Western Trips

Western Trips

Friday, October 28, 2011

San Francisco Ship / Jeremiah O Brien




The time was World War Two. We heard about Rosie the Riveter, bell bottomed trousers and rationing. This was many decades ago and today some might ask...who was Rosie the Riveter? She was a symbol of Americans who labored in our factories to build the ships, planes and vehicles necessary to win the war.


The United States was in a conflict like never seen before. All of our resources were targeted to winning the war. When you aboard the Liberty Ship S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien you are stepping back into history. The 441 foot long S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien is now docked at San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf, one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America. This Liberty Ship was named after Captain Jeremiah O'Brien, a captain in the Massachusetts Navy and a participant in the American Revolutionary War.

The Liberty Ship

The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien is one of only two still surviving Liberty Ships of the 2,700 which were produced during the war. The other surviving Liberty Ship is the S.S. John W. Brown which is home ported in Baltimore Maryland. The Brown was constructed in 56 days at the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore. Liberty ships were arguably the most famous cargo ships of World War II. When World War Two broke out in Europe in 1949, the merchant marine fleet was inadequate to undertake a large sealift of war materials. As the Allies tried to recover from the large merchant marine losses at the hands of German submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic, the necessity to replace the cargo fleet losses and add even more vessels was paramount .The answer was the creation of Liberty Ships and sometimes referred to as Project Liberty.

They were a massed produced and a relatively inexpensive ship to build. Kaiser Industries which had never built a ship prior to the Liberty Ship program, built vessels in record time by having parts of the vessel built off site and then put together at a central location. For one thing this allowed work to be done on single parts that didn't require someone with prior shipbuilding knowledge. The average time to build a Liberty Ship was figured at about 50 days. As a publicity and morale story, the S.S. Robert E. Peary was built in an amazing four days at the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California. That 96 hour time was never repeated. Shipyards for the Liberty Ship effort were located in thirteen states. The ships were called Liberty Ships because the first one launched in 1941 was the SS Patrick Henry. As a side note, the Patrick Henry did survive World War 2 but was scrapped in 1960. Another interesting fact is that the Patrick Henry took over 240 days to build and with the average later reduced to 50 days or less, it illustrates how time saving devices were learned along the way.

The majority of individual Liberty ships were assigned to the U.S. Merchant Marine service, and individual ships were usually named for famous and respected Americans. The Liberty ship had two decks running the entire length of the vessel, with seven watertight bulkheads rising to the upper deck allowing for five cargo holds.

Another great ship tour in the San Francisco Bay Area is the SS Red Oak Victory which is on permanent display at the old Kaiser shipyards in Point Richmond California. 

Visit the Jeremiah O'Brien

Today, the ship is open to the public and is well worth the visit. The ship today is a living memorial to all who built, supplied and served on these Liberty Ships.There are several amazing facts about the O Brien. This ship was built in an incredible 56 days in South Portland Maine. An almost unbelievable short time to turn out a vessel of it's size. The O'Brien was launched on June 19, 1943 made seven voyages during World War Two. From July 1943 to October 1944 the O'Brien made four sailings between the U.S. and England. In addition to that, the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien was a veteran of both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war.The O'Brien played a big part in D-Day which we all know was critical to winning the war in Europe.

The Liberty Ships were essential to our war effort. German U-Boats were sinking merchant vessels in the Atlantic. England was under siege and the Japanese were advancing in the Pacific theater. The need to be able to transport troops and supplies to the war zones including Great Britain which was chronically short of supplies because of the German U-Boat stranglehold was essential. You couldn't win the war without this capability. The Liberty Ships seemed to be the answer for transporting crucial supplies both of a military nature and of a humanitarian nature.

The crew of a Liberty Ship such as the Jeremiah O'Brien was made up of about 43 civilians. During the war years there was also a military guard unit assigned to the ships. The Jeremiah O'Brien was armed with machine guns but wasn't designed to be a fighting vessel. Escorts were quite necessary. If military supplies were carried, the military assigned a cargo officer to accompany the crew.

When the war ended,the Jeremiah O'Brien joined the mothball fleet of spare vessels grouped on the Sacramento River just east of San Francisco Bay near Martinez California. Some of these spare ships were sold off to foreign nations. Others were refitted into commercial use and still others just stayed moored in the Sacramento River.

During the 1960's various civic groups decided to try and save at least one Liberty Ship for posterity and historical purposes so that future generations would be able to know of these ships and their part in world history. In 1978 the National Liberty Ship Memorial non-profit association was started . Their purpose was to raise funds to restore and maintain an unaltered Liberty Ship. The group decided to choose the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien for their project. The O'Brien was in excellent condition and after much volunteer work and a good deal of money the O'Brien returned to service in 1979.

The O'Brien is now a living museum as well as a tribute to Rosie the Riveter moored at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco California and is open for self-guided tours. I have been on the ship several times and I would highly recommend it for any family looking for a low cost way to take in fun and education at the same time.

The Jeremiah O'Brien also schedules several San Francisco Bay area day cruises during the year which is always a fun excursion and the proceeds help the association cover the costs of maintenance. The O'Brien is truly a gift for those wishing to explore the World War Two era. San Francisco Bay also features the excellent U.S.S. Hornet Museum which is located in Alameda in the east Bay area. The museum is actually the aircraft carrier itself and is another great San Francisco side trip to another era.

You can visit the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien at Pier 45 at San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf. Hours are daily 9A-4P. Closed January 1st and Thanksgiving Day. For more information on the ship and for a schedule of events and sailings please see www.ssjeremiahobrien.org.



(Photos from author's private collection)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pulaski Tunnel Trail / Idaho

When your western U.S. road trip includes an Idaho vacation, there is a very historic trail called the Pulaski Tunnel Trail which not only tells a riveting story of what happened back in 1910 but also a story of a firefighting invention that was used to help save people in that year and is still in use today.

The Pulaski Trail Tunnel

Silver Valley's Kellogg Idaho, Courtesy Post Falls Man
The Pulaski Tunnel Trail starts about one mile south of scenic Wallace Idaho on Forest Service Road 456. The trail head is very well marked.

The trail offers a trip into history through the cool forest and past cascading water. There are interpretive markings along the way and to walk the trail and return usually takes about 2 to 3 hours. It's a chance to explore a great Idaho hiking trail and learn about what occurred there over 100 years ago. Wallace Idaho is located in far north Idaho on Interstate-90 in the beautiful Silver Valley.

Great Fires


The story goes back to the Great Fires of 1910 which engulfed the northwest, particularly in the Wallace Idaho and Montana areas. This was an era before smokejumpers and fire fighting tanker aircraft. It was a time when fire prevention in our nation's vast forests was not a high priority. It was also a time of railroad expansion and mostly unregulated logging which was cutting down our forests at a very fast rate.

