Western Trips

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nevada Railroad / McKeen Motorcar

Inventions usually come into being because of necessity and the McKeen Motorcar was an excellent example.

Railroads were expanding rapidly during the latter part of the 1800's. New tracks were being laid all over the western part of the U.S. and  people were becoming accustomed to the sound and smoke from steam locomotives. A steam locomotive during the 1860's-1870's cost about $12,000 to $15,000 each depending on configuration. The boilers were fueled usually with coal and sometimes wood. A source for water was necessary along the route and all of these things added to operating costs. To operate a steam locomotive required a large infrastructure because water had to be added about every 50 miles and coal 100-120 miles. This made operating a steam locomotive quite labor intensive. The railroads were making large profits during the country's huge westward expansion but, as a business, they were always looking to keep costs under control.

At the turn of the century the Union Pacific began adding shorter less profitable spur lines to their  routes and were searching for an economical way to operate. This is when E.H. Harriman, Director of the Union Pacific Railroad and pictured at right, asked William McKeen his Superintendent of Motive Power and Machinery to find a way to lower passenger traffic expenses on the shorter routes.

A Motorcar

McKeen's answer was a revolutionary new motorcar powered by an internal combustion gasoline engine. As you can see from the picture at the top of the page and below, the new car had other distinctive features such as a pointed front end. This was before the word aerodynamic was used and the front ends were referred to as "wind splitters".

Approximately 150 of McKeen's Motorcars were built at the Union Pacific rail yards in Omaha, NE between 1905 and 1917. The first motorcars were built at a Union Pacific owned shop and later at a shop  leased to The McKeen Motorcar Company.

In addition to the wind splitter front end and rounded rear end, the vast majority of those built had oval passenger windows which was something new and gave the cars a modern touch. The rounded windows were advertised as being watertight and dust free. There were a number later built with the more conventional rectangular windows with arched tops. Both designs are shown below. The cars were built in lengths of both 55 and 70 feet.

Mechanical Difficulties

Unfortunately there were issues regarding the engine. At the start, 100 horsepower gas engines were used then they were upped to 200 and 300 horsepower.

This was the era before the automobile explosion and gasoline was cheap but these early gas engines which were built on a marine design proved unreliable and broke down often. The motorcars also had an air-clutch and a two-speed transmission. There was no reverse gear. To run the car backwards (rail cars sometimes must) you had to shut down the engine and manually reverse the cam shaft. The earlier models had power to only the front wheels and operators often complained about a lack of traction.

As time went by some cars were refitted with kerosene engines but it appears many were subsequently re-engined back to gasoline. During the mid 1910's kerosene became cheaper than gasoline. A few were converted to steam power and some to electromotive power in the late 1920's. Heat was provided by steam water and later interior electricity was added with batteries charged by a generator on the engine.

Demand for an Economy on Shorter Routes

When the McKeen Motorcar was introduced the demand was great. Many of the first cars were sold to the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads but it's estimated that about 50 different railroads used the McKeen Motorcar from New York to California. There was a big need for economy on the shorter passenger routes. Although the unreliable engines and clutch difficulties were the major problem with the cars, they were used extensively on the nation's short line railroads and their unique design features certainly made them stand out.

Below is a partial list of smaller railroads that used the McKeen Motorcar;

Ann Arbor RR   5 cars
Arizona Eastern RR  4 cars
Oregon-Washington RR  3 cars
Maricopa-Phoenix RR  2 cars
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific RR  5 cars
Chicago Great Western RR  4 cars
Central New York Southern RR  2 cars
Houston-Texas Central RR  1 car

One of the finest railroad museums in the country and an excellent source for McKeen Motorcar history is the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. Check their schedules for rides offered on both the McKeen Motorcar and the 1926 Edwards Rail Car. The museum web site below offers directions and has a schedule of all events. You might also find the short story of the Steam Powered Motorcycle interesting.

(Photos and images from the public domain)


Here is a good site for more information on the McKeen Motorcar.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Civil War Battlefield / Picacho Pass

At the onset of the American Civil War, the Territory of New Mexico spanned from the Texas border all the way west to California. The present state of Arizona was then part of the New Mexico Territory.

The Civil War in the West

Often times when people think of the Civil War they tend to recall the great battles in the east such as Gettysburg, Shiloh and Appomattox. There was however a fair amount of activity in the southwest. Texas as an example sympathized with the Confederacy and fielded a cavalry which battled Union forces mostly in it's own territory and in Arkansas. The Territory of New Mexico's largest battle was at Glorietta Pass in 1862 southeast of Santa Fe where Colorado Union volunteers defeated a Confederate force trying to advance north.

The Westernmost Battle

What was recognized as the westernmost battle of the Civil War occurred on April 15th, 1862 at Picacho Pass in present day Arizona, 50 miles northwest of Tucson.

That extreme southwest corner of the continent, while far removed from Dixie, was a Confederate sympathizer stronghold. The majority of the people who had migrated there were from the Old South and from Texas. The area was fairly neglected by the federal government and for the most part lawless so there were few reasons for strong allegiance to the Union.

John Robert Bayler, pictured to the right, was a key Confederate military figure in the New Mexico Territory. In 1861 he organized troops to fight southwest Union forces and after some success overtaking Union outposts declared himself military governor of the"new" Arizona Territory, which represented the southern part of present day New Mexico and Arizona.

Baylor appointed a cabinet and the Confederate Congress confirmed his position. He referred to Tucson as the western capitol of the Arizona Territory and Mesilla (present day Mesilla NM) the eastern capitol. . The image below is of mid 1800's Tucson.

Indians React to the lack of Union Troops

One big problem however after driving the Union forces out was that there was no protection for the settlers from the fierce Apaches.

