18 July 2008 by Published in: Rants 7 comments

As some of you may know, I was supposed to be a presenter at the annual conference of the Little Big Horn Associates (“LBHA”) this weekend. As I announced here, I changed my mind and elected not to participate.

It’s high time that I explain why.

It seems that the LBHA has a policy that it will not pay members to participate in its conferences in any fashion. That means no compensation, no travel expenses, nothing. Never mind that this is an organization with an endowment that surpasses six figures. The policy is that if you’re a member, they pay NOTHING at all. In short, the idea seems to be that they expect you to give your time and expertise for nothing. At least where I sit, it doesn’t work that way.

That explains why, when I was asked to participate in their 2006 conference, which was held in Richmond, they made a membership in the organization part of the package: so they wouldn’t have to pay me anything. Of course, nobody explained that to me then. Rather, I thought it was standard operating procedure. I found out this spring that this idiotic and myopic policy in fact exists, and that they actually see nothing wrong with it.

For me to attend their conference, I would have had to have given up two days in the office, totaling a couple of thousand dollars of lost billable time and about $400 in gasoline costs to get to and from Hagerstown. And I was supposed to do all of this for free.

Here’s my policy: I am the one who chooses when I work for free when it comes to conferences and events like this. As just one example, I never charge battlefield preservation organizations or Civil War Roundtables for my time, typically only asking to have my travel expenses covered. For anything else, I expect to be paid for my time. I’m not saying I have to to be paid what I might otherwise bill if I were in the office, but it needs to be something to make it worth my while to come. Let’s remember that I live six hours away from Gettysburg and six hours away from Antietam, meaning that I pretty much lose two days just coming and going. And in this day and age of $4 per gallon gas, it ain’t cheap to come and go, either.

This organization, which is beset with political woes that I won’t even begin to describe, evidently doesn’t believe that it’s worth paying presenters to appear unless they’re not members and have a high profile. Unfortunately, I renewed my membership this spring before I knew about this idiotic policy of theirs, meaning that under the policy, there was no chance of my getting paid. Had I known, I would not have renewed, and then I might have been able to force them to pay me. They likewise categorically refuse to reimburse travel expenses for members, either.

Then there’s Ted Alexander. They wanted Ted to participate–which would have required either time off from the Park Service or his giving up a day off–and they weren’t going to pay him anything either, even though he’s not a member. When we heard that they were going to pay Jeff Wert to come speak (Jeff is not a member; obviously, there is no consistency in the enforcement of their stupid policy), we both a blew a gasket, and that’s when I decided to back out.

There’s another issue to address. The current chairman of the board is a man named Bill Blake. Bill also was the one to put together this conference this weekend, so he’s the one I dealt with in discussing the event. Bill categorically refused to give Ted or me any guidance, instead insisting that we develop our own programs. We were supposed to talk about something related to Custer’s activities in the area, but got no guidance at all. There are lots of retreat from Gettysburg things in and around Hagerstown to discuss, but none of them have anything at all to do with the subject of the conference. Ted and I found the lack of any guidance incredibly frustrating.

The subject of the conference this year is Antietam. Frankly, we can’t understand why. Custer was a staff officer who spent the day at the Pry House with McClellan. There’s nothing of interest there, but yet that’s the subject of the conference. Instead of asking Ted to lead the tour–he is the park historian there, after all–they hired a tour company with some guide we’ve never even heard of leading the tour. Ted was, quite rightfully, very offended by that, and I don’t blame him a bit. It’s worth noting that they’re paying for that, too.

The combination of all of these factors is why I elected to remove myself from the lineup for the conference. And, as long as this idiotic policy remains in place, I won’t be participating in any more of their programs, either.

Scridb filter


  1. Keith Toney
    Fri 18th Jul 2008 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for having the guts to go public with this topic. With the economic climate heading south for the foreseeable future and affecting all but the very top of the heap, organizations should realize its only fair to at least cover expenses for speakers/guides if not also offering compensation for the time and expertise.

  2. Dave Smith
    Fri 18th Jul 2008 at 12:10 pm

    We have these conversations, in various forms, often. I feel for Eric, and he does his speaking a lot more than I ever have.

    But if you speak at conferences, RTs, etc., you’re eventually going to run into groups that think, for some reason, that you ought to do it for free. I have less of a problem with a group that pleads poverty, that they can’t cover expenses, and let you decide if you’re willing to speak. And I’ve done it for free with no expenses, because of the upfront nature of the group.

    Eric, you’re spot on with your assessment.


  3. Fri 18th Jul 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Thanks, guys. Like I said, it’s my choice to whom I donate my services, and this group can DEFINITELY afford it. Therefore, it’s my choice not to provide free labor.

    By contrast, I’m doing an event in November for the Monterey Pass Battlefield Association, which is in its infancy, and most assuredly does not have the money. I haven’t got the slightest bit of problem donating my time and effort to them and will gladly do so, because I believe in what they’re trying to accomplish.