The problem in 1910 was pretty much the same as in the late 1800's regarding the devastating fires in both Pestigo Minnesota and Hinckley Minnesota. The forests were being cut down at an alarming speed with no concern given about dry bits of timber being left to pile up until they were fuel waiting to ignite. Saw clippings and shavings were left on the forest floor and these too were excellent fuel for fires. All you would need to set things off would be a good prolonged drought with record high temperatures.

This prolonged hot dry spell was the setting for all three of these devastating fires. The source of ignition could be a simple as sparks from a passing train or lightning. While there had been crusaders for wise forest management, regulatory change and speeches and appeals were mostly falling on deaf ears. Countries in northern Europe had already adopted forest management techniques but the timber interests still held sway in the U.S. at the turn of the century. It would finally take another catastrophe and action at the highest levels of the federal government to force real regulatory change.

Early Fire Fighting Methods


Wallace after the fire
What were the methods in that era to fight fires? Not many. The accepted method was to dig trenches wide enough to try to contain an advancing fire and prevent it from leaping over to ignite more fuel. Today, when you see the measures taken in modern day fire fighting including the use of smokejumpers and tanker planes and how difficult even this is, you can appreciate how ineffective trench digging could be.


During the Great Fire of 1910 around Wallace Idaho there was total panic and confusion. People tried to leave towns by rail and in some cases even the trains caught fire. The Buffalo Soldiers were called from their nearby post in Montana to try to maintain order. Fire fighters who had been in the mountains with their primitive equipment were many times overtaken by the fast moving flames or found themselves trapped in caves that were having their oxygen sucked out by the fire. It was a life and death situation all around.

Ed Pulaski


Ed Pulaski, 1910
One man who had joined up with the very new U.S. Forest Service was Ed Pulaski.

Prior to joining the Forest Service, Pulaski worked many jobs such as with the railroad, mining and in ranching. In 1910 Pulaski was supervising his crew of fire fighters about 5 miles south of Wallace Idaho when the flames came raging toward them at a very fast rate. They were being chased by a backfire. Pulaski led his crew to an abandoned mine to escape the flames. By doing this Pulaski saved many lives. During this great fire Pulaski was credited with saving all but five of his 45 man crew.

Another key contribution Ed Pulaski made was the creation in 1911 of what we today know as the "Pulaski Axe". Sometimes it's referred to as the "Pulaski Tool".

Essentially it's a hand tool that is part axe and part hoe. In other words you can dig and cut with the same tool. It was an axe tool and a hoe tool all in one. Axe tools were needed to help fight wildland fires and you also needed a digging tool. It's widely believed that Pulaski, as a result of the 1910 fires, saw the need for better wildfire fighting equipment and invented this tool which is still in use today by the U.S.Forest Service. The tool is chiefly used to help construct firebreaks which is the way to contain a spreading fire. Some contend that a similar handle tool was actually invented in the 1870's but whether Ed invented or reinvented the tool, he is the one credited for bringing it to the Forest Service.


Pulaski Tool
In regards to the fire itself, it proved to be a wake up call for the government to pass regulations regarding the timber industry.

This was a time during which the Forest Service, established by President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, was in it's infancy. The Great Fire of 1910 which sometimes is referred to as the Great Idaho Fire helped provide additional needed funding for the Forest Service and bolstered the conservation efforts in our forest lands.

This great fire seemed to turn the tide in the way the government dealt with our precious natural resources. There was also a change in philosophy regarding wildfires. Aside from the need to protect towns and citizen's lives during wildfires, the old belief was to let them burn themselves out.

This too has changed whereby all fires are now fought. By the same token, forestry management progressed greatly. The more efficient and modern methods of course make this possible as compared to a century and more ago. Today's warning systems and mass communications usually prevent the heavy loss of life that occurred back in 1910 and the 1800's. Edward Pulaski's hand tool helped fire fighters in later years and is still a necessity for fighting wildfires in the 21st century.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Air Museums / Planes of Fame

grumman hellcat
Grumman F6F Hellcat
It's always a lot of fun viewing a collection of vintage aircraft. Each one seems to have a unique story about it's place in world history. Each aircraft was designed and produced for a purpose and below are two amazing air museums you'll want to visit.

Two Fascinating Aircraft Museums

Aircraft enthusiasts and historians will greatly enjoy what is one of the best collections of vintage aircraft in the southwest. The first location is Chino California. The museum operates as an independently operated non-profit organization.

As more and more aircraft were restored and the Planes of Fame collection grew, an additional display facility was opened in Valle, Arizona in 1995. This site is located halfway between Williams Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The Valle-Grand Canyon site displays over 40 of the Museum’s vintage aircraft with many of them being flyable. Many of the vintage aircraft are kept flyable by the people who donate both funds and aircraft parts to the museum. Additionally many people have donated their time to help maintain the aircraft. Aircraft restoration is a big part of what this organization does.

Per the museum's web site "Our mission is to preserve aviation history, inspire interest in aviation, educate the public, and honor aviation pioneers and veterans". The organization claims to have the oldest air museums west of the Rocky Mountains. Another amazing thing is that the museums in total feature over 175 aircraft. between the two locations you have an absolutely superb collection of old airplanes which are probably better called vintage aircraft or antique aircraft.

The museum was first established in 1957 in Claremont California by Ed Maloney as the Air Museum. Today the museum is known by that name and also as Planes of Fame. The museum expanded at it became apparent that a second location should be added. The Arizona museum opened in 1995 at the reopened Valle-Grand Canyon Airport which at one time served as a TWA facility.


From time to time some of the Planes of Fame collection may be unavailable because of their participation in air shows, movie productions and often displays at various military airbases. Below is a partial list of the flyable aircraft on display at each of the two Plans of Fame Museum locations.


grumman bearcat
Grumman F8F Bearcat
At the Chino California museum...Grumman Bearcat, Grumman Avenger, Vought Corsair, Grumman Hellcat, North American Mustang, Misubishi Zero, Lockheed Lightening.


At the Valle-Grand Canyon Arizona museum...Standard W.W. I Trainer, Curtiss Robin Flying Replica, Martin Airliner, North America Trojan, Billy Walker Nieuport Flying Replica.


In addition to the above, there are many aircraft models on static display and some in various stages of restoration. There is an emphasis on Naval aircraft at the Chino location where a part of one building features the aircraft of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a sort of naval air museum within the museum. At the Arizona location one of the most interesting aircraft on display is the 1929 Ford 5-AT Trimotor. This aircraft was built by the Ford Motor Company as a passenger aircraft. The plane was sold all over the world for both civilian and military use. The Trimotor was very popular in it's time for providing both luxury ans speed. During it's years of production, a total of 199 Ford Trimotors were produced. The last Trimotor was built in 1933.

ford trimotor plane
Ford Trimotor
The author had the opportunity to ride in a Ford Trimotor from Port Clinton Ohio to South Bass Island a short distance island off the Ohio coast in Lake Erie. It was a fun ride and I would recommend it to anyone. If your travels include a northern Ohio vacation or weekend trip you may want to check with Island Airlines   at the Port Clinton Ohio Airport for schedules and more information.