The Apaches had a history of raiding white settlements and with the confusion of the Civil War they had even more opportunities to do so. The Apache problem was a major concern of Baylor's and this is where he made, what many believe, was the most controversial decision of his military career.

After Baylor succeeded in driving out much the Union force from the southern part of the territory and establishing his own government he had his hands full keeping them out. He requested reinforcements but they weren't sent. Concerning his other problem, he ordered his commanders to seek treaties with the Apaches but without much success.

 In March of 1862, after being totally frustrated, he ordered his commanders to bring together as many Indians as possible under the guise of peace and friendship and gifts, separate the women and children, and when the time was right slaughter all the males. It's not clear how many of his commanders obeyed these orders. Certainly there were mixed feelings within the ranks.

As the story goes, when Confederate President Jefferson Davis heard of the extermination orders issued by Baylor, he immediately relieved him of both his military and civilian commands. Davis went as far as revoking Baylor's military commission. The image at right is of Geronimo and three Apache warriors in the 1860's.

There was an overall Confederate strategy in annexing the southern New Mexico Territory. Firstly, it was westerly adjacent to Confederate Texas. Secondly, it offered an entrance into southern California thus a possible port on the Pacific Ocean.

California became the 31st state in 1850 but had a secessionist movement of it's own going on particularly in the Los Angeles area.. In fact the legislature approved a bill for southern California secession but Union forces prevented it's implementation. Below is an image of a California secessionist flag.

Union forces were able to quell the southern California movement after their secessionist militia went east to fight in Texas. Several Union bases were established in southern California, one of them being Fort Yuma. It's purpose was to check Confederate advances into California and to launch expeditions eastward. Often thought of being in Arizona, Fort Yuma was actually on the west side of the Colorado River in California.

The Confederates are Driven Out

The initial Confederate successes in Arizona turned against them due to the efforts of a Union general by the name of  James H. Carleton, pictured right. In 1862 Carleton marched the 1st California Volunteers from Fort Yuma eastward toward Texas. He linked up with Union General Canby in New Mexico and the Confederate threat in the territory was largely eliminated.

It was during this expedition that the Battle of Picacho Pass took place. On April 15th, 1862 twelve troopers and a scout of the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry led by a Lt. James Barrett was scouting the pass looking for rebels. They came across three Confederate pickets and, against his orders to wait for the main Union column to join him, attacked the pickets. Barrett failed to see seven other Confederates hiding nearby and when they opened fire Barrett and two of his men were killed.

Barrett made the same mistake that George Armstrong Custer made 14 years later but on a much smaller scale. After the ninety minute fight both the Union cavalry and the rebels retreated. The rebels retreated east to Tucson and warned of the advancing Union forces. Rather than stay and fight, the Confederates retreated eastward and left the strategic town of Tucson wide open for Union occupation.

An interesting side note regarding John Baylor... a few years after his dismissal by Jefferson Davis Baylor rejoined the Confederate forces as a private, fought in Texas and rose to the rank of colonel. He wanted to raise troops to retake the Arizona Territory, but with the war ending never had the chance.

Visit Picacho Pass Historic Site

The battle site is very easy to reach located off Interstate-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. The site is just south of the Interstate and about 50 miles northwest of Tucson.  It offers a step back into history as well as an excellent photo opportunity in beautiful southern Arizona. The web site below gives you information to plan your visit.


Sites with additional details of the battle.



An excellent site with more information about John Robert Baylor.


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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Steamboat And An Indian War

During the mid to latter part of the 1800's, travel by steamboat could be called a luxury. In the western U.S roads and trails were generally rough and rutted and there was always the danger of attacks from Indians or bandits. Steamboat travel was comparatively safer and most likely faster.

sidewheeler steamboat
Many boats manufactured during this period were sidewheelers, paddle wheels on both sides of the boat. In fact, the sidewheelers were some of the first powered ocean vessels before the screw propeller mechanism was used.

The sidewheeler "Idaho" is pictured to the left. The other type built were sternwheelers with one paddle wheel at the stern. The picture below right is the steamboat "Far West", a sternwheeler launched in 1870 at Pittsburgh, PA. Prices in the 1870's averaged about $50,000-$60,000 for a new steamboat depending on size.

One obvious advantage with a sternwheeler was that it could navigate up a narrower river than the sidewheeler. The "Far West" was 190 ft. long with a 33 ft. beam.

It's amazing how far inland some of these sternwheelers could navigate and much of that credit belongs to a steamboat Captain by the name of Grant Marsh.

Starting out his career as a steamboat cabin boy, Marsh (pictured below right) had the reputation of being the most skilled captain on the Missouri River and a friend of Mark Twain. He is credited with taking steamboats the furthest up the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri in Montana. Some said Marsh could navigate a steamboat on dew alone. To give you an idea of the dangers of steam boating on the Missouri River, between 1819 and the very beginning of the 1900's, about 700 different boats plied the river with 300 of them eventually being wrecked.

The Steamboat and the Sioux Expedition to Montana

the far west steamboatOur story begins here where the Department of the Army in 1876 contracted two steamboats, The "Far West" and the "Josephine" as part of the Terry/Custer expedition against the Sioux Indians. The expedition which included Col. George Armstrong Custer and his immediate superior Gen. Alfred H.Terry left Fort Abraham Lincoln located about 4 miles south of Bismark, ND in the middle of May and traveled west over the prairie.

The job of the two steamboats (most Indians referred to them as "fire canoes") were to ferry additional supplies for the expedition up the Missouri to Montana. A supply line is very important for any distant military undertaking and the fact that Fort Abraham Lincoln was directly on the Missouri River which upstream went west/northwest into Montana was an advantage. The river trip was about 700 miles.

