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The Remus Reid Story


Netlore Archive: Viral message euphemistically summarizes the life and times of 'Remus Reid,' allegedly the great-great uncle of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid... and a train-robbing horse thief to boot!

Description: Viral joke
Circulating since: Jan. 2009 (this version)
Status: False (see details below)

Email contributed by an AOL user, Jan. 9, 2008:

FW: This is how Political Spin is done in DC

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher here in southern California, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Harry (senator (D) from Nevada) Reid's great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows in Montana territory.

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription:

'Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.'

So Judy recently e-mailed Senator Harry Reid for information about their mutual great-great uncle.

Believe it or not, Harry Reid's staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

'Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.'

That's real POLITICAL SPIN! THAT is how it's done folks!

Analysis: This may come as a shock and a disappointment to some (while others will be shocked that anyone could possibly be shocked), but none of the above is true. It's an old joke, as a matter of fact, a bit of homespun political satire that has been circulating in various forms since 2000.

The image is actually a historical photo of the hanging of a New Mexico outlaw named Black Jack Ketchum in 1901.

The punchline ("Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform on which he was standing collapsed" — i.e, he was hanged) was borrowed from an even older joke that made the rounds in genealogical circles in the mid-1980s. Here's a variant published in Fonda Baselt's The Sunny Side of Genealogy in 1988:

A family historian who was writing his family history was dismayed to find that an ancestor had been publicly hanged. In a moment of inspiration he wrote, "He died during a public ceremony, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed beneath him."
The joke first emerged in a political context when some anonymous wag invented a character named "Remus Rodham" to lampoon Hillary Rodham Clinton's family tree. The rest is history....

The Remus Rodham Story
The Chadsworth Gore Story
The Chadsworth Bush Story
The Remus Cheney Story

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Last updated: 01/10/09

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