Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Enough To Feed Coxey’s Army

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 8, 2016

When someone says there’s enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it means there’s an excess beyond what’s needed.  The expression is a southern expression that originated with American reformer and eccentric Jacob Sechler Coxey (16 April 1854 – 18 May 1951) and has its roots in the march he led to Washington (D.C.) in 1894.  The history of this expression is one that’s true Americana, and ties in with Tuesday’s entry soapbox.

The November 26, 2016 edition of the NFTV News Online published a story by Correspondent, Briana Vanozzi titled, “Celebrating Thanksgiving With A Tribute For Troops Abroad Battleship New Jersey.”  The idiom was used in this paragraph.

It’s often said on thanksgiving that we cook enough to feed an army.  It turns out when you’re tasked with just that, it takes many volunteer groups, county organizations and an entire catering company to make it happen.  “We have well over 50 battleship volunteers, I believe another 20 volunteers form our caterer,” continued Willard.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Willard is Jack Willard, Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, of the Battleship New Jersey.

The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Florida published an article on September 4, 1985 titled, “Chefs In Tampa Expand On Standard Cuban Dishes.”  Food Editor, Charlyne Varkonyi included this paragraph in her story.

Adella Gonzmart, owner of the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, says her grandfather used to serve the broth and beans as a soup. The meat and potatoes were served separately on a platter. But the soup was enough to feed an army so customers stopped ordering entrees.

In 1955, Ford Motor Company published a book titled, “Lincoln and Mercury Times Combined with Fine Cars.”  A story accompanied by paintings by American artist Rhoda Brady Stokes (1902 – 1988) including this passage:

She had it all done and was shelling peas, and it looked like she had enough to feed an army. We all went to church in the surrey.

The Spokesman-Review of December 20, 1910 carried a story out of Ritzville, Washington that told of Mrs. Katie Holland’s testimony in court.  Her son, Paddy Holland, was accused of murdering the young school teacher, Miss Josephine Putnam.  Part of her testimony included this:

Mrs. Holland told of the checkered career of her boy, of his birth during a supposed fatal illness of her husband, the boy’s dumbness in school, joined Coxey’s army, discharged from the army after the Spanish-American war, boyhood injury, and his love for his mother.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Others who took the stand were of the opinion that Paddy was insane as evidenced by the fact that he rode five miles on horseback in his shirt sleeves on a raw, cold day; he looked at a book for an hour and a half with the book upside down; he had a habit of saying goodbye three times when he went to the fields to work; he proposed marriage to a German girl who consistently refused to speak to him; attempted to ride a reputed vicious horse in spite of the fact he was a very poor rider; he would apologize up to fifty times whenever he breached etiquette;  and more.

On page 7 of the Lewiston Evening Journal of April 17, 1894 spoke of Coxey’s Army and how hardworking Americans grew weary of having their generosity abused by members of the ragtag army of homeless unemployed men.

This week finds Coxey’s hosts down in Maryland – so much nearer Washington.  The disease which affects Coxey has become epidemic and sporadic cases are coming to notice all over the country.  A detachment of the “Industrial Army” is making its way through California en route to Washington; another branch is in Nebraska, and Morrison Swift, the Boston crank, is to start out Saturday from the Hub.  Meanwhile everybody in the regions through which they pass is tired of feeding them and allowing their barns to be used as bed-chambers.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  The men in Coxey’s Army were called bums, tramps, hoboes, fuzzytails, ringtails, and jungle buzzards.  Men who were part of Coxey’s Army stated clearly that there was a difference between hoboes, tramps and bums.  According to them, a hobo will work, a tramp won’t work, and a bum couldn’t work if he wanted to work.   On this basis, they claimed to be hoboes although most were content to refer to them as stiffs.

When the Daily Argus News of May 10, 1894 was published, it spoke of a branch of Coxey’s Army under the leadership of General Randall, and of the anticipated march through South Bend, Indiana.  Here is what was reported in part:

They came from New Carlisle, sixteen miles west.  The New Carlisle people treated them well.  Sullivan says they will move to Elkhark, fifteen miles east, passing through Mishawaka, Randall will proceed to this city this afternoon.  He will be hurried through the city, fed, camped, and passed on to the next point.  No public speaking will be permitted.

General Randall had been incarcerated in La Porte, Indiana days earlier and upon his release he threatened to sue the Mayor for alleged malicious prosecution.  By the time he was released from his six-day stay in jail, the men in his camp were starving as the citizens of La Porte refused to help the men in any way and their meager provisions had run out.  At a meeting the evening of his release, he appealed for townsfolk to feed his men.

Coxey’s Army wasn’t above committing crimes.  In fact, one branch of his army stole a train from the Northern Pacific Railway near Butte, Montana.  It took and order from President Grover Cleveland and a number of U.S. Marshals to recover the train and subdue Coxey’s Army.

Everywhere branches of Coxey’s Army marched, they expected to be fed and housed by the inhabitants of the towns through which they marched.  Southern states were more accommodating than northern states to this end, however, none appreciate the imposition these men placed on their communities.

Give Me The West” by Scottish-born American financial journalist and author B.C. Forbes (14 May 1880 – 6 May 1954) was published in the May 16, 1920 edition of The American Magazine, and this is the first published version of enough to feed Coxey’s army .

In 1910 he took Sam Blythe and Will Loeb and myself with him.  The cavalcade that crossed the Gibbon and the Fire Hole and went on down into the Madison looked like a mob of land stampeders piling into virgin territory.  The first stop we made was at Grayling, a beautiful little suburban post office which has since been taken over by the Montana Power Company and now lies under fifty feet of water.  We pitched our tents in Red Canyon, three miles distant from the town site.  We had thirty-one horses, five wranglers, two cooks, six Japanese waters and enough grub to feed Coxey’s army going and coming.  Harry, known along the frontier as ‘Harry Hardup’ for the reason that he owns only one hundred and fifty thousand acres of land and twenty thousand head of stock, ordered up a pitcher of lemonade and superintended the laying out of the camp site.  As soon as night falls, Harry east three troughs, a couple of elk steaks, drinks another quart of lemonade, smokes another box of cigars and climbs into the hay.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes was the founder of Forbes magazine.

Believe it or not, while the current idiom enough to feed an army can sometimes be traced back to enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it can also be traced back to much older origins.  But enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army (its variation) links directly to 1920 and Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes’ story!

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