead it into the future! We are opening up the American Journey Training Center to students who are 18-25 years old for a hands-on experience to study original historical documents. Receive specialized teaching and instruction and the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge from our speakers and guest lecturers."

I just got back home from an amazing time in Texas! I am working on a separate link just for this topic, as I want to share my pictures, too.

I'm so honored to have spent the last two weeks in the company of peers across America just as enthusiastic about American history as I am. I learned so much, and am better equipped to engage and inspire others to seek the truth that shaped our incredible nation, and the ways to be a solution to the world's pressing issues.

There's so many things I can talk about, but I'll just list some of my favorite highlights here, and expound more, per above.

Did you know that there's exactly one known photograph of both Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth in the same shot? It was taken during Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Capitol. Most of the people’s faces are blurry and indistinct, due to the exposure speed of the camera. However, Booth’s face is clear, showing he was not moving at all as he listened to Lincoln.

Booth actually made a prior attempt on the President’s life prior to Ford’s Theater. After Lincoln’s second inaugural speech ended, Booth made his way from his spot in the balcony with the intent of killing Lincoln as he went to leave. However, Booth allegedly tripped, was dusted off by a police officer who recognized him as a famous actor, and Lincoln was gone by the time Booth regained his feet.

Frederick Douglass, who was also in attendance, later said (Excerpt courtesy of Digital Public Library of America, Primary Source Sets, “Reminiscence about Abraham Lincoln,” by Frederick Douglass, 1888) he “felt then that there was murder in the air, and I kept close to his carriage on the way to the Capitol, for I felt that I might see him fall that day.”

At Ford’s Theater, Booth was able to get to the President without hinderance because of several reasons. Firstly, the theater was his primary stage and he even had the theater as his mailing address. Secondly, he was an incredibly famous actor and roamed the building as he pleased on the regular, so no one thought it suspicious that he was in the halls.

After shooting Lincoln with a .44 Derringer, he leapt from the Presidential viewing box. He was very used to leaping onto the stage during his acting scenes, as a dramatic entrance, and he would have landed without incident had the viewing box not been draped for the President’s visit. He caught his leg in the fabric, broke his foot upon landing, and the crippling injury certainly aided in his quick capture and subsequent death.

However, there is a theory that the Union Army, who lit the Garrett barn on fire with Booth inside, ended up killing one of Booth’s accomplices and not Booth himself. The man the Army killed was buried in a secret location for four years, the reasoning being that Confederates would exhume the body and bury it elsewhere in a glorified manner. After the four years, the Booth family was allowed to take the body, so long as they buried it in an unmarked grave in the Booth plot.

The theory goes that Booth managed to escape the barn, catch a boat to South America, and returned eight years later under the alias John St. Helen. He lived in Texas for a time, disappeared without a trace, and reappeared twenty-five years later in Enid, Oklahoma using the name David E. George. He committed suicide by arsenic, and was attended by the town minister on his deathbed. Before he died, David confessed he was really Booth. The minister had the undertaker embalm the body for Washington officials, who never showed up. A man named Bates, who had known John St. Helen, took custody of the mummy until his death, and the mummy was eventually bought by a traveling carnival, until it vanished in the 1970s and has been missing since.

(book by Bates: “The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth” by Finis L Bates)

(Booth’s Derringer is currently on display at Ford’s Theater. In 1997, a burglary ring claimed to have stolen the pistol and replaced it with an identical replica back in the 1960s. After a thorough FBI investigation, the feds concluded that the gun, while they could not confirm it was the original gun, said it matched pictures taken of the gun pre-1960, and will continue treating the pistol as the genuine article. The FBI now knows the gun on display down to the undulations in the grains.)

At the moment of the gunshot, the audience briefly believed it was part of the play. When it became clear that Lincoln was shot in the head, there was mass pandemonium. At that time, the culture was that items from or on a famous person upon their death were regarded highly and kept as family heirlooms for generations. An actress, Laura Keene, made sure she held Lincoln as he bled all over her front and lap. By the time Lincoln made it to the carriage to be taken for medical care, his jacket had already been stripped from his person and people were tearing it for souvenirs. Wallbuilders has a fragment of the collar with Lincoln's blood on a frayed edge. Upon Mary Lincoln giving the jacket to the White House doorman, the doorman cut strips to give to others as sentiments. The rest of the jacket is in museum storage, damaged further by decades of poor exhibition lighting, and is now brought out for public viewing for special occasions only.