  4. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 19th Jul 2008 at 3:45 pm

    First, my mother used to say that people often consider a thing’s value by virtue of what they PAY for it. So, if they pay a lot, it must be worth a lot and if they pay little or nothing, that’s about what it’s worth. I know that sounds foolish, but as an artist I have discovered over the years that when I do something gratis, it is held in very little esteem whereas if somebody pays for it (when that unusual thing happens), it is always considered good for that reason alone.

    Secondly, the Bible says, the workman is worth his hire. At the very least, expenses should be reimbursed if the person is willing to speak without an honorarium. That should be a “given”. If the lecturer determines to donate his time and effort because of the nature of the group he is addressing, that is very nice, but it should be HIS decision, not the group’s.

    Someone once said that there is no “free lunch”, yet lots of folks and groups go forth on the assumption that they are OWED one. Frankly, that bothers me. If circumstances are such that a group CANNOT pay, then they shouldn’t be extending invitations to people to come and speak. St. Paul said, no man pays to be in the army and in the same way, if I’m extending myself to prepare a lecture and make the commitment to travel to someplace and be there at a certain time – perhaps necessitating an overnight stay – it has to be the height of hubris to believe that I should be willing to do all this on my own dime.

    If enough folks say “no” to this group, maybe they’ll get the idea that they’re wrong in their policies. If not, then they’ll have to entertain themselves.

  5. Tom Clemens
    Sat 19th Jul 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Wow, I owndered why they contacted me to talk about LBH participants and their activities around here. Wish I’d known about you and Ted before I said yes. I spoke there this morning, got paid, and left, I thought it was weird that their tour guide was somebody I’d never heard of, but then lots of folks out there “know it all.” Wish I’d asked for more money now..

  6. Sun 20th Jul 2008 at 6:57 pm


    Yep, they had to pay you because you’re not a member. I’m glad you did get paid.


  7. Thu 03rd Sep 2009 at 11:35 am


    You rant seems most intelligent & logical. I note the Tom Cleamens, whom I live near & know slightly, seems to agree & Tom (like Brutus) is an honorable man.

    I wonder if I might impose a bit of a rant of my own on you. I am certainly not a Civil War scholar nor a Custer expert. I have written several books on signal systems (& was key contributor to one recent enclyclopedia). I have never been paid for talks nor writing on history (nor on communication, media, speech, nor theatre) my primary academic pursuits. I taught one year at Lehigh back in 1954, & since then have been an adjunct a decade each with UofMD, UofVA, GWU, others, & the past 13 years for Marshall U. I seldome get paid much for any of this, either. $2,500 a class at GWU was tops. I don’t get that now.

    Even at GWU, that was only $20,000 a year if I’d been full time. I hold an AB ’52 San Jose State, MA ’55 Stanford, MBA Rollins/Crummer ’65 , & PhD ’76 Ohio State.

    Martin 1965, Arno 1980) has a short essay called: “A Lesson in Tactical Communication:Custer’s Last Stand.” It pointed out he violated almost very principle of accepted tactical communication. The Indians used the techniuque, but Custer did not.

    IN 1993 I presented a similar paper at Fargo, ND to a floating history conference — I forget the name of the group. Great Plains, I think.

    Then on recommendation of others there, I wrote an official versions
    for the LBH Research Reviews. It was in either 1993 or the first 1994 issue. I cannot seem to find any reference list. I tried to buy a copy, but never got it. I’d like one now, but don’t know which issue to buy. (they also deleted my footnotes) Why have a RESEARCH REVIEW without footnotes?

    I have never seen nor heard a comment on any of this. This summer I visited Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons & got back into Custer literature.
    It seems to me no one wants to say or find out why the battle went as it did. They just spout off about fascinating, but totally unrelated, issues. Does Mrs. Custer’s love life really have much to do with the key issues?
    Does it really matter if Custer’s genitals werre cut off or not? It seems to be far more important to ask shy Custer choose a native Italian, who didn’t speak English too fluently, to carry the most important message of Custer’s life to Benteen? Neither Custer nor Trumpeter Martin (Martini) having anay idea where Benteen was? And why did Custer break his group into three sections, but not establish any signal code to bring them back together if anyone found any Indians. By 1880 three rapid massed volleys were a standard Army call for help? Surely this was thought of & in some manual five years earlier?

    In other words, many of our finest historians seem to be overlooking the hows & whys of the battle, but instead conveying reams of personal data about the various participants?

    I seem to be the only one among some 800 observers who looked at the battle tactics from a signal/communication point of view? And not one of the 800 seem to have even read my book, my Great Plans paper, nor by LBH Research Reviews piece?

    Are they on some other planet, or is the fault within me?

    I suspect you may have a valid opinion!

    You might also advise me how to find a copy of the Research Reviews that carries my article. (I have just found all my old stuff, on an old laptop in a format I can no longer open.)

    Has anything come of your not-paying LBHA members issue? Shouid OI re-join or not? I guess I save on books & mag copies, but I only seem to want my one so far.

    Off to CA for 10 days for a 60th HS reunion, meet some of my five daughters, & a long naval convention. Back the 15th of Sept.

    David L. Woods, CAPT, USNR (Ret.)

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