Avengers and Devastators 

Another aircraft at Planes of Fame with quite an interesting story is the Grumman Avenger, a torpedo bomber introduced in World War Two. It replaced the Devastator World War 2 planes which were considered too slow especially against fast attacking Japanese Zeros. The Avenger was first deployed at the Battle of Midway along with the Devastators already there. In fact, there was a great rush to get the Avengers delivered from their factory on the east coas and out to the Pacific Theater.

Many of the old Devastators were ultimately lost in the Battle of Midway. An excellent book on the subject of both the Devastators and Avengers is "A Dawn Like Thunder" by author Robert J. Mrazek. The book is an account of the lives of the men of Torpedo Squadron Eight and the aircraft they flew in the Pacific War. You may also want to read the story of the Avenger and the U.S. S. Hornet on display and docked at Alameda California in the Bay Area. Also very interesting is the story of Wiley Post and his record setting Lockheed Vega. 

Also, a bit north of San Francisco near Santa Rosa California is the excellent Pacific Coast Air Museum at the Sonoma County Airport. On display there is the F-15 fighter jet that was scrambled over New York City on September 11, 2001.

The Chino California location of the Planes of Fame Air Museum is at the corner of Merrill Avenue and Cal Aero Drive, on the north side of Chino Airport. The entrance is off Cal Aero Dr.


north american trojan plane
North American Trojan
In Arizona the Planes of Fame Air Museum is located at 755 Mustang Way, Valle Williams, AZ, on the southeast corner of Valle Airport. This is between the town of Williams Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This location is easily reached for those traveling through northern Arizona on Interstate-40.

If your Arizona vacation or road trip also take you to southern Arizona you will also definitely want to stop at the Pima Air and Space Museum. It's a marvelous massive indoor/outdoor air museum which you easily spend an entire day at. I did and it has a terrific historic aircraft collection. The Pima Air and Space Museum is located  on Interstate-10 on the eastern edge of Tucson Arizona.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quanah Parker / Quanah Texas

U.S. Hwy 287 is a busy thoroughfare that in Texas runs from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area northwest to Amarillo. In Amarillo it connects to Interstate-40 which is the major east/west route between California and the East. When you drive from the Dallas Metroplex to Amarillo you will pass through a small town named Quanah. What you may not know traveling through Texas is that Quanah was the name of the most famous of Comanche Indian leaders to ever ride the Texas plains. His story is fascinating, not only because he was a highly regarded by the Comanche tribe but also the story of how he became who he was.

The Land of Comancharia


The story of Qanah who was known as Quanah Parker goes all the way back to the 1830's when Texas was basically Comanche territory. In fact, during the mid 1830's the frontier in Texas was east of a line which went north/south from about present day Dallas to about San Antonio.
Quanah Museum, authors collection


Everything west of that line was considered "Comancheria" which was the land of the Comanches. Settlers who establish farms and ranches along this line were essentially in harms way. In other words, if you lived that far west on the frontier you had to contend with the possibility of deadly Comanche raids.

The Kiowa tribe in northern Texas was also a formidable threat. The Indian raids did occur and some didn't end well for the settlers.

The Parker Family and the Texas Frontier

The tale of Quanah begins with the extended Parker family moving to Texas from Illinois in 1833. The Mexicans were offering free land grants to settlers willing to move to Texas. People in effect could start anew.

The Mexicans and before them the Spaniards had quite a difficult time dealing with the Comanches who had a reputation as being some of the fiercest warriors on the frontier. Some say they were better warriors than the Apaches and at one point they expelled the Apaches from much of south Texas.

The Apaches themselves had a similar struggle against the western settlers during their 25 year long war led by Cochise and Geronimo. The Comanches and to some degree the Kiowas were a major impediment to both Spain and Mexico's northern advance. In the 1830's the Mexicans had a good reason to give land away in Texas. Offering land grants to white settlers was a good way to build a buffer against the Comanches and also a way to push the Indians northward.

In the year 1833, the Parker family built a fort which was a working farm near present day Groesbeck, TX. This site was considered the far western end of the frontier. To some it was too far west. Some may have been pushing their luck.

To the Parkers the land was good. Everything for the Parkers however changed in May of 1836. Indians approached the Parker settlement, named Fort Parker, under the pretense of asking for food. This was not totally out of the ordinary. Indians did ask for supplies from time to time from settlers. Members of the Parker family were prepared to offer food but during the conversation between the two groups the Comanches suddenly attacked and killed the family. This reportedly came right out of the blue. No warning whatsoever. Obviously a well thought out raid.

Quanah,Tx Museum plaque
What was not uncommon during a Comanche raid was the kidnapping of children.

After most of her family was killed, and it was a brutal and vicious attack, John Parker, Cynthia Ann Parker, then nine years old, and a few others were taken captive.

Why did the Comanches take prisoners? Indians took young white captives for really two reasons. One was for ransom  and the other to attempt to assimilate them to their culture and increase their own population.

Cynthia Parker saw her father and some family members killed. They were not merely killed, they were incredibly tortured. As can be expected a rescue party was sent out. During their pursuit of the Comanches one of the captives, a young teenage girl, escaped. Over the years several more captives were released but not before ransom was paid. Everyone who still managed to stay alive among this group of captives were released except for Cynthia Ann Parker. She stayed with the Comanches for 25 years.

Quanah Parker
Cynthia eventually married a Comanche by the name of Pete Nocona. After that Cynthia Ann gave birth to several half breed children and one of them grew up to be the warrior named Quanah.

Quanah turned out as an adult to be a great warrior. He was at the top of the target list of not only the U.S. Army but also the Texas Rangers. Quanah raided white settlements on the plains for years, including the famous battle at Adobe Walls against Kit Carson, and was considered the most famous and feared Comanche leader who ever fought the military. These clashes continued off and on until his surrender in 1875 in Palo Duro Canyon Texas at the hands of the well known Indian fighter Colonel Ranald MacKenzie.

Quanah Pushed His People to Assimilate 

Ironically, Quanah later on became a main proponent for the Indians adopting the white man's way of civilization and settled near Fort Sill, OK.

Parker's was the last tribe of the Staked Plains to settle on the reservation. After arriving on the reservation Quanah was named chief of all the Comanches. Also, because of his apparent financial savvy Quanah eventually was recognized as one of the wealthiest of all Native Americans. His story is about as unique as it gets when you consider how his life turned out after the horrible events witnessed by his mother, Cynthia Parker, at the old Fort Parker in 1836. You cannot fully understand the history of the Comanche in Texas without learning the amazing story of Quanah  Parker.