The original Ben Hur book was published in 1880 by Civil War Union general Lew Wallace. Between 1865 and 1880, Christianity was taking a spiritual hit, due to war trauma. Wallace himself was an indifferent agnostic, but kept some of his church upbringing, and penned a short serial about the Three Wise Men with the intent of submitting it to Harpers Weekly magazine. However, in his own words, he “lacked the courage to send it forward” (preface of “The First Christmas”) and put it away in a drawer.

While on a sleeper train to the Republican National Convention in 1876, he encountered Colonel Robert Ingersoll, the son of a minister and devout atheist, who is heralded today as one of the greatest “freethink” orators in American history. Their conversation continued all the way to the train’s destination. Wallace departed the train freshly blasted by what he described as “a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungant excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, of which I had never heard.”

This sparked a drastic self-introspection of Wallace’s Christian beliefs, which resulted in his wholehearted return to Christ’s teachings and an alarm that Ingersoll and his like could, can, and has converted people to the religion of atheism. Wallace returned to the unfinished Three Wise Men manuscript, and used maps, references, and biblical text to ensure the book’s locales were nitpick-free.

As of 1880, the trend in literature was contemporary ‘slice of life’ fiction, with more action/adventure-related genres several years to a good decade out of fashion. Wallace published “Ben Hur; The Tale of Christ” anyway into what looked like an unenthusiastic audience.

School readers were the book’s foothold. Students read excerpts in English class and were intrigued enough to want to read the full story. School libraries, of course, didn’t have the book, so a multitude of requests were sent out for copies. Harper & Brothers helped get “Ben Hur” out the door through fervent ads and distribution. The book soon leapt to #2 on the national best-selling list, topped only by the Bible itself, and maintained #2 for 56 years until “Gone With the Wind”’s publication in 1936, 21 years after Wallace’s death.

Many people wrote to Wallace; one writer’s testimony said he was so convicted “he could scarcely work, eat, or sleep” and ended up joining a church, where he found peace and a family. Another reader became a missionary. President Ulysses S Grant, who was not a reader by any means but reportedly read it for two days of the course of 30 hours, pausing only to sleep. Upon reading “Ben Hur,” President Garfield offered Wallace ambassadorship to Turkey (Wallace accepted).

Broadway picked up an interest, and although Wallace was pleased, he was dubious of a stage play’s adaptation ability because of the climatic chariot race. Stage producers requested some time to draft a solution, and came back with an innovative system where real chariot horses would run on treadmills suspended on mobile scaffolding, with background scenery on a cyclorama rolled behind them. Wallace was convinced and gave the go-ahead. Of course, it was a massive hit, with over twenty million people seeing the play since its debut in late 1899. Then it went on the road, spending two weeks per American city, and even appeared in Europe and Australia, with an estimated 6,000 performances in its 21-year run.

The first film was made in 1907, by motion picture company Kalem. It was a silent movie, fifteen minutes long. Kalem hoped to ride popularity’s coattails. They did not seek permission from the Wallace estate, Harper & Brothers (publishers), or Klaw & Erlanger (producers of the stage play) for the adaption. Wallace’s son, Henry, apparently learned of the unauthorized film when it appeared in discount theaters, communicated with the Harpers and Klaw & Erlanger, and they filed a lawsuit against Kalem on copyright violation, and how the film’s obvious budget production would diminish the “Ben Hur” name and cut into stage play and book sale profits. In the end, Kalem was forced to pay $25,000 in damages (over $700,000 in today’s money).

This put Henry Wallace against all film adaptations until he saw D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 and put film adaption rights at a whopping $1M ($27.5M) price tag. He lowered it to $600,000 ($931.7K) in 1921. Erlanger bought the film rights, which transferred to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the first full-length film was made in 1925. In the 1925 “Ben Hur,” in the climatic chariot race, the stuntmen racing were offered a monetary reward if they won, so the race was performed as realistically as possible. The film performed magnificently in box office, even though it barely made profit, and ended up solidifying MGM’s reputation as a major studio.

