Chris Higgins
Chris Higgins

Passing Place: A Hike Through Skye, Scotland (Part 2)

Chris Higgins
Chris Higgins

Here's Part 2 of a rather long (10-mile) hike on the Isle of Skye. If you haven't seen it yet, check out Part 1 for background and the first half of the hike.

As we ascended a mountain ridge, the sheep seemed to care much less about us. These are semi-wild sheep, living off the fertile grass of the area without extra fodder, though they are rounded up for shearing on occasion. (We'll get to that in a bit.)

Waterfall; sheep.

This is the thing we would be going up and over. It was really a trek.

Another waterfall along the way.

The path is visible in the foreground (and a little in the distance—that green strip above the gray gravel). You'll note that even a lamb here doesn't seem perturbed by humans.

On the ridge, the path was on a steep angle. On the really steep bits, I stopped taking pictures for fear of falling off.

Looking back, we see Loch Eishort as the sky begins to brighten up.

I came across this stone face (right). It even has a sort of eye.

The face, again.

Continuing, we began to see mountains in the distance.

The path was muddy (and sometimes turned into a small stream), so we often tried to walk to one side of the path. This is where we found the real mud.

The ruined village of Suisnish has been fenced in, so we couldn't get close. There's a sheep barn down there, so we had to walk up the mountain a bit and skirt around it. Suisnish is similar to Boreraig, also cleared by force.

Evidence of long stone walls in Suisnish, from a distance.

At about this point in the hike (perhaps six or seven miles in, and many hours), the sky over Skye began to do this.

And this.

You get the idea.

I was very fond of these sheep. I'm not sure they cared about me one bit.

More sky magic.

At this point, the path became considerably wider. Although it was still rocky, it was a marked change from the sheep trails we had spent so much time on earlier in the day. Our pace picked up.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of cloud formations.

A fellow drove by in an all-terrain vehicle with his sheep dog. His wife also passed us, with several similar sheep dogs. They waved, we waved, and we realized that they must run the sheep barn back in Suisnish.

Rochelle ahead of me on the trail.

Another waterfall.

More beauty.

The pebble beach.

At this point, the road actually had asphalt. We walked even faster, as we were running out of water and still had a few miles to go.

This is a modern quarry, though at the time we were convinced it was the lair of a movie supervillain.

These sheep gave us the evil eye.

This poor guy had a half-coat of wool. He looked self-conscious.

And then this began to happen. About a mile from the end of the trip (back at the ruined church), "golden hour" began. This is when the sun begins to set and casts beautiful light over things. Despite being tired and wrung-out from a day of hiking (and not quite enough water), I had to take pictures of Loch Cill Chriosd. The water was calm, and reeds grew in much of it.

The mirror effect of the loch is brilliant.

More of that.

I had to pinch myself that this is what the place looked like. It was otherworldly.

And so on.

Here's one spot where the reeds became very thick.

This stuck out as a favorite—a typical Scotland "Passing Place" sign (for single-track roads), in just the right spot.

And thus we returned to Cill Chriosd, where the journey began.

Another view of Cill Chriosd, now with a blue sky.

One our drive back to a rented cottage, we were briefly delayed by these furry friends. It was worth it.

Show and Tell
Photograph of Jefferson Davis in Women’s Clothing
International Center for Photography, Gift of Charles Schwartz, 2012

On May 10, 1865, Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederacy, was captured by Union troops near Irwinville, Georgia. Davis’s capture, about a month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, was the effective end of the Confederacy and the four-year war that had left hundred of thousands of Americans dead.

Davis, a true believer in the cause of the Confederacy, refused to accept Lee’s surrender, believing that the South could still wage a guerilla war against the Union (clearly, Lee disagreed). With that cause in mind, Davis and his family fled Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, hoping to make it to Texas, where he believed he could continue to fight. But the Davises would only make it as far as south Georgia before they were found by Union troops.

According to a handful of accounts from the period, Davis was captured while wearing women’s clothes. The story, as it’s generally told, depicts a man desperate to escape and so, with the encouragement of his wife, Varina, he donned her overcoat and shawl and slipped into the Georgia swamp with a female servant (other accounts say he grabbed his wife's coat and shawl accidentally). Union troops spotted the two “women” and, on closer look, realized that one was wearing spurred boots. Given away by his footwear, Davis surrendered to the Union troops.

The story of Davis in women’s clothing traveled quickly to the ears of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War. Stanton recognized the story as an opportunity to discredit Davis, who still had numerous sympathizers throughout the country. Historians have noted that the North gendered its victory as masculine and heroic and, in contrast, portrayed the South as feminine and weak. Davis’s flight played into that narrative, portraying the Southern leader as a coward willing to emasculate himself in order to escape. In short, manly martyrs do not wear women’s clothes. (Never mind that numerous eyewitness accounts disputed the story, including two by members of the First Wisconsin Cavalry, one of the units that captured Davis and his party and another by Davis’s coachman.)

Nevertheless, Stanton planned to exploit the account to the Union’s full advantage. But there was a slight hitch in his plan—namely, the look and style of Varina Davis’s overcoat and shawl. Mrs. Davis’s overcoat was essentially unisex, and bore a striking resemblance to the raincoats of Union soldiers. Furthermore, the shawl was also worn by many men in the mid-19th century, including Abraham Lincoln. The original plan foiled, Stanton encouraged the rumor that Davis had been captured wearing women’s petticoats, earning Davis the derogatory nickname “President in Petticoats.”

The rumor proved incredibly popular. Historian Gaines Foster writes, “Northerners delighted in the accounts of how the Confederate chieftain had tried to escape in female disguise.” Indeed, even P.T. Barnum couldn’t resist the spectacle: The circus king exhibited what he claimed to be the very clothes Davis was wearing at the time of his capture.

Boston Public Library via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Numerous prints circulated of Davis in petticoats, and photography—a relatively new medium at the time—took up the theme as well. In this combination photograph (up top) produced by the Slee Brothers of Poughkeepsie, New York, and now owned by the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, Davis is depicted in the petticoats of a woman, his head, taken from a separate photographic portrait, having been imposed on another body. Here, Davis wears bonnet, shawl, and petticoats, a fanciful elaboration on the story of his capture, and the skirts are lifted to reveal his spurred boots. The Slee Brothers were one of many photography studios to use combination printing—the production of a single positive through multiple negatives—to play with the theme of Davis fleeing in women’s clothes.

Other photographs from the period depict Davis’s head superimposed on a body wearing full hoop skirts with large men’s boots also imposed over the body, as well as Davis (again in full women’s dress) sneaking through the Georgia swampland while holding a dagger. In almost all of these photographs, the boots are prominently displayed, noting Davis’s folly and a clear part of the narrative of the North’s victory.

Photography was undoubtedly a powerful tool to disseminate the story of Davis’s and the South’s defeat. Davis himself recognized the importance of the new medium: In 1869, he commissioned a photograph of himself wearing the actual clothes he had worn when captured. But the act was fruitless and, despite his insistence, the “President in Petticoats” is a story that stuck with Davis long after death.

Header image: International Center for Photography

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]


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