“Livin' on jack and queens” - without consultants

Watching an episode of Maverick on DVD I became overwhelmed by the curious details of its Civil War subplot.

Postwar treasure hunters are looking for family members who co-founded “Elwood, Kansas” (Dodge City, KS per the later part of this post). They want to ask about the family’s former land holdings.

They are told the family in question was massacred by John Brown, who achieved a 100% efficiency rating in this transaction. (“Memory, speak: Did John Brown conduct any massacres in Kansas?”)

The locals refer to the family as “Copperheads.” (Anachronism alert! Then I think, “It’s okay, the postwar locals are logically applying a sensible description based on later events.”)

In this story, a certain Confederate guerilla leader, a transplanted Louisianan, was operating around his new Kansas neighborhood during the Civil War. (“Memory speak: Were there Rebel partisan bands based in Kansas?”)

He is forced by military necessity in 1863 to try to get his operating funds out of Kansas but is compelled to bury them there on “Copperhead” land as Union forces close in on his organization. (“Memory: List the Union military operation in Kansas in 1863.”)

Spoiler alert: his operating funds are characterized as gold, which is what misleads postwar treasure hunters. They are actually notes promising to pay the bearer a certain amount of gold after the Confederate government achieves victory and independence. (“Memory: Did the Rebels issue any redeemable paper whatsoever aside from Cotton Bonds in Europe?”)

With the memory banks overheating, it was a little hard to absorb the main lines of the episode, which were truly excellent. Warner Brothers essentially filmed a complete faux episode of Gunsmoke, based in Dodge City, complete with Matt, Doc, Chester, and Miss Kitty and then dropped James Garner’s Maverick character into the Gunsmoke episode as the villain, providing the core joke (based on Maverick’s hilariously non-villainous nature). The climactic gunfight between Matt Dillon and Maverick was a deliciously cruel piece of satire. Excellently post-modern for 1958. If you remember these two shows, the DVD is a must-see.

Nowadays, producers hire consultants to help keep their facts straight. I’m not sure the consultants are doing a great job – they might potentially have reduced my brain strain in this old TV episode, but they would have done so by pigeonholing: John Brown would kill Missourians; a Quantrill-type guerilla would cross borders not base himself in Kansas; a famous military operation (instead of a generic one) would force Rebels treasure to be buried posthaste.

I’ll match the fuzzy possibilities envisioned by Maverick’s scriptwriters vis a vis the historical record in another post to test the potential value added of history consultants to this episode