After being fully loaded at the fort, the "Far West" departed in early June on it's trip up the Missouri to the mouth of the Powder River. It was there that General Terry (pictured below left) was to meet the boat and establish the supply camp. Upon reaching the Powder, Terry sent scouts ahead up to the Yellowstone River to locate the boat. The steamboat was already moored and upon hearing this Terry rode up to the Yellowstone.

The Expedition Headquarters

general terry little bighorn
The general then decided to make the "Far West" his expedition headquarters. With Captain Grant Marsh at the helm Terry knew he would be able to go further up the Yellowstone as the ground troops moved parallel up the Powder.

Terry used the "Far West" as a staging area to begin  the assault on the Sioux village they assumed was somewhere to the south.

 He had Captain Marsh navigate up the Yellowstone to a point a few miles east of the mouth of the Rosebud River. Terry then called a meeting on the boat with Custer and other officers on the afternoon of June 21st. Maps were laid out and plans discussed and after a few hours the meeting adjourned. Everyone had their orders and Custer, who had his Dakota column camped on the nearby shore, rode out the next morning June 22nd.

At that point Gen. Terry had the "Far West" move further up the Yellowstone to the mouth of the Little Bighorn River. Captain Grant Marsh was probably the only boatman with the skill to continue that far up the Yellowstone. On the narrow river and everyone aware that  Sioux warriors were nearby, the "Far West"as a precaution moored on a sand bar in the middle of the river rather than on shore. The Sioux had a history of attacking boatmen.

battle of the little bighorn image
After the troops had their orders and left the "Far West" on June 22nd, General Terry had very little information on the status of their march. What ensued was the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Most know that thiswas a disaster for the 7th Cavalry being vastly outnumbered by some 2,000-3,000 warriors.

Custer's immediate command was wiped out to the man and a nearby detachment of three companies suffered many killed. The picture to the left from the Denver Public Library depicts Custer's battle.

Scores of books have been written about the battle itself but what is also interesting is the role the steamboat "Far West" played in the aftermath. The boat was hired at $360/day to ferry the expeditions supplies up the Yellowstone. It was then ordered to become Terry's headquarters for the expedition. It's next duty was something totally unexpected. After confirmation of the disaster was received on June 30th Captain Marsh was ordered to prepare the boat for ambulance duty.

Marsh had grass put onboard covered with blankets to make an area for the wounded. Several days after the battle the wounded were arriving escorted by the Montana column. Fifty wounded soldiers were eventually put onboard and General Terry gave Marsh the order to return to Bismark/Fort Lincoln as quickly as possible.

A Record Was Made
missouri river near bismarck
What happened next was probably a speed record at it's time and one of the most remarkable exploits in steam boating.

The 400 ton "Far West" with it's wounded soldiers traveled safely some 750+ miles down the Missouri back to Fort Lincoln in about 54 hours. This can only be credited to Grant Marsh's skill. Once the boat reached Bismark on July 5th the news of the disaster spread rapidly and details were telegraphed east.

Nine days later the "Far West" and Marsh steamed back up the Missouri to the Little Bighorn with supplies and horses for the troops still there. I think we can say that the "Far West" served the army far and beyond the call of duty.

In the years following, the "Far West" continued it's travels on the Missouri until it was wrecked in 1883. Since the average lifespan of a steamboat was only about 5 years (due to the hazards of steamboating) , the "Far West" seemed to be fortunate.

 In a twist of irony, in 1883 the "Far West" was called upon to transport Sitting Bull, one of the leaders of the Sioux renegades in 1876, between two military forts after his return from Canadian exile.

Grant Marsh had a sixty year career piloting steamboats and died in Bismark in 1916 at age 83.

Another story I believe you'll find interesting is Custer's involvement years earlier in the Washita River Battle. This battle occurred in 1868 within the Indian Territory and had repercussions all the way to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Another story we've published about the aftermath the Little Bighorn Battle is the significant army victory at the Battle of Slim Buttes in present day South Dakota. It's a very interesting story.

The sites below offer additional information on the "Far West" and Missouri steamboats.



The sites below are additional trip suggestions and information.





(Article copyright Western Trips)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad And Fred Harvey Build The El Tovar

The business relationship between a man named Fred Harvey and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad probably did more to shape early southwest tourism than any other entity. During the latter part of the 1800's as the Indian Wars came to an end and the railroads grew, more and more people traveled west. Towns and commerce were growing and flourishing particularly along the busy rail routes.

Fred Harvey was a young man who in 1850 emigrated to the U.S. from England. He worked at various odd jobs mostly in the restaurant industry and eventually opened a cafe in St. Louis with a partner. The partner however was a Confederate sympathizer and during the Civil War decided to flee with the cafe's money. That ended the cafe business but Harvey went on and secured a job with the expanding railroad. Harvey rose through the railroad corporate ranks but in 1873 jumped back into the restaurant business with two eateries along the Kansas Southern rail line. 

Fred Harvey's future success was a classic example of the "find a need and fill it" business truth. Having traveled often as part of his railroad job he knew more than anyone how sub-par food quality was along the rail routes. This was before the era of dining cars. If you were traveling by rail or by stagecoach during those years, you took your meals when the train or stagecoach stopped and you hoped the restaurant/cafe they chose was decent. Many times it wasn't. 

Harvey joined in partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to open a string of eateries along it's route. It was a great plan. Fred Harvey knew how to manage a restaurant and serve up quality food. In return, the railroad housed his establishments rent free. The railroad now had something much more to offer their riders. His first rail side eatery opened in 1876 in Topeka, Kansas. Eventually, Harvey opened dining and hotel establishments along the entire AT&SF route. These became known as Harvey House's. Travelers began to know that with Harvey managing, the accommodations and food would be of the highest standards. This was the key to his success.

