Western Trips

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Black Hills / Gold Seekers Invade The Indian Spiritual Grounds

Its quite interesting how the events during America's westward march, formally referred to as Manifest Destiny, in many ways seem to connect to one another. There is probably no better example than the discovery of gold in the Black Hills and the ensuing Sioux Indian War.

The Sioux and the Black Hills

To the Sioux Indians, the Black Hills held a very special spiritual meaning. The Sioux were a very spiritual people who communicated with their spirits through dance and music. Their most important ritual was the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance ritual was a 12 day affair held during the summer. By nature the Sioux were warriors and the Sun dance was a way to build tribal unity and to assert one's individual courage. It was a self-sacrificing ceremony and included self-inflicted wounds. It helped establish it's participants as valiant warriors.

The Sioux claimed the Black Hills as their own during their westward move from the Minnesota region. The Sioux considered the Black Hills to be a place where communication existed between the earth realm and the spiritual realm. It was considered the center of their universe. It was something much more important to them than anything of material value. This was demonstrated during negotiations with the U.S. Government at Fort Laramie in 1868 when the treaty they signed gave the Sioux official ownership of the Black Hills. Much of this changed in 1874.

The Black Hills and Colonel Custer

Pictured at right is part of George Armstrong Custer's 1874 expedition into the Black Hills. The expedition was launched after several rumors surfaced attesting to the presence of valuable minerals there. Custers expedition entered the Black Hills from the north and split up into two groups. The exploring expedition also turned out to be a hunting trip where Custer reportedly shot a Grizzly Bear and called this feat the biggest hunting success of his life. The picture below left is of Custer with his prize.

The Custer expedition of 1874 determined that there were indeed valuable minerals in the Black Hills and dispatched a messenger back to Fort Abraham Lincoln with the news. The information was telegraphed back east and reached the newspapers. You can imagine what happened next. The country at that time was in a financial downturn and hoards of people made plans to head to the Black Hills and stake their claim.

From the perspective of the Sioux, the Black Hills were granted to them through the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Even with the treaty in force, prospectors were in the Black Hills prior to the 1874 expedition greatly upsetting the Indians. In fact, General Sherman, the head of the Army in Washington, ordered troops to discourage prospectors from entering the area. His troops would turn back adventurers and if necessary confiscate their equipment and livestock.

Reports however were that miners in many cases were still able to reach the Black Hills. Now with the surge of people coming with the Custer news, the situation became much worse and the army could not begin to stop the invasion. There were simply too many people trying to get there. Again, to the Sioux, this was not just land. The Black Hills were a sacred place to them and they were not about to sell the land.

Sioux Anger Grows

Sitting Bull, pictured at left, was just one of the Sioux leaders who detested what was happening. The Sioux had been relegated to their reservation via the treaties but being hunters and warriors by nature, a good many ventured off the reservation particularly during the summer hunting season.

The invasion of the Black Hills by the whites made the Sioux even more hostile and restless. The Black Hills problem made militants out of many peaceful Indians.

In the beginning of westward migration, the Plains Indian for the most part traded with the settlers because at that point the emigrants were moving through the area. They were either heading to the California gold fields or to Oregon. The problems really began when the settlers stayed on and established camps and towns. Add to this the arrival of the professional buffalo hunter and his Sharps Rifle who essentially wiped out the seemingly endless herds and you have more Indian trouble.

The Black Hills invasion by the gold seekers was all it took to ignite a war. The irony is that George Armstrong Custer lost his life in an 1876 Sioux Indian War he actually had a  hand in starting by sending word out to the eastern press in 1874 that indeed the Black Hills were filled with valuable minerals.

Mining in the Black Hills

The picture at right is of the Homestake Mine in 1889, one of the Black Hill's largest. In fact, the dream of later prospectors was to find their own Homestake Mine.

During the height of the gold rush, wagons of gold were hauled to Cheyenne, Wyoming for transport east. Some of these wagons might carry up to $300,000 in gold. Some were robbed by highwaymen and in one case guards were killed. An outraged populace put up to a $2,500 reward for the capture of the robbers and there were several lynchings as a result. The Black Hill's gold proved to be a large deposit and produced about 10% of the worlds gold supply over a 125 year period.

Deadwood, SD was one of the largest settlements during the Black Hill's gold rush. The photo at right is Deadwood in 1876. The town had a reputation of being rough and violent. Whenever a town springs up with gold prospectors another element is not far behind. Gamblers, robbers, swindlers, murderers...all of these characters seemed to flow where the money was and Deadwood fit the bill.

Today there are several interesting stops to make in the Black Hill's vicinity and the most popular of those is Deadwood.

The town symbolizes the old west and in particular the gold rush days. Many interesting events take place every year in Deadwood. It's not only a fun