Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Silver Spurs

A True Story of the American Civil War

DVD Review

Beth Horner, Storyteller

ASL Interpretation

Recommended for ages 10 through adult. $12.00, plus $3.00 shipping and handling. To order, go to www.BethHorner.com or make check payable to Beth Horner and mail to P.O. Box 540, Wilmette, IL 60091-0540.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

In April 2010, I was selected to be one of the VASA storytellers at the Sounds of the Mountain Festival of Music and Story at Camp Bethel in Roanoke, Virginia. There I heard storyteller Beth Horner for the first time, and she captured not only my heart, but the hearts of everyone in attendance.

I missed one of her sets, however, and afterwards everyone was gushing profusely over the story she had shared in that set. I could not believe that I had been absent for such a gem. That story, The Silver Spurs, was the most talked about story at the festival, and I just had to hear it. Thankfully, it was being sold at the resource table as a DVD.

Beth Horner’s DVD The Silver Spurs was recorded live in 2001 at the Festival of Storytelling at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg, Illinois. I usually do not favor live recordings, but this one is near flawless.

The story begins with a beautifully haunting song, Touch Not My Sister’s Locket, which Beth sings in a clear, sweet voice as she accompanies herself on the autoharp. The song is about a dying soldier who clutches his sister’s locket to his breast and implores his killer not to take it. His killer obliges, saying “Once I knew my enemy’s story, enemies we could not be.”

Then comes the story of Minnie Winans, as told to Beth by her father, a man of few words except when it came to telling stories.

Minnie was just four years old when, on October 31, 1862, her father, Wesley Parker Winans, rode off to fight for the Confederates in the Civil War. Winans was a reluctant soldier who did not want to leave his family, prompting a fellow soldier and friend to gift him with a pair of elaborate silver spurs, engraved with both their names, Winans and Flournoy.

Winans war experience is detailed in his diary, from which Horner reads about long marches with no rest, trenches used for sleeping, and fierce fighting in which Winans’ friend Sergeant Bickers in killed while saving Winans’ life. Winans just wants to go home to see his family, but is continually denied leave. “They have Jeff Davised us to the devil!” he laments at one point. Sadly but inevitably, Winans is killed at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee on November 25, 1863 and is buried in a mass grave, leaving Minnie with no memories of him except for his riding away to war with those shiny silver spurs.

Minnie, whom we later learn is Horner’s great grandmother, does not see those spurs again for sixty years, when they are retrieved from the grandson of a Union soldier who took them off of Winan's dead body. Horner’s father tells young Beth, “The grief of war is not only visited on those who fight and die, but often on their families for generations to come. Sometimes….it is your own enemies who will bring you peace.”

Horner’s telling style is not ostentatious or theatrical. She merely speaks in a melodious, comforting voice, her eyes shining, as she shares a piece of her heart.

This DVD is ASL interpreted, and the nameless interpreter does a splendid job of making this story real for those who are hearing impaired. Her facial expressions are so captivating that I sometimes had a hard time choosing whether to watch interpreter or teller.

This is a DVD that I will watch again and again. I will share it with friends and family. It is the kind of story that makes me realize why I fell in love with storytelling in the first place.

Postscript, written by Beth Horner:
Since I recorded the DVD, I found additional information about Winans' death that I now include in the story and that I included when I told it at Sounds of the Mountains. I was always told that Winans was buried in a mass grave. I'm still thinking that was the case -- but I think he was buried by the Union Army and not the Confederates for whom he fought.

In the National Archives, I was able to find a letter written by Winans' sister after the war. It was written to the Union Army in an attempt to locate her brother's body. The letter is stunning. In it, his sister recounts his last words as related to her by a fellow soldier, "My men have fought gallantly today. This will kill my poor wife." According to the letter, Winans was shot in the neck, walked to the bottom of a hill "by the assistance of a friend" where he was informed by a surgeon that his wound was "mortal". He then uttered his last words. Because the Union Army was upon them and the Confederacy was retreating, Winans was leaned against a tree (his spurs and a gold watch still on his person, but his diary given to a friend to give to his wife) as "his soldiers marched by and saluted". According to the letter, they had to leave him there "not yet dead". Of course, because stories continually grow and change, I include this in the version of "The Silver Spurs" that I now tell (and that I told at Sounds of the Mountains).

"The Silver Spurs" is a story that stands alone and that I also now include in a 90 minute story titled "Three Soldiers: Three Stories". "Three Soldiers" is the story of three soldiers from three different wars: Winans from the Civil War, Bedilio Gurule (my boyfriend's father) who survived the Bataan Death March and 3.5 years in Japanese Prison of War Camps during WWII, and a young female American soldier who fought in Iraq. The story is taken from the diaries, letters (and e-mails) of these three soldiers. I told it at the National Storytelling Festival in 2008. (I was grateful to Susan O'Connor, festival director, for giving me a 90 minute slot to do so.)

1 comment:

  1. Linda- good choice for a review. I love Beth and I love her work. Keep up the great job! I love reading these.