One of those establishments happened to be the picturesque El Tovar Hotel on the Grand Canyon's south rim. The railroad built the hotel/restaurant (some 20 feet from the rim's edge) and Fred Harvey's company did the managing. You may also be interested in the story of Fred Harvey and his other famous Harvey House in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Prior to building the El Tovar, the railroad had constructed a spur line from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon Village. The route was about 64 miles long and was used to transport miners to and from the south rim. The locals and the railroad realized that there was strong tourism potential with the scenic Grand Canyon and it was promoted heavily in publications such as Harper's Weekly. The railway began taking visitors to the south rim in late 1901 and the El Tovar built by the railroads chief architect opened in 1905. The buggy and coach were always available to take visitors to the canyon rim but the railroad offered a much more comfortable alternative.

The picture to the right shows the very first tourist service to Grand Canyon Village from Williams in 1901. The picture below it shows the early station at Grand Canyon Village. The canyon was eventually established as a National Park and business on the railway was brisk but as the decades went by and the highways improved, by 1968 the automobile forced the Grand Canyon Railway to cease operations. 
After 20 years of idleness, the Grand Canyon Railway came back to life after being purchased from the Santa Fe Railroad by a private party. The railway began offering service to the south rim in 1989 and continues to do so.

The El Tovar Hotel, though no longer a Harvey House, is as busy as ever and is often booked up during the busy summer tourist season.

The Fred Harvey Company managed hotels and dining rooms in Las Vegas, NM... Santa Fe, NM... Needles, AZ... Barstow, CA...St. Louis...Chicago, the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and in many other locations. The Fred Harvey Company truly was America's first restaurant chain. 

The AT&SF Railroad decided to add dining cars to it's trains and after some prodding talked Harvey into managing the food service. At first Harvey thought it would be quite difficult to offer the same type of quality that his Harvey House's offered but it worked out well. Below is an early dining car poster for the Chicago and Alton Railroad.

Many people credit Fred Harvey with civilizing the old west. This was certainly true in regards to standardizing accommodations and food service. The "Harvey Girls" are another interesting story and were Fred Harvey's effort to help dignify the Harvey House's. Many of his locations were in frontier areas where crowds could be noisy and rowdy. His wait staff would often be subjected to abuse and he had a hard time holding on to good people. As a result he ran ads in eastern papers searching for young single women 18-34 years old with superb etiquette, good looks and good character. They dressed in black and white uniforms, thoroughly trained and were given specific rules to follow such as being home by 10P at night. They were supervised by an older woman much the same way a sorority house would operate. They became hugely popular with customers and represented yet another successful Harvey marketing idea.

Fred Harvey's vision together with the AT&SF Railroad's resources made travel to the old southwest a much more comfortable and predictable journey and no doubt increased the amount of travel to the area.

Two good sites below for the Grand Canyon National Park and El Tovar Hotel.



Here are excellent sites for more details regarding The Fred Harvey Company and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.



Get your New Mexico travel guide and New Mexico maps at  www.newmexico.org/guide

Get your Arizona travel guide and Arizona maps at   www.arizonaguide.com

Monday, April 18, 2011

History of Balloons

modern hot air balloon

When I think of ballooning I imagine the colorful balloons with their wicker baskets floating over the vineyards of California's Sonoma and Napa counties. I've also seen them aloft during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Balloons have served many purposes for nearly 200 years. The first known manned balloon flight was reportedly in 1783 in France. As with many new inventions their first application oftentimes had to do with military uses. Reports are that some were used on a very limited basis during the Napoleonic Wars. The first commonly recognized use of balloons as weapons however was in 1849 when the Austrian's launched them against Venice loaded with time fused bombs. The idea didn't work out too well since balloons are inherently subject to the wind and in this case the balloons floated back over the Austrians. The only other known use of balloons as bomb carriers was during World War II when the Japanese launched "Fire Balloons" against the U.S. West Coast. The balloon's incendiary devices were intended to start forest fires in the Pacific Northwest and set back our war efforts. What fires did result were quickly put out and the effort was ineffective. This could be considered the first inter-continental weapon. The picture to the left shows a shot down Japanese balloon reinflated by a group of Californians.

picture of japanese fire bomb balloon
It became apparent both during the American Civil War and in World War I that a manned balloon could be effective as an observation vehicle to help pinpoint enemy positions. During the Civil War the Union Army launched balloons from both land and boats to search for Confederate forces. The army had troops assigned specifically for that purpose. The results were so-so. A balloon is hard to control and in one case a Union general almost landed on top of Confederate forces. Balloons were also employed during World War I to help spot enemy U-Boats.

The most amazing use of manned balloons was in 1870 Paris France during the Franco-Prussian War when the city was encircled by Prussian troops. This time was known as "The Siege of Paris" or sometimes referred to as the "Paris Commune". The Prussians had won the war, the French king was held captive in Prussia and the government of France surrendered but a large group of mostly leftist Parisians would not recognize the defeat and barricaded the city.

picture of paris commune barricade
The Paris Commune lasted for many months. After weeks upon weeks of barricading Paris the city naturally ran out of provisions. Most animals were slaughtered for food including those in the Paris Zoo. The Prussians had the Parisians cut off from the rest of the world. The Prussians could have stormed the city but preferred not to for a variety of political reasons and pushed the French officials to put an end to it. Putting an end to the Paris Commune was not an easy thing to accomplish. The Prussians certainly didn't want to be responsible in the court of public opinion for a possible civilian massacre which probably would have resulted in storming the commune.

