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The Mystery of Ann Bassett and Etta Place

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Many women in the Old West had fascinating stories that were not recorded as well as they should have been. Digging up their histories sometimes raises more questions than it answers.

Ann Bassett (1878-1956) grew up as a cattle rancher's daughter on a spread in the Brown's Park area that extended into Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Various members of a cattle baron's association wanted the ranch, and when Ann's parents would not sell out, they became victims of cattle rustling. Ann's mother, Elizabeth Bassett, was the boss of the ranch, and decided to take matters into her own hands by rustling from the cattle barons in return. This went on for a number of years, and Ann eventually took over the rustling game. She earned the nickname "Queen Ann" for her efforts.

The outlaw Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch were frequent visitors to the ranch, using it to move stolen horses and cattle through. The outlaws courted Ann and her sister Josie, and Ann had an on-and-off relationship with Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) for several years, beginning when she was 15. The outlaws' association with the Bassetts in the ranch feud balanced the cattle barons' tendency to hire hit men. When Cassidy fled to South America in 1901, Ann Bassett never saw him again. She married Henry Bernard, the manager of a rival ranch, in 1903. Shortly afterward, Bernard was fired from his job and Bassett was arrested for cattle rustling (she was acquitted). The marriage lasted six years. Twenty years later, Bassett married another cattle rancher, Frank Willis, and remained in Utah for the rest of her life

Etta Place (1878-unknown) was almost certainly not her real name, but no one knows for sure what name she was born under. Little is known about her early life before she met Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid. In fact, "Place" was Longabaugh's mother's maiden name. In 1901, Place accompanied Longabaugh to New York where this portrait was made. They are believed to have married around this time. In February, she traveled to Argentina with Longabaugh and Butch Cassidy, where the three bought a ranch. According to information from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Place and Longabaugh returned to the US in 1902 and 1904, but were gone before the law caught up with them. Place returned to the US for good in 1906, and Longabaugh (along with Butch Cassidy) is thought to have died in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908, although his remains were never positively identified. In 1909, a woman fitting Place's description requested Longabaugh's death certificate in Bolivia, but never received it. After that, the fate of Etta Place is completely unknown, although many have speculated about her later life under another name …many names, in fact.

The Sundance Kid is on the lower left; Butch Cassidy is on the lower right. This photo, taken circa 1901, helped Pinkerton detectives to identify the members of Cassidy's Wild Bunch.

Etta Place is mostly a cipher to history, except for the well-documented period between 1900 and 1907. Theories about her real identity have her as a runaway mother from Texas who was a schoolteacher, or a prostitute at Fannie Porter's place in San Antonio. Or a combination of the two. Or was she Ann Bassett? You may have noticed that both Bassett and Place were beautiful women. In fact, the photos resemble each other quite a bit. The descriptions of each woman by the Pinkerton Agency were almost identical. This also occurred to Doris Karren Burton, who investigated the lives of both women and published a book in 1992 claiming they were one and the same. Dr. Thomas G. Kyle of the Los Alamos National Laboratory compared the women's photographs by computer at Burton's request and concluded they were the same person -down to a small scar in the scalp.

The theory goes that Bassett took up with the Sundance Kid after her relationship with Butch Cassidy ended. The men of The Wild Bunch were known to alternate girlfriends, without animosity, and Butch Cassidy was said to have been associated with both Josie Bassett and Etta Place at various times. Supposedly, Bassett went by the name Etta Place when she left the ranch to run with the outlaw gang. At first glance, it appears that Etta Place and Ann Bassett were never in the same place at the same time, but alternated in the historical record …at least until 1903. When Bassett married Henry Bernard and was subsequently arrested for cattle theft, there is no doubt that she was in the United States. Etta Place was in South America at the time. The Pinkerton Agency traced Place and Longabaugh at several places in Argentina, Chile, and the US during 1904-1905. The Bassett Family Association does not mention a relationship between Ann and Butch Cassidy -only that he courted Josie for a while. Could the historical record be wrong? Or is this just a case of two women who looked very much alike? The mystery may never be solved to everyone's satisfaction.

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Design
How Cambodian Refugees Started the Pink Doughnut Box Trend
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Like the red-and-green cardboard pizza boxes or white Chinese takeout containers, many doughnut boxes share a certain look regardless of where you buy them. This is especially true in Southern California: Order a dozen crullers from one of the region's many independently-run doughnut shops and you’ll likely receive them in a glossy pink box. According to Great Big Story, this trend can be traced back to an influential immigrant business owner.

In the 1970s, Ted Ngoy moved to Southern California as a refugee from Cambodia. Much of Los Angeles's current doughnut scene is thanks to him: He opened dozens of doughnut shops of his own and helped fellow Cambodian refugees in the area get started in the business. Along with passing down entrepreneurial advice, he also inspired them to choose the light pink boxes that he used in his stores. As Ngoy recalled years later, either he or his business partner, Ning Yen, started the trend after asking their supplier for a cheaper alternative to the traditional white boxes. The company was able to offer them pink boxes at a discount. Because red is considered a lucky color in many Asian cultures, the distinctive shade stuck.

Today, many doughnut places in L.A. County are still owned by Cambodian-American immigrants and their families, and they still use the same old-school packaging Ngoy and his partner popularized 40 years ago.

You can get the full origin story in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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