Once again, in celebration of our 200th year as a state, I am sharing the names of some Hoosiers who no longer receive the attention they deserve. As you will see, the first one is not just long forgotten, but also short and forgotten.
It’s no small wonder that Che Mah lived in Knox, a tiny town in Starke County. Che Mah was a small wonder himself, once reported to be the shortest man who ever lived. He towered under Tom Thumb, who reached 32 inches. Born in China in 1838, Che Mah was only 28 inches tall and tipped the scales (he was a very small tipper) at 40 pounds. Before he died in 1928 at the age of 90, he had traveled the world with Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull, and other notables in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.
Che Mah married an average-sized woman and was considered by most a gentleman who never angered anyone. This was a good idea on his part. He did, however, tick off his wife, who sued him for divorce, complaining that Che Mah was jealous and abusive—just two of his shortcomings. Che Mah claimed his wife had ceased to perform her wifely duties, which is more than we need to know. Che Mah was buried at the highest point in Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox, Indiana. A fitting end for someone who seldom had anything that fit.
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Hoosier, William Jennings Wedekind may have been the world’s greatest farrier. That’s why his gravestone at West Lawn Cemetery in Hagerstown is in the shape of an anvil. At the 1892 World’s Fair, he displayed 350 horseshoes, which represented the newest and most improved methods of production. His awards during the exposition were for workmanship and the tightness of his tongs. I don’t know what that means, but apparently no one was tighter.
Wedekind is also credited with developing improved swedges for racehorses. Okay, I don’t know what that means, either. But I do know that his technique was groundbreaking because the shoes helped balance the horse. Up until then, all unbalanced horses required psychotherapy.
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The life of Major General Ambrose Burnside is not a hair-raising story; it’s a hair-lowering story. We’ll leave the particulars of his military successes for historians to debate. Some of Burnside’s mishaps are legendary. He once approved a plan to place explosives 500 feet below a Confederate stronghold. Burnside’s men charged into the giant crater and then couldn’t get out, finding themselves at the mercy of the remaining Southern troops.
Here’s the important part. Major General Ambrose Burnside let the sides of his hair (known then as his “whiskers”) grow down and over the front of his ears. While he was certainly not the first ever to do this, his celebrity status resulted in what most etymologists agree was the beginning of the term “sideburns,” a simple reversal of his two-syllable name. That’s why we remember the general today.
Come to think of it: We don’t.