picture of early gas balloon

This is where the story of the balloon begins. 
The people of Paris during the time of the Paris Commune  were desperately trying to get word out to the rest of the world. But how would they do it? The answer was a gas filled balloon. Coal gas as opposed to hot-air was popular because the balloon could go further and higher. There were dangers however. A sharpshooter could hit the balloon exploding the coal gas. One good shot could do the trick. Other dangers were that the wind could cause the balloon to go out over the Atlantic and be lost which happened in two instances. In another case two passengers thought they were hopelessly lost over the ocean in fog but eventually came down in the snowy mountains of Norway. This inadvertently was the longest balloon ride to date. The balloon could also come down in Prussian held territory and the occupants captured. This also happened.

gas balloon during siege of paris
There were only seven balloons available in Paris and each one was in a varied state of condition. The first launch was successful and the rider traveled past the Prussian lines. The head of the French postal system then decided to use it for mail. Postage rates were set at about 20 cents per letter and a factory was converted to manufacture as many balloons as possible. The balloons were also used to transport a few important people out of the city and was successful.

Because the winds controlled balloons the trips out of Paris were one-way. To set up a "Pigeon Post" homing pigeons were taken on many flights so that there was a chance communications could be sent back to Paris. To help protect against Prussian sharpshooters the balloon launches were changed to night only, usually around midnight.

The balloon statistics during the weeks of the Paris Commune were:

66 balloons were launched
2 were lost at sea
6 were captured by the Prussians
102 passengers were carried
2,500,000 letters were carried
400 homing pigeons were carried

The Siege of Paris lasted four months and at the end the Prussians marched through Paris, charged the French with war reparations, held onto some French territory and left. That was the end of the Paris Commune which was never to reappear again. There is a very good book available for those wanting more detailed information on the Siege of Paris and the balloons, "The Fall of Paris" by author Alistaire Horne.

If you're thinking of a New Mexico vacation I would highly recommend attending the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This annual event is attended by people from throughout the world. The site below will give you dates and detailed information.


Below are sites for two excellent balloon museums worth a visit.

In Albuquerque, NM             www.balloonmuseum.com

In Indianola, Iowa                  www.nationalballoonmuseum.com

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Texas Rangers, A Proud Heritage / Waco, Texas

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas is a great stop for anyone taking a Texas vacation. The Hall of Fame and Museum tells the colorful story of the Rangers from their inception during the early settler days up until the present. The name Texas Rangers is known throughout the world today much the same way as Scotland Yard is known.

Early Texas

state of texas flag

The early colonization of Texas was not without difficulty.  It began with Moses Austin's journey to Spanish Texas in 1821 to work out an agreement to bring in settlers. The Spanish government agreed to this and Moses started the journey back to Arkansas. On the way back north he was attacked but managed to make it home. Shortly after his return however he became ill and died.
stephen f austin

His son, Stephen F. Austin shown at right, was traveling to New Orleans when his father died and after some hesitation agreed to take over the agreement his father had made with Spanish officials. The agreement gave Austin land which he in return sold to the settlers for about 12 1/2 cents per acre.

In 1823 Austin led a group of settlers from the New Orleans area and traveled up the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. The problem was that once he arrived he learned that the new Mexican government decided not to honor the prior Spanish agreement. Eventually the Mexican's came around and Austin and his emigrants were allowed to stay. The reason most likely is that the Mexicans, just like the Spaniards before them, decided that the new settlers would act as a buffer against their many troubles with the Comanches. The Comanches were raiding the Mexican settlements regularly.

The First Texas Rangers

Stephen F. Austin created the Texas Rangers with about 10 men in 1823 to help defend the newly arrived settlers. The Rangers became an official organization in 1835. One of their first duties was to protect the settlers against Comanche attacks. This was the same problem the Spanish and Mexicans endured for many years. The year 1835 saw the Comanche attack on Parker's Fort where the family was massacred and the children kidnapped. The Rangers were also involved in the Texas War for Independence from Mexico and during the border wars in the early 1900's when General Pershing was sent to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

John Coffee Hays

john coffee hays
The early Texas Rangers were known to be a rough bunch of frontiers men. Shown to the left is John Coffee Hays who was a Captain of the Texas Rangers and had much success against the Comanches (Battle of Plum Creek) and against the Mexicans during their 1842 invasion of Texas.

Hays was one of the early users of the Colt revolver. The Colt revolver was much more effective in battle than a muzzle loading Springfield and the Comanches were quite aware of this. Hays eventually attained the rank of Colonel. When he retired from the Rangers he spent some time as an Indian agent, became sheriff of San Francisco County California and was one of the founders of Oakland, California.

John "Rip" Ford

texas ranger john ford
Another interesting figure in Texas Rangers history was John "Rip" Ford pictured to the right. Ford came from South Carolina to Texas in 1836. He had a long and interesting career having served with John Hays in the Texas Rangers, was in the Texas congress and then a state senator, a Confederate commander, mayor of Brownsville, TX  and became a journalist when he purchased the local Austin paper. While in the Texas legislature he was one of the secessionist leaders. Ford was in the last Confederate battle of the Civil War that occurred some three months after Lee's surrender. During the war with Mexico as a Ranger Ford captured a War Chief who happened to be the son of Santa Anna.

Also, see our Western Trips article on the 1890 Clay County Jail

Ben McCulloch

texas ranger ben mcculloch
Another well known Ranger was Ben McCulloch from Tennessee. He left Tennessee and tried his hand at various vocations such as mining, trapping and trading but eventually went back to his farm. He decided to join his neighbor Davey Crockett in his journey to Texas in 1835 after Crockett lost a Tennessee Congressional race.