The Quanah Acme and Pacific Museum in Quanah Texas, which derived it's name from this famous Comanche leader, is in Hardeman County and about 100 miles northwest of Wichita Falls. The museum is in the former Acme and Pacific Railroad Depot. It offers a wide collection of items collected from town residents about local history, industry, etc. The museum address is 100 Mercer St., about 1/2 mile north of U.S. Hwy 287. If you're passing through Quanah Texas you'll want to add this unique museum to your trip planner.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos from the public domain
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Memorializing Cochise / Where is the Famed Apache Chief Buried?

arizonas dragoon mountains
Dragoon Mountains, photo courtesy Wilson44691
To this very day, the burial site of the great Apache leader Cochise is known to no one. Over the many decades since his death there was much speculation. This is only natural. The best guess or you could say tale that has gained the most credibility was that Cochise was buried in the vicinity of the Cochise Stronghold which was in the Dragoon Mountains just north of legendary Tombstone Arizona. The story is that he was buried by his braves in a valley between Tombstone and the Dragoons and then the site was stampeded with horses so that nobody would know where the burial spot was. The Apaches did such a good job of it that the tale is that they didn't even know the precise spot when they finished. We do remember Cochise still today however with the state of Arizona naming it's most southeastern county Cochise County which includes the towns of Tombstone and Bisbee.

The Apache Indians struggled over decades and even centuries against invaders of their southwest territory. First, the Spaniards traveled through what is now Arizona starting with Coronado's 1540 Expedition in search of the seven Cities of Cibola. Coronado was looking for the famed cities of gold which had been talked about by the Aztecs further south in New Spain or present day Mexico.
The Spaniards of course among other things established missions for the purpose of converting the Native population to Christianity. In fact, the missions in both New Mexico and Arizona, some of which are still in use today, were built years before Fray Junipero Serra built the first California mission in present day San Diego. 


After the Spaniards were expelled from the North American continent during the Mexican Revolution of the early 1820's, the Apaches now had a new adversary. The Apaches carried their campaign against the Mexicans across the borders into northern Mexico. The new Mexican Government carried out similar campaigns against the Apaches. All of this was relatively over a short time since the Mexicans literally lost the territory to the Americans as a direct result of the 1848 Mexican-American War resolution. Now the question was..how would the Apaches and Americans get along? It didn't take too long to find out.


Some historians contend that the Apache conflicts with the Americans lasted from 1851 to 1906. Some contend that the conflicts with settlers started in 1847 during the time of the Mexican-American War and the Taos Revolt. The first United States military campaigns against the Apache began in 1851 and the last major one would end with the surrender of  Geronimo at Skeleton Canyon New Mexico in 1886. Between this span of 35 years is what many believe was the real Apache War. Still others contend that the hottest part of the war was the period between 1861 (when Cochise became involved) until the 1886 Geronimo surrender. Many thus feel that the Apache War as we know it was a 25 year affair..still a very long time.

map of butterfield stagecoach route
In 1861, Cochise was thought to supply fire wood to the Butterfield Stage Line station at Apache Pass Arizona. The uprising that had begun in 1861 was a result of what is known as the "Bascom Affair". The Bascom Affair was something that could possibly have been avoided and included some questionable decision making by a young cavalry officer. Indian parties were raiding cattle ranches and the military was called in from Fort Apache. Cochise was caught up in the middle of it and it became a standoff that just kept escalating out of control. To give you an idea of the violence of the Apache War, a portion of the Butterfield Stage route from Bowie to Tucson ran nearby the Dragoon Mountains, Cochise's stronghold, and over a period of some 16 months Cochise's warriors killed 22 stage drivers. As you can see from the Butterfield route map above, the line to California went through the heart of the Apache territory in what is now southern Arizona. Some historians feel that the Bascom Affair ignited a 25 year Apache Indian War in Arizona that crossed over the border into Mexico before it ended with Geronimo's surrender at Skeleton Canyon in what is now New Mexico.

Cochise was captured and escaped several times. He evaded capture and continued to raid white settlements up until 1872. At that point a treaty was signed with the military and with the help of Tom Jeffords who was the only white friend of the chief. Cochise, born in 1805, then went into retirement on the Apache Reservation and died in 1874 of natural causes. He was reported to be buried in or near the Dragoon Mountains north of Tombstone AZ.

So, the question is, where can the tourist or history minded traveler find memorials and more information about Cochise? The Cochise Stronghold Indian Museum in Cochise Arizona, an unincorporated town in Cochise County. On a historical note, Big Nosed Kate who owned a popular saloon in Tombstone and confidant of Doc Holliday resided in Cochise while she was working at the Cochise Hotel after  Holliday's death. Cochise is located on Hwy 191 about 4 miles south of Interstate-10 in southern Arizona. Cochise AZ is also about 40 miles northeast of Tombstone. It's a good combination road trip with both Tombstone and Bisbee Arizona.

Another interesting stop for the outdoors enthusiast is the Cochise Stronghold Park. It offers many hiking trails which range from easy to strenuous, and features the popular Stronghold Nature Trail. At just under half a mile, the easy trail is an adventure of the senses. Cochise Stronghold is located in the Coronado National Forest. Day-use or camping fees may apply. 

The Chiricahua National Monument is also called "the land of standing-up rocks" by the Apaches. It's said that this 12,000 acre monument contains some of the earth's most startling rock formations. The Monument is an excellent hiking and birding area. Be certain to bring your camera for some terrific photo ops. The area is 36 miles southeast of Willcox Arizona. Exit Interstate-10 at Willcox and take Hwy 186. The monument is about 75 miles east of Tucson and just south of Interstate-10. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Montana Vigilantes and Henry Plummer / Bannack Montana

The Bannack Ghost Town is located in the picturesque area of southwestern Montana, twenty-four miles southwest of the town of Dillon and within Bannack State Park.

The park is about 20 miles west of Interstate-15 on State Hwy 278 and about 60 miles south of Butte Montana. If you're planning a Montana summer vacation, Bannack celebrates it's highly popular "Bannack Days" the third weekend of every July. The annual event is a celebration of pioneer days with great western events, good cooking and a fun and entertaining time for the whole family. There are dozens of historic buildings to explore and are considered by many to be the finest preserved buildings of any ghost town in America's old west.

Bannack State Park is a good addition to any Montana vacation planner. Following is an interesting tale of what occurred in Bannack in 1863-64. Bannack was one of the unique towns of Montana and it's on the U.S. Register of Historic Places.

Sheriff Henry Plummer

sheriff henry plummer
Henry Plummer
As is the case with all old west ghost towns there are some terrific stories to tell. The gold mining town of Bannack is no exception and is a big part of Montana history. What may be the most interesting story about Bannack is the story of Sheriff Henry Plummer.

Bannack Montana, established in 1862, started out as many Montana towns did in the region. It was a gold mining camp. What's also true of old gold mining towns, Bannack attracted it's share of characters..some hard working and honest and some who were not.

 Gold mining towns and regions meant money and money is what attracts outlaws. Sometimes it was easy pickings because the law enforcement was either weak or non existent. The vigilante was often used to enforce law and order. Nevertheless, people poured into the area as they did whenever rich ore was discovered.

As a result, the new town needed a sheriff and this is where Henry Plummer enters the picture. Plummer, born in 1832, became official sheriff of Bannack in May 1863. Since Montana Territory was not created until 1865, at the time Plummer took over as sheriff the town was in the Idaho Territory. There was a lot to Henry Plummer's story before he ever made to Montana.


