What was T.B. Miskimon’s full name?
Barely a hundred years have passed since the Panama Canal opened; time and progress have blurred how much of a wonder it was that Teddy Roosevelt and the brash Americans were able to overcome all the obstacles it took to join the oceans. I hope that Saffire recreated some of that wonder for you.
While I did my best to ensure as much of the backdrop of the story is as accurate as possible, I did take liberty with the building of the locks, as concrete did not begin to pour until later in 1909, months after I portrayed it in the novel.
Also, not until February 4, 1917 did the New York Times run an article with this headline: ‘GERMAN SPIES ACTIVE HERE FOR MONTHS’, with the sub headline ‘Hostile agents reported to number 10,000 — Espionage Extended To Panama Canal’. Based on this, it is reasonable to speculate, I’d suggest, that in 1909, those living in Panama could legitimately believe German spies to already be at work in Panama.
As for whether Germany would encourage a foreign country to revolt against the United States, there is the matter of The Zimmermann Telegram, where British cryptographers deciphered a January, 1917 message from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann, offering U.S. territory to Mexico in exchange for joining the German cause. (Historians cite this as one reason the United States entered World War One by declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917.)
The backdrop to Saffire, of course, is based on the history of that time and place, including the 1903 Panamanian revolution against Columbia, and a subsequent scandal that involved William Nelson Cromwell, and Theodore Roosevelt’s libel lawsuit against Randolph Hearst. You can find a fascinating look at this in two books: How Wall Street Created a Nation: J.P. Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Panama Canal, by Ovidio Diaz-Espino, and The Untold Story of Panama, by Earl Harding.
Other historical figures in the novel include Colonel George Washington Goethals, Randolph Hearst and reporter Earl Harding as noted above, and Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show.
I hope it surprises you to learn that Harry A. Franck, Zone Policeman 88 and T.B. Miskimon are also historical figures I met during my research.
First, Harry Alverson Franck. He was a travel writer of the first half of the 20th century. Unlike the overwrought and romantic prose of most travel writers, he presented the every man’s view, with a delightful sense of sarcasm. For the material he gave us in his book Zone Policeman 88, Franck worked as an enumerator in the Zone. Because his book is in public domain, it was a lot of fun to use some of his own descriptions in the conversations he shares with Holt, as well as the story about the men mysteriously knocked out along the train tracks. At the website, I give a complete listing of the material used from Harry’s book, and much thanks to Brenda Huettner at www.harryafranck.com for help with this.
He was indeed an inspector for Colonel Goethals, and indeed Goethals held a ‘King Solomon’ type of court every Sunday morning, open to any and all, where rank did not matter. That Goethals listened to complaints each Sunday is not entirely new to anyone who has learned about the building of the canal. However, after dozens of sources, it wasn’t until I read Julie Greene’s book, The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal, that I found one of the few references to T. B. Miskimon.
As Julie Green notes, “Records maintained by T. B. Miskimon, Goethals’s inspector, provide a world of insight into the Zone’s daily affairs. ICC employees and their wives complained about everything from drunken or adulterous neighbors to fraudulent commissary managers, insulting foremen, cruel policemen, blackmailing supervisors, women of ill repute, gamblers, abusive spouses, salesmen bearing indecent photographs , and a judge who engaged in sexual harassment. Miskimon dutifully investigated each case and recommended a solution to his boss. In one case where Miskimon found fraud involving commissary books, Goethals suspended the men responsible without pay for fifteen days. When a yardmaster of the Panama Railroad was accused by a colleague of working while intoxicated, Miskimon’s detailed investigation resulted in a six-page report for Goethals , in which the inspector concluded that while the yardmaster certainly imbibed, the charge of intoxication on the job may well have been the creation of his jealous and hostile colleague.”
I learned this before I’d begun to write Saffire, and I was immediately intrigued at the story of a right-hand man sent out by the Colonel to investigate complaints. I discovered that one of the only ways to learn more about T.B. Miskimon was through the reports he typed up for Goethals, available for viewing at Wichita State University.
As a result, I spent hours there, in a quiet room, lost in those letters, letting my mind rove through another time when it did matter if men in uniform smoked on duty, and when a woman’s complaint about holes in screen windows was a complaint worthy of investigation.
A follow up trip to another collection of T. B. Miskimon letters at Georgetown University gave me more of a look into life in the Zone, as well as a sense of T. B. Miskimon as a person.
With gratitude for help from Dr. Lorraine Madway, the content of the first four of T.B. Miskimon’s letters in the novel is directly from the Special Collections & University Archives at Wichita State University, with the dates changed to reflect the novel’s timeline. As you might guess, the fifth letter, which refers to Holt, is entirely fictitious.
Nothing in those letters, however, helped me learn Miskimon’s first or middle name on Holt’s behalf. That involved more research, and I’m happy to share the answer — as well as a complete listing of research sources and a timeline — here at www.sigmundbrouwer.com/saffire.