McCulloch was with Sam Houston and the Texas army at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. After the war he served as a surveyor, fought against the Mexicans in the War of Texas Independence and was elected to the Republic of Texas House of Representatives. He was a Confederate officer during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general. McCulloch was credited with several victories over Union forces. Ben McCulloch met his end in 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas when he was shot out of his saddle by a Union sharpshooter. Interesting enough, McCulloch disliked military uniforms and at the time of his death was wearing a civilian suit.

texas rangers
Learning about the Texas Rangers is the same as learning the history of Texas. Starting out as a small paramilitary band of frontiers men hoping to give protection to the first settlers, the Texas Rangers grew to be one of the most respected law enforcement agencies in the world and is to this day.

Their budget is set by the Texas legislature. They currently are comprised of 144 officers with a budget to add more if necessary in an emergency. Their headquarters is located within the Department of Public Safety in Austin. The Texas Rangers have hunted down gun fighters and bank robbers during the old western days, pursued Bonnie and Clyde in the early 20th century and continue to be involved in special investigations as well as tracking down wanted felons. They are the elite of Texas law enforcement.

If you are traveling the Texas highways I would recommend a visit to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, located about half way between Dallas and Austin on Interstate-35.

Below is their web site to help you plan your visit.


 Another good site with more information about the Texas Rangers.


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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Traveling Cross-Country on the Butterfield Stage Line / San Diego, California

Many people now travel across the western U.S. by jet plane. We can do this in a matter of hours. Some of us travel by automobile and this often takes a few days and some of us may consider this an arduous venture. Imagine making the same journey on a stagecoach. A stagecoach traveling on unpaved and rutted roads and often through hostile territory. This is exactly what many people had to endure during the 1800's especially before the building of the transcontinental railroad.

During the mid 1800's the countries main population was east of the Mississippi. The West Coast , notably the Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco area had population. The 1849 Gold Rush added thousands more. There were really three ways to get to California from the east. Wagon train, stagecoach or by ship. There were risks in all of these. In the case of ship travel, the passenger had to sail to Panama then cross the Isthmus by land and then board another ship to sail up the West Coast.

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company began service in 1858 from Missouri to San Francisco, California in an effort to help stitch a fast growing country together. There was no railroad  to California and the telegraph had not been wired. Aside from transporting passengers there was an enormous need to find an efficient way to send mail west. Up until 1858 there was really no scheduled means of transportation west of the Mississippi.

The route chosen (by the Postmaster General) was the southern route which most of the California gold seekers had chosen. It ran from Missouri through the northwest part of Texas and through New Mexico and Arizona Territory into California. It then went up the central valley and then west to San Francisco. The route was not totally safe since it traversed Comanche Indian land and the Comanche's were aggressive. It also ran through Apache Territory in New Mexico and Arizona. The $600,000 annual six year contract awarded Butterfield called for semi-weekly mail service.

The one way 2,800 mile trip between St. Louis and San Francisco typically took between 22 and 25 days with a one way fare of $200. That was quite a lot of money in 1858. The stage line had 800 employees, 139 relay stations and 250 Concord Stagecoaches. A single driver might take his coach for a distance of sixty miles. The driver had a conductor/messenger traveling with him on top with a loaded shotgun, thus the term "riding shotgun". Stations were spaced about 15-20 miles apart but when the route traveled over the arid Southwest the stations were actually further apart. Stations needed to be near springs and rivers for the sake of passengers, employees and animals. Regarding weapons, the Butterfield Line recommended taking a pistol and ammunition along. Not only were Indian attacks possible but there were bandits on the road as well. The bandits at this time were often referred to as "highway men". The Concord coach was built with extra strong suspension to make the journey over the rough trail as comfortable as possible. Most passengers however didn't feel the journey was very comfortable. Certainly not as comfortable as the transcontinental railroad about 10 years later. The coaches had bench seats and were often crowded. Not the best conditions over bumpy trails. Food quality had a lot to be desired and getting proper rest was difficult. A passenger might even be asked to walk a bit if the coach needed to be lightened because of a too sandy road. Not even first class comfort for a $200 fare in 1858 money.

Butterfield ran up large debts and the company was eventually taken over by Wells Fargo. The Confederate States oversaw the southern route from 1861-1862 and the Union ran a route to the west through the central plains which included the Pony Express for about 18 months. The Union obviously couldn't rely on the southern route during the Civil War and the Pony Express kept communication in tact with the relatively new State of California. Wells Fargo eventually ended up taking over the assets of the Pony Express when that service was discontinued.

The time line of transportation and communication seem to run together. Aside from strictly individual travel the settlement of the west started with the wagon train. Along with the wagon train the stagecoach service soon began. Then the transcontinental railroad was completed and shortly after that the telegraph lines were built to San Francisco mostly along the rail right of way. Mail sent by stagecoach took close to a month to reach California. With the railroad it took perhaps a week or less. With the telegraph, messages could reach the West Coast in a matter of minutes and hours.
The railroad did not signal the end for the stagecoach. Railroads were not built everywhere and people still needed a way to travel to unserved areas as well as to the nearest rail head. Stagecoach travel started to fade away between 1890 and the late 1920's. Roads were being paved, people were buying cars and the answer to the stagecoach at that point was the motorized bus.

By 1866 the Wells Fargo Company monopolized long distance overland stage travel. A good way to learn more about the Butterfield Overland Mail Company as well as Wells Fargo's story is to visit the very interesting Wells Fargo Stagecoach Museum in Old Town San Diego, about 4 miles north of downtown. The museum offers a 15 minute video presentation of the Butterfield Stagecoach story. Their web site is:


Here is another excellent site to learn more about the Butterfield route:


The site below will give you more information on the Concord Coach used by both Butterfield and Wells Fargo:


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Grumman Avenger / The U.S.S. Hornet / Alameda California

There certainly is plenty to see while San Francisco sightseeing. One very informative, entertaining and fun stop is to visit the U.S.S. Hornet Museum. The museum is the ship itself.