The 1959 version of “Ben Hur” directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston was made more for home viewing than theater production, as TVs were becoming exceedingly popular and contemporary theaters were suffering. British actors played Romans and American actors played Jews, casted to emphasize distinction between the two. The film premiered in late 1959 in New York City despite lobbying for it to first appear in Wallace’s hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana. The film’s initial release grossed upwards $40M ($382M) It received an unprecedented eleven of twelve 1960 Academy Awards, and won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. It was nominated for Best Screenplay but failed to win it because although Tunberg wrote the screenplay other people wrote the script.

Today, “Ben Hur” is a cultural classic and while its history is largely unknown, does not stop it from being widely enjoyed.


Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860 to a family of poor farmers. Her father passed away in 1866 from pneumonia, burdening her mother, then Mrs. Moses with all the finances, debts, and tasks. Her mother had to take a job in town to keep the farm afloat, and Annie was sent to live in different homes. By the time Annie was eight years old, she had returned home, and there was no food in the house.

Mr. Oakley’s musket still hung above the hearth. Annie took the musket, which was longer and heavier than she was, had her three-year-old brother carry the powder horn, and they stole into the woods to bag something to eat. After a time, Annie spotted a rabbit. Unable to lift the musket, she rested it on a post, poured the entire powder horn into the barrel, aimed, and fired. The ball went straight through the rabbit’s ears, and the recoil broke Annie’s nose. From then on, she hunted and provided food for the family, and they ate well.

She was such a good hunter and shot, that they could no longer eat what she brought home, so she would take the game into town and sell it to local grocers who resell it to Cincinnati businesses. Jack Frost, a hotel owner in Cincinnati, 60 miles from the Oakley farm, preferred game from Annie because she never “damaged the meat,” which means that she always killed the animal with an eyeshot. By the age of fifteen, she raised enough money to pay off the farm’s mortgage.

When she was sixteen, Jack Frost called her and her gun to Cincinnati. When she arrived, he told her that there was a young Irish man by the name of Frank Butler bragging to the townspeople that no one could match him in shooting. The hotel owner put Annie forward. Annie beat Butler. Butler was so impressed, he wrote her during his travels, and they ended up married in 1876. She eventually toured with him during his firearms exhibitions, lingering in the background.

Eventually, Butler asked Annie to exhibit her shooting skills. At 20 yards, she shot the cork off a wine bottle Butler held. The crowd reportedly went nuts. Butler then made Annie the star of the show, replacing his own role as the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show’s face. Her tricks gradually grew more complicated, including shooting a tossed coin, shooting backwards over her shoulder, shooting with a mirror, and shooting five holes in a thrown playing card before it lands.

While today, recreational shooters target clay pigeons, in the late 1800s they shot glass balls the size of ornaments at a distance of 40 yards. Annie could break them using a shotgun, pistol, or rifle, and with either hand.

When at her shows, people started requesting souvenirs by having her shoot their tickets. It was like that for a while before they raised the difficulty to shooting holes in the center of their thrown coins at 30 yards.

Annie ended up being the second highest paid employee by the Buffalo Bill show, with only Buffalo Bill Cody himself higher than she. With the group, they toured America and Europe, performing before monarchs and other leaders for several months. Medals she received she melted down and gave to charity, since medals were pure gold or silver back then, so, as consequence, Annie Oakley medals are very rare and valuable.

When she retired from the show, she and Frank still did shooting exhibitions and contests. She also started a line of schools, since she had not received a formal education. At her schools, a mandatory class required teaching young girls how to shoot.

When the Spanish-American war started, Annie wrote the government offering over a thousand women who are expert shots, ready to sign up for the war. The government declines her offer. Over time, Annie trained over 20,000 women. When WW1 started, she wrote the Woodrow Wilson administration and offered, again, thousands of self-supplied women willing to be soldiers. The administration declined. She responded that her women, if they won’t go overseas, could replace men at armed posts and protect bases and towns. The administration declined. She then offered herself, to train the soldiers before they go to war. The government officially turned her down but several regiments took her offer.

A car accident in 1922 marked the end to Annie’s and Butler’s tours. It took her a year to heal, but the following year marked her declining health. Word got out to the general public of her ailing, and she received a letter from a cowboy who offered her all his blood in a transfusion, in case her illness was blood related. She wrote him back, conveying her thanks, but professed her faith and that she is prepared to die knowing where she is going. And so, she died in 1926, followed three weeks later by Butler, both to natural causes.