At nineteen years of age the young Plummer set sail from new York to California via Panama. When he arrived in San Francisco he headed straight for the goldfields. Research show that Plummer headed to the wild Nevada City California, then a big boom town, and acquired a mine and ranch. The next thing we know he bought the Empire Bakery in Nevada City. Two years after that he was asked to run for town sheriff. He did and in 1856 Plummer was the only official lawman in the area for miles. After he won reelection in 1857, trouble was not far behind.

The Gunfights of Henry Plummer's Past


bannack ghost town
Bannack Ghost Town
Plummer was convicted in 1857 of shooting a man while having an affair with his wife. For this Plummer was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin Prison in California.

 His confinement didn't last long. After many of Plummer's friends sent letters and petitions to the governor attesting to his good character, etc, Plummer was released in 1859. The tale is that the pardon was really granted for health reasons because Plummer allegedly suffered with tuberculosis.

Henry Plummer's troubles didn't end with the pardon. After his release in 1859  he subsequently shot and killed an inmate attempting to escape from San Quentin. He was tried and found innocent based on justifiable homicide but under the condition that he leave the state. As if this wasn't enough, Plummer traveled to the mining region of Washington State where he again was involved in a gunfight altercation where he came out ahead.

At this point Henry Plummer decided to head back east and during his trip he was persuaded to help a man in Montana protect his family from an anticipated Indian raid. The next stop on Plummer's journey took him to Bannack Montana where the gold mines were going full tilt. The problem however was that he found himself in a gunfight with his wife's previous suitor. The gunfight occurred in a saloon and there were many witnesses testifying that Plummer had been forced into the fight. With that behind him Plummer was asked to be town sheriff of Bannack and he took over the position in August 1863. I have found no research that indicates that the Bannack town folk knew much about Plummer's somewhat tarnished and volent past.

Trouble in Bannack

bannack montana state park
Courtesy chippee, CC License 2.0
Wherever Henry Plummer happened to be, trouble was usually pretty close. Within months of Plummer taking over the sheriff position in Bannack there were two stagecoach robberies and an attempted robbery of a freight caravan.

 In addition to this a man was murdered. It seems that the appointment of the town sheriff brought with it a crime wave. While Plummer was out of Bannack supposedly to guard a gold shipment several men got together in the nearby gold boom town of Virginia City Montana. There they formed a Vigilance Committee.

A Vigilance Committee is simply a group of private citizens who decide to administer law themselves. It is referred to as vigilantism. These men decided that things were just too out of control in the Montana gold country and they would apply what was known in the old west as the lynch law. The photo above right is of more abandoned buildings in the Bannack State Park.

Vigilance Committees were in place in many areas of the old west, particularly in mining regions where valuable shipments were made on a regular basis. As civilization increased and the courts and law enforcement agencies grew the need for them vanished.


How active was this new Vigilance Committee? In their first month they lynched twenty-four men. Their last lynching was Henry Plummer in January 1864, not even one year after he became sheriff. The vigilantes were quite busy and fast. Vigilance Committees had been around for a long time as the drawing below left depicts a Vigilance hanging in 1856 San Francisco. This would have been the period where characters from the gold rush would have drifted into San Francisco.

The Montana Vigilantes


san francisco lynchings Needless to say, the Montana Vigilante's became both an admired and feared group. Like many stories from the old west, historians differ in their interpretation of what the vigilante's did. One question that's frequently asked is..did they hang an innocent man?

Could a frenzied lynch mob really take the time to fully investigate? Skeptics would say..did they really care? 
Some contend that Henry Plummer was nothing but an innocent victim of a lynch mob. Others (mostly the committee)  felt that Plummer, even while being sheriff, was actually the leader of the outlaw group who did the robbing and killing.

For those taking the opinion that Plummer was innocent, they cite that he objected to the vigilante lynchings taking place while away and in so doing made the Vigilante Committee leader angry. Therefore he was lynched because of his sympathy for the accused and nothing more. Those historians accepting that Plummer was involved in the robberies and all the men hanged were including Plummer were guilty cite that with the lynchings of the alleged gang members and of Plummer himself, the crime spree came to an end. That fact cannot be disputed. Was Henry Plummer guilty? Let us know what you can uncover.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Johnson County War / Buffalo Wyoming

The Powder River area of northeastern Wyoming has been the scene of many historical events during America's move west. It's a beautiful part of the United States and was home for many years to the Lakota Sioux.

Red Cloud's War along the Bozeman Trail during the mid 1860's helped keep this area in Sioux control for another ten years. Control of this region eventually fell to the U.S. government in the 1870s following the end of the Great Sioux Wars of 1876-77 which included Custer's Battle of the Little Bighorn in June of 1876. After the successful completion of the Sioux War the area was opened to white settlement. This area of northern Wyoming and southern Montana is one of the most historic areas of the old west and one the most scenic. The picture below right is of The Medicine Wheel located in the Bighorn National Forest.

Buffalo Wyoming


medicine wheel
Courtesy USDA
Buffalo Wyoming  is nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Bighorn Mountains and is conveniently located at the intersections of Interstates 25 and 90, about 100 miles north of Casper

Today, Buffalo is a tourist destination and there are more than a dozen historic buildings found in Buffalo which makes it a great addition to your Wyoming vacation planner. 

Just a short drive from Buffalo are several excellent historic sites that make good side trips. They include Fort Phil Kearney along the old Bozeman Trail, Fetterman's Massacre Site, the site of the Wagon Box Fight and the "Hole in the Wall"- the hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their gang. The Bighorn Mountains and the Bighorn National Forest just a few miles west of Buffalo Wyoming also offer several scenic byways for a picturesque road trip.

Buffalo Wyoming and the Johnson County War


One of Buffalo Wyoming's more historic events concerned a range war which truly demonstrated how law and order was often a very local affair. 

Range wars during the old west days were nothing new. In fact, what happened in April of 1892 in and around Buffalo Wyoming was nothing short of an invasion of Johnson County by the large cattle operations. Their targets were the smaller cattle growers who the big operators referred to as simple rustlers. The smaller operations opened up in the area as a result of the end of the Sioux hostilities. The entire region was wide open to settlement and it was only a matter of time before the two sides would come to conflict. Some of the western ranches were extremely in size such as the 3 million acre XIT Ranch in the Texas Panhandle area.



cattle kate
Ella Watson
This controversial range war of 1892 named the Johnson County War, and sometimes referred to as the War on Powder River, had it's origins really many years previous. 

To demonstrate how bad the tensions had been, in 1889 a female by the name of Ella Watson, sometimes referred to as "Cattle Kate" was lynched in Wyoming for alleged cattle rustling. 