The U.S.S. Hornet located in Alameda, California is a fascinating museum. The ship moored across the Bay from San Francisco is a multifaceted story of World War II in itself and I recommend anyone living in the Bay Area or visiting to add it to their list of things to do.

The three Naval attack planes at that time were fighters, dive bombers and torpedo launchers.

This interesting story is about one of the aircraft on display on the U.S.S. Hornet, the Grumman Avenger. Grumman was a division of General Motors and produced these and other aircraft prior to World War II. Like any military aircraft it had a specific job to do. The Avenger was a naval torpedo launching plane with folding wings that made it great for carrier deployment. During an attack it was necessary to fly low (sometimes 50 feet) and as close to the target as possible. Very low altitude helped to make the angle difficult for antiaircraft guns which were more designed to hit planes from above. Flying close to the target helped with accuracy. Some pilots didn't release their torpedo until the target ship filled their cockpit window view. A torpedo plane pilot had a dangerous job.

At the onset of the war, torpedo plane pilots flew the Douglas Aircraft Devastator first deployed in 1937. It was considered a slow aircraft and being slow during an attack is not the best attribute to have. It had only a 200 MPH speed during torpedo launch and this made it an easy target for Japanese fighters and ship guns. The Japanese Mitsubishi Zero's were found to be quite fast and could maneuver better than what the U.S. had in the air at the beginning of the war. In fact the U.S. was aware of the Zero's capabilities from reports received concerning earlier air battles in Asia. This presented a big problem. During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the slow flying Devastators were nearly annihilated by the Japanese. Thirty five of the forty-one Devastators and five of six brand new Avengers which just arrived were lost.

The Avenger model from Grumman was actually planned and ordered by the military prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor as a replacement for the Douglas Devastator. The Navy started taking delivery in early 1942. These type planes as well as the older Devastators were meant to have fighter escorts to protect them against the much faster Zero and to strafe the target vessel to try to lessen their antiaircraft fire. Neither the Devastator or Avenger were designed to be fighter planes. For a variety of reasons this escort duty was not ordered at Midway (fighters did provide escort for the dive bombers) and that decision in itself is quite another interesting story to explore. Most historians believe that this decision alone is why there was such a high loss rate for both the Devastators and Avengers at Midway.

Several different models of the Avenger were built but each had a crew of three. The pilot, the turret gunner placed on top behind the cockpit canopy and a radioman-tail gunner located below and aft.

The machine guns were obviously for defense but also the tail gunner typically strafed the target after the plane dropped it's torpedo and sped away. The planes were armed with one torpedo and could be modified to carry up to 2000 pounds of conventional bombs. The ideal combat situation would be for both the dive bombers and torpedo planes to have a simultaneous attack. Hit the enemy from different angles. At times even Army Air Force high altitude B-17 bombers were used to attack ships but their hit rate was considered by some to be poor. Not easy to hit a moving target at a long distance without a guided bomb.

The Avengers used a Mark XIII torpedo. It was the most used aerial torpedo during World War II. The science involved in building and making an effective aerial torpedo is complex. Speed, depth, guidance, altitude in which it could be dropped and detonation were all factors. Typical problems were non-detonation and non-starting after being dropped. Due to this the Mark XIII went through several modifications. It's speed in the water was about 39 MPH with a range depending on modifications of about 5,000 yards. At the conclusion of the war, the Mark XIII was considered to have been a very effective weapon.

Carriers like the Hornet were the backbone of the Navy's fleet. Their planes carried enormous long range fire power. Due to this, carriers were protected by destroyers and cruisers at all costs. Carriers typically were the number one target of any attackers. At the Battle of Midway the U.S. lost the carrier U.S.S. Yorktown. The Japanese took a terrible beating losing it's four carriers before turning and steaming back to the Home Islands. The American's victory crippled the Japanese navy to the extent that it never fully recovered.

While the Avenger was designed for carrier duty, it had extensive land based action, in particular at Guadacanal in the Solomon Islands. The Avenger pilots flew out of an airfield on the island which was bombed night after night for many weeks by both Japanese bombers and surface ships. One Avenger squadron, Torpedo Squadron Eight's planes were all damaged on the airfield during Japanese shelling and they were forced to rebuild the least damaged plane from parts scavenged from the other unrepairable ones. The mechanics were successful and the rebuilt plane flew and was able to rejoin the battle and score hits.

The Battle of Guadacanal was so fierce that Navy Avenger torpedo plane pilots joined the defending Marines after their aircraft were destroyed from the Japanese bombing. Instead of the skilled pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight flying high performance aircraft, these pilots took firearms, jumped into foxholes and prepared for hand to hand combat. A heroic war effort but not exactly something they were trained for. Eventually they were relieved by a squadron of Marine aviators but each and every man of Torpedo Squadron Eight had an experience they would never forget on Guadacanal. A similar high speed plane which was developed a few years earlier was the Lockheed Vega which Wiley Post set several records with.

The original U.S.S. Hornet, which many of these Guadacanal pilots flew out from was sunk in the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1943. Another carrier was being built at the time in Norfolk and was to have a different name but after the sinking of the original Hornet it's name was changed to keep the legacy of the Hornet alive. This second Hornet saw quite a bit of action having nearly 60 battle engagements but never was hit with either torpedo or bomb. Near the end of the war it operated as close as 50 miles from the Japanese islands.