Actually, between 1885 and 1909 some fifteen suspected cattle rustlers were killed in the area. The Johnson County War is said to have taken place in 1892 but sporadic fighting had been going on for some time therefore the name could easily be called the Johnson County Wars

The pot had been boiling for some time. Before the area of Wyoming was open to mass migration, the cattlemen essentially used all the land necessary for grazing. There were no fences. The land was in the public domain but the large cattle operations used it as a sort of monopoly. 

Cattle were put on the open range in what was public domain land.  The cattlemen would hold a spring roundup where the cows and the calves owned by several ranches were separated and the calves branded. This was the standard way of doing business. The large cattle operations banded together and formed the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. While the initial intent may not have been to monopolize the industry, as what often happens when large interests join together, monopolization is what did occur.

The tenuous  relationship between larger, wealthier ranches and smaller ranches became even worse when the 1886-1887 season was a disaster for the large ranchers due to extremely low temperatures and blizzard conditions. There was also a shortage of feed. A great number of livestock were lost. In addition to this it was a known fact that organized bands of rustlers operated in the Wyoming and Montana areas which really had nothing to do with the small ranchers and settlers but contributed to the ill will nonetheless.

In this atmosphere many smaller ranchers were killed by hired gunmen working for the larger outfits on the pretext of rustling but with very little real evidence. Lynch law was the rule when it came to rustlers. In regards to Buffalo Wyoming, the large cattle barons simply believed that the town was a haven for rustlers. In fact, they considered the entire town to be a rogue society of rustlers and decided to take action. History shows that this wasn't the case at all in the town of Buffalo and that the settlement really was a place of young settlers who had been arriving steadily in the area. The picture below right is of the Johnson County Courthouse built in 1884.

Johnson County is Invaded


johnson county wyoming courthouse
Courtesy WY St. Hist. Preservation Office
The invasion of Johnson County Wyoming in April of 1892 was nothing short of a war carried out by hired guns.

About 52 men fully armed rode on a special train from Cheyenne Wyoming up to Casper.

They had a long list of names they were after. Starting in Casper the group traveled by horseback. The supposed leaders of this group sent by the large cattle barons was a man named Frank Canton and a Major Frank Wolcott, an ex-Union soldier, rancher and member of the Stock Growers Association.

Canton was employed by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as a range detective and once became sheriff of Johnson County Wyoming in 1885. The tale is that the two Franks bickered quite a lot as to who was the leader of the group. Interestingly enough, Frank Canton had at one time earlier been considered on the list of old west outlaws. Wolcott and Canton led the group known as the "Regulators" to a small ranch called the KC. This was their first target. Staying at the ranch was Nathan Champion and Nick Ray. After two others came out from the house and were arrested, a general gun battle ensued. Nick Ray was shot and killed shortly after the fight started. Nathan Champion held the group of Regulators at bay for several hours. During the almost day long standoff, Champion managed to kill four of the Regulators. Finally near the end of the day Frank Canton decided to set the house ablaze. The standoff ended when Champion came running out of the house shooting at which time he was cut down by no less than 24 bullets.

With their work completed at the KC, the Regulators mounted up and headed to the town of Buffalo to complete their mission. This is the point where things changed drastically.

frank canton johnson county war
Frank M. Canton
Not long after the killings at the KC Ranch, the current Johnson County sheriff along with friends of Champion's from the town of Buffalo started on the trail of the Regulators. The sheriff and his posse were successful and  they surrounded the gang of Regulators at the TA Ranch, which was considered to be friendly to the Cattle Association. There, Wolcott and Frank Canton and their party were essentially trapped by the locals. They were totally on the defensive.

The hunters now were being hunted. With Sheriff Angus were a large group of small ranchers, homesteaders and Buffalo town folk. They had the TA Ranch surrounded and the Regulators feared they would get close enough to set the ranch buildings ablaze, similar to what the Regulators themselves did at the KC.

Canton and his group were hiding in the barn. The Regulators however got real lucky. One of their group managed to escape from the Buffalo posse and reached a telegraph station where a wire asking for help was sent to the Wyoming governor. The governor in turn made a request to then President Harrison to send a rescue party of federal troops. This shows just how ill planned this expedition and/or invasion was. As a result, Harrison ordered his Secretary of War to send troops under a Congressional Act allowing the use of troops during domestic violence.

The use of the old west military in civilian matters was not unheard of. The Sixth cavalry out of nearby Fort McKinney were sent to the scene at the TA Ranch. The cavalry reached the ranch just in the nick of time as the Buffalo posse was getting ready to fire on the hay filled ranch barn which would probably have started the structure on fire. All of the Regulators in effect surrendered to the cavalry which ended the standoff and saved the Regulators.

What started as a purely offensive operation for the Regulators and their cattlemen sponsors ended in near disaster. This federal intervention on behalf of the trapped Regulators illustrates the influence the large cattle barons had with both the local and federal government.

Justice and the Regulators


ta ranch barn johnson county war
TA Ranch barn
The arrested Regulators were taken to a military post back down in Cheyenne since it was thought holding the men locally was too risky. In fact, people from Buffalo stormed Ft. McKinney thinking the Regulators were taken there.

The men were eventually charged but a trial never occurred. After being let out on bail most hit the road with many returning back to Texas. Also nobody in authority at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association was ever brought to trial.

All charges were eventually dropped with the excuse given that Johnson County refused to pay the costs involved with a trial. Tensions did not evaporate however and the Ninth Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers were eventually sent to the area in place of the Sixth Cavalry to try and maintain law and order. To illustrate how tensions remained long after the cattle baron invasion, one Buffalo Soldier was killed during this tour of duty. The state of Wyoming also experienced political repercussions as a result of the federal intervention. Having been known to be a Republican voting state, Wyoming voted largely Democratic for years afterward.
 


Nate Champion has been hailed as one of the bravest men in Johnson County for his one-man stand against an army of the Regulators on April 9, 1892. Historians have differed a bit about whether Champion was involved in rustling or not. Most research points to Champion being a very small rancher who may have had some other cattle mixed in with his at various times. The large cattlemen using the public domain land as they did believed that any calf born on "their range" belonged only to a rancher who was an Association member. Using this reasoning, a man could be accused of rustling livestock which were lawfully his. This circumstance goes a long way in explaining much of the conflict.

The Johnson County War has been depicted in both a movie and a song. The conflict became a lasting part of old west lore.

A Buffalo Wyoming road trip, side trip or weekend outing offers a good look at the old west during the era of the cattle barons.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The King Ranch of Texas / One of The World's Largest


 The Ranches of Texas

One of the things that Texas is well known for is it's ranches. The size of the state itself lends it perfectly to the industry of cattle raising and the huge King Ranch ( larger than the state of Rhode Island) in south Texas is a prime example. It's also a very interesting place to visit when your Texas vacation takes you the south Texas between Corpus Christie and the Mexican border. Next to the King Ranch Texas the XIT Ranch in the opposite part of the state is a lasting part of Texas history. In fact, it was the establishment of the XIT that made the construction of today's Texas state capitol possible. The XIT story and it's 3 million acres was the largest in it's time. The King Ranch came into existence about 25 years before the XIT. The King Ranch was at one time the world's largest ranch and famous for breeding livestock, the Santa Gertrudis type of cattle which are shorthorn cows of a southern beef breed. They were named for the Spanish land grant where Captain Richard King built the King Ranch. One of the amazing things about the King Ranch aside from it's massive size (it is divided into four divisions) is the way it came about and the man who made it happen.

Today's King Ranch

cattle herd roundup
Cattle Roundup, Courtesy U.S.D.A.
Before this very interesting story, you should know that the King Ranch, which is still an operating ranch to this day, also is a very good site to add to your Texas vacation trip planner. You will definitely want to see the King Ranch Museum. Permanent exhibits Toni Frissell's award-winning photographic essay of life on King Ranch in the early 1940's. Also, a collection of saddles from around the world, guns including a King Ranch commemorative Colt Python .357 magnum revolver (serial number KR1). You will also find a limited edition series of replicas of historic Texas flags. There is also an excellent collection of vintage carriages and automobiles. The King Ranch Museum is located at 405 North 6th St., Kingsville Texas.

Another great place to visit at the ranch is The "King Ranch Saddle Shop". It's one of the most unique shops of it's kind. Lot's of items that reflect the history of the King Ranch. Household items, clothing, and "ranch stuff". Captain Richard King was unsuccessful in locating quality saddles and leather goods locally and as a result established his own saddle shop more than 150 years ago for the use of his ranch employees. There was actually King Ranch Leather and the King Ranch Saddle. Among customers of the Saddle Shop have been heads of states and kings. The King Ranch Saddle Shop is located at 201 East Kleberg Ave., Kingsville Texas.

To demonstrate how the King Ranch name has stayed popular during these modern times, those wishing a culinary treat can prepare The King Ranch Casserole. The King Ranch may be the only working ranch that has it's name on Ford trucks. One popular model remains the King Ranch F150 from Ford Motor Company. Another is the El King Ranch Expedition model.


cowboy in 1902
Cattle herd,Cowboy,circa 1902
Today's modern King Ranch is a wildlife habitat, a ranch management institute as well as a highly regulated hunting venue. Habitat management practices go back to the early 1900's when brush shelters were first constructed for bobwhite quail. King Ranch has also been a leader in wildlife research and conservation for many years. Whether you're interested in big deer, beautiful birds, or the wonders of nature, King Ranch is an excellent place to visit. Guided bus tours of the ranch operate daily except for holidays.

 You'll also enjoy our article on the History of Cowboys.



Richard King

The life of the man who founded the King Ranch is nothing short of a classic rags to riches story. Richard King was born in New York City in 1824 to poor Irish immigrant parents. At eleven years of age his parents set him up as a jewelers apprentice. The intention was that young Richard would learn this trade but the reality was that the young boy was ordered by the jeweler to do everyday chores, not learning the trade which the boy wasn't excited about to begin with. As Richard King later stated, the jewelers apprentice did cleaning, fetching and scrubbing and he had enough. At the age of eleven the boy ran away from home and New York.
bronco rider
Bronco Rider, Courtesy Joekoz451

The method chosen to escape was as a stowaway on the sailing ship Desdemona which was headed to Mobile Alabama. The boy was discovered hiding among the cargo but made it to Mobile nevertheless. The young Richard King got himself a job as a steamboat cabin boy and moved up from there. From that position to "cub" pilot and from that to full steamboat pilot. There was no formal education. What he learned came from his job and travels. When the Mexican-American war erupted in 1846, King who by then was a licensed steamboat pilot in New Orleans, joined the United States service as a pilot and served running men and supplies on the Rio Grande until the war ended.


In 1850, King, a long time steamboat friend Mifflin Kenedy and two other partners formed the M. Kenedy and Company steamboat firm. In 1866 the two other partners were bought out and the company was renamed the King-Kenedy Company. This steamboat firm had almost total control of Rio Grande steamboat shipping.

Richard King had traveled from the Brownsville Texas area north to Corpus Christie to attend a fair and during this trip he caught notice of all the land that to him seemed excellent for grazing. He was pretty well acquainted with cattle during his service in Texas during the war. In 1853 and 1854 King buying up land near the Nueces Strip area and began forming the King Ranch. King continued to add land to his ranch all the way until he died in 1885. At his death there was a total of 614,000 acres.

Take our Fun Short History Quiz on our Trips Into History site. 

History Quiz

The Civil War and Richard King

texas cowboy
American cowboy, circa 1888
The Civil War years brought many changes to the King Ranch and made Richard King a fugitive of the Union Army that was operating in the lower Rio Grande. The Republic of Texas was aligned with the Confederacy and the ranch was very important for the South. For one thing it was utilized as a base for Texas Confederate forces. Secondly, both the ranch and King's extensive Rio Grande steamboat operation helped ship cotton to Mexico which in turn shipped it to Europe bypassing Union blockades. The cotton exporting brought in a lot of money to the Confederacy.

 In all respects, Richard King was a very important Confederate agent. His involvement didn't come without risks. Three days before Christmas in 1863, King had been alerted that a contingent of Union soldiers were headed to the unprotected ranch to arrest him. King saddled a horse and set off for Mexico. When the troops arrived at the ranch there was a lot of shooting and the ranch house was essentially ransacked. The Union forces caused a great deal of damage and drove off all the cattle they could round up. They were frustrated when they learned that the person they shot and killed near the door who they suspected was King actually was a ranch hand. A few months later Richards Kings wife, children and father traveled to San Patricio to live. In February of that year she gave birth to a boy who was named Robert E. Lee King.At the war's conclusion Richard King was given amnesty and a full presidential pardon and was able to rejoin his family.

Operating the Famous King Ranch


Another interesting story about the King Ranch has to do with all of the money that had to be transported in running an operation it's size. Richard King was known to be armed with a shotgun along with armed men on many trips away from the ranch. Often he found himself traveling with large amounts of money, sometimes as much as $50,000 for purposes of meeting payroll and/or buying additional land. He built a steel box inside his coach where the money was hidden. King's office manager and his wife Henrietta were the only people who knew about the box. Amazingly, in light of the remote areas King traveled, he was never robbed or successfully ambushed. 


King managed costs by in effect selling his herd to the various trail bosses who were his employees. The bosses would sign a note for the cattle they would leave with on a three month drive each February. Upon the sale of the herd to the northern buyers, the trail bosses would repay King and earn a profit that was larger than their ordinary pay. It was an arrangement that worked well for all involved.

Some personal facts about the riverboat captain turned cattle baron. Richard King obviously became a very wealthy man. King had investments in everything from ice houses to waterfront construction in Corpus Christie. The story is that King would hand out $5, $10 or $20 notes to those who he deemed in need. He was also known to have donated to specific efforts taken on by the Texas Rangers, the statewide law enforcement group. There has also been statements that he was a land grabber but research shows that King purchased his land fair and square using lawyers to complete the process.