As a side note, the disappearance of Flight 19 into the Bermuda Triangle on Dec. 5th, 1945 involved five Avenger aircraft. These were never found.

A visit to the museum in Alameda is a great learning experience and something the whole family will enjoy. A great companion side trip with the Hornet is a visit to the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien, an active ship at D_Day, on display at Pier 45 at Fishermans Wharf. The O"Brien offers a chance to walk the ship. I found this tour very interesting and fun. Makes for a good family side trip.

The web site below will give you all the information you need to plan your visit.


 The sites below have more detailed information on the Avenger.



Saturday, April 9, 2011

Buffalo Bill Museum And The Wild West Goes To Europe

William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody was born in 1846 in what was then the Iowa Territory. He was a soldier, fur trapper, buffalo hunter, scout and perhaps the most popular showman of his time. 

In the late 1800's, the majority of the U.S. population resided east of the Mississippi. Journalists of the day chronicled most of the significant events of the West and the people back east were eager to read of these exploits in a land far different than theirs. In fact, a reporter named Mark Kellogg was killed along with Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Kellogg was working as a stringer and is remembered as the first Associated Press reporter killed while covering a story. The people back east had a big appetite for western news.

Cody's lust for adventure started at an early age and at 14 years old was given a job as a Pony Express rider. Because he was considered too young for battle he served during the Civil War as a Private of the Kansas Calvary while working as a teamster with a U.S. freighting caravan at Fort Laramie,  Wyoming. He then was the Chief Scout until 1872 for the 3rd U.S. Calvary during the Indian Wars. While he worked as a scout he also hunted bison for both the Army and the railroads. Cody also received a Congressional medal for valor for his Army scouting activities.You could say he was a jack of all trades for things western. The picture above shows William Cody circa 1875 at about age 29.

It appears that Cody's first endeavor with show business was in 1872 when he joined a friend appearing in Chicago acting in a western play produced by the writer and publicist Ned Buntline. Buntline had authored several dime novels and when he was unable to persuade Wild Bill Hickok
(the tale is that Hickok chased him out of town at gunpoint), his first choice, into entering show business he met Wild Bill's friend Cody and the rest is history. The plays were not treated real well by the critics but they were by the public and they became such huge successes that they played all around the country for ten years. Buntline also authored a series of dime novels called "Buffalo Bill Cody-King of the Border Men" which were great successes. 

In about 1883 Buffalo Bill formed a Western show troupe although it was called "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" without using the word "show". It was a yearly affair. The show was more like a circus with horseback riding stunts and races, historical scenes, sharpshooting, roping, Indians, frontier men and others. Even the Sioux Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull (shown below left), after his return to the U.S. from years of exile in Canada after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, joined the tour for a brief period.

With the help of Buntline and Prentiss Ingraham, another author and publicist, Cody's "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" was the most successful touring show of the 1800's. 

The fascination  with the American West was not only with easterners. Europeans as well had an insatiable appetite for the wild west tales they had read in the papers.

As a result of the show's successes and influential people Cody had met along the way, not to mention having an aggressive agent, the Wild West production set it sights on touring Europe.

In 1887, the tour played to enormous crowds in London, Manchester and Birmingham with Queen Victoria herself attending. In 1889 the show played in Paris and from there on to southern France and Spain. Then, in 1890, the show toured throughout Italy with an 8 day performance in Bologna alone. After that it was on to Germany where the shows name was changed to "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World". This adaptation included representatives of foreign troops. This was where many historians believe Theodore Roosevelt's using the term "Rough Riders" of the Spanish-American War derived from.

The European tour was nothing short of a
huge success with leaders of all the nations
attending performances. In a way it was also
a big diplomatic success for the U.S. The tour itself was a sort of traveling advertisement for America. The Europeans were excited to see the people who helped shape the great country across the Atlantic. The tour enabled Native American Indians and frontiers men the opportunity of meeting European Heads of State. This was certainly a first.
Europeans thought of the show as a true representation of the American wild west. While the spectacle was exciting and highly entertaining it was not totally accurate in regards to some of the battle reenactments performed.  Probably a lot of the European fascination arose from the stark differences in cultures between the two continents. The wide open spaces of the American West versus the more crowded and class conscious living conditions of the Continent. The European fascination with the American West was evident in several later interviews with immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island in New York during the late 1800's and early 1900's.

At one time Buffalo Bill's show played indoors at New York's Madison Square Gardens as well as on Staten Island and featured the sharpshooter Annie Oakley. 

Buffalo Bill made a fortune from his tours, books and personal appearances and bought a 4,000 acre ranch in Nebraska. He also owned another ranch in Wyoming as well as other real estate including a hotel. Unfortunately much of his wealth was later lost with bad investments. The picture here shows Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903. During his lifetime the Wild West changed dramatically. The buffalo herds were gone, the Indian Wars were over and much of the mountain West was taken over by mining operations. Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917 in Denver and was buried on Lookout Mountain outside Golden, Colorado. 

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody through his traveling shows did more than anyone in promoting the mystique of the American West to large audiences on both sides of the ocean. 

There are two excellent museums that highlight Cody's career and the living conditions of the western frontiers men.  Both of these museums are great stops for the entire family. If your western driving trip takes you to either area I would recommend them added to your itinerary. One is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center located in Cody, Wyoming. The town is located in northwest Wyoming just east of Yellowstone National Park. Driving directions can be found on the Center's web site below.


A second museum and the grave site of William F.Cody is located in Golden, Colorado. Golden is just about 10 miles west of Denver. Below is it's web site.


The web site below is a great source for additional information about Buffalo Bill's Wild West.