King ultimately split up his partnership with Kenedy but continued to operate his King Ranch. It was widely believed that the untimely death of his youngest son, Lee King, while at college in Kansas pretty much put the father in a depression and that he never really had the same enthusiasm afterward. Captain Richard King passed away in April 1885 at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio Texas. He was 60 years of age. The last surviving family member, the founder's great-great grandson left the operation in 1997 although at the time the ranch was a large corporation, King Ranch, Inc. with it's president the Houston oilman Jack Hunt.

Kingsville's Kenedy County,TX
Today, the King Ranch raises much more than cattle. They are known for their quarter horses, cutting horses and thoroughbreds and raised the 1946 Triple Crown winner. A visit to Kingsville and the vast King Ranch is a great addition to your south Texas vacation. Kingsville is located about 40 miles southwest of Corpus Christie Texas on U.S. Hwy 77. You can pick up U.S. 77 off of Interstate 37 about 10 miles west of Corpus Christie.

Another very interesting story about ranches and cattlemen that occurred around Buffalo Wyoming in 1892 is the Johnson County War. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Mexico's Zuni Pueblo / The Seven Cities of Gold

The Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico is unique in many ways and is an excellent item to add to your New Mexico vacation planner. Zuni New Mexico is located 39 miles south of Gallup. It is the largest of all the pueblos and their people speak their own distinctive language. Out of all the pueblos, the Zuni  Native Americans were the hardest for the Spaniards to try to convert to Christianity. In fact, they never did. When the Spaniards explored the American southwest, there goals in not any particular order were to colonize, find riches and to convert the pueblo Indian population to Christianity. The task of converting was left to the friars.

coronado expedition picture
Coronado Heading North by Frederic Remingto
After the U.S. took over the territory in 1848, their efforts in this regard  with the Zuni Tribe also came up short. The Pueblo of Zuni continues today to practice their traditional religion with its regular dances and ceremonies. The Kachina which is a part of Zuni religion is defined as a spirit being in western Pueblo cosmology and religious practices. Drawings of Kachina dolls are below right. The Zuni belief system is totally independent of any other peoples. New Mexico's Zuni Pueblo offers the modern tourist an excellent adventure. The pueblo has a visitor center where travelers are asked to register. The tourist center will also explain some of the pueblo rules, what to do and not to do. The Zuni Pueblo is an active settlement being the place where people work and live. Pictures can be taken however the tourist office requires a permit to be issued for this. While some pictures are allowed, the pueblo would rather the tourist take back more visual memories of their experiences. Make certain to check out the Zuni Pueblo Visitor Center website for a calendar of events. There are many ceremonies and art shows scheduled each year.


As part of your New Mexico vacation or side trip to the Zuni Pueblo, there are some sites that are must sees. One is the Old Zuni Mission. The mission lies in the center of the Zuni Pueblo. The Spanish Franciscan friars constructed the mission is 1629 and named it Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The mission turned into ruins over the centuries but was restored in 1966. This mission is thought to be the best example of Spanish mission architecture in the entire southwest. Visitors from the world over have enjoyed viewing the life-size murals of Zuni Kachina figures. The work was done by Alex Seowtewa and his sons. The Pueblo Native Americans were expert artisans and created many excellent art and jewelry pieces. Zuni pottery and pueblo pottery has a long tradition having been practiced for over a thousand years. The Zuni tribe of New Mexico is also known for their elaborate jewelry. The Zuni Reservation is home to many of the artists who have been taught how to make jewelry,
Kachina dolls, Wikipedia


Another must see site are the ruins of the village of Hawikuh which was a major historic site during Coronado's 1540 expedition. The ruins are a National Historic Landmark located 12 miles southwest of Zuni Pueblo. The site can be visited with a guide and permission from the Zuni tribal office. It is an excellent stop for the history minded traveler.


First terrace Zuni, NM, 1879
To demonstrate just how old the southwest Pueblo's and missions are, by the time Fray Junipero Serra built his first mission in present day San Diego in 1629, New Mexico already had forty-eight missions and Arizona eight.


All of the Pueblo Indians including the Zuni are believed to be the descendants of the Ancient Pueblo civilization that resided in the desert southwest. This included the present states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and parts of Colorado. The Pueblo descendants lived in this area for many centuries. There was a trail that is referred to as The Trail of the Padres that ran from Mexico City into what is now new Mexico. This trail was so ancient that the Aztecs used it when they left the north and resettled in the valleys of Mexico where Cortez ultimately found them. The trail was said to be very old even when the Aztecs used it. The trail goes for some two thousand miles over mountains and through hot deserts and really has no end whereas it spreads it's offshoot trails to virtually all parts of the southwest. It was on this trail in 1539 that Fray Marcos guided by his negro slave Estevan traveled in search of the Seven Cities of Gold. The small expedition ended badly when Estevan went ahead into the Hawikuh Pueblo, believed to be the first city, and he was subsequently killed. Fray Marcos moved ahead but decided not to enter. The Fray did however return to tell stories of golden cities and this sent the Spaniards into an excited frenzy.


The first contacts the Pueblo people had with Europeans was during the Spanish exploration of America's southwest region. The expedition into the area began in 1540 and was led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. His expedition set out from the western coast of Mexico in search of  "The Seven Cities of Cibola", the fable heard from Fray Marcos. This was also the tale told by the Aztecs who had previously lived in the north. 


Coronado reached Hawikuh in 1540 and was met by Zuni warriors. A battle ensued and the village was taken by the Spaniards but not before the women and children had been evacuated to a stronghold called Thunder Mountain. Coronado sent Don Pedro de Tovar with a group to explore towards the northwest towards what is now the Four Corners area. Here Tovar met the hopi people who told him that across a large river to the west were giant people. Tovar did end up discovering the Grand Canyon but went no further and returned to Coronado's post. A historic side note is that the El Tovar Hotel built by The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey in the early 1900's on the Grand Canyon's south rim was named in his honor. Coronado decided to send Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas to follow up on the Hopi's report. Cardenas however was never able to find a way to cross the Colorado River. Coronado of course never found his Seven Cities of Gold but the Spaniards did of course colonize most of the southwest and much of California until the Mexican Revolt in 1823-25.


Another important event whenever discussing the Pueblos of New Mexico and the Spaniards in the southwest was the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This revolt actually drove the Spanish out of New Mexico for 12 years. During the widespread uprising some 21 friars were slain. The Spaniards returned 12 years later and were able to restore their rule under less strict conditions.

While vacationing in Arizona another good stop during your road trip is the Coronado National Memorial near Tucson Arizona. Located at the boundary between the United States and Mexico, the memorial shows the influences everywhere of its neighbor to the south.To get there from Phoenix or Tucson take I-10 east and exit south on Hwy. 90 to Sierra Vista.  After reaching Sierra Vista, go south on Hwy. 92 about 20 miles to S. Coronado Memorial Drive. (From Bisbee, take Hwy 92 west). Follow S. Coronado Memorial Drive 5 miles to the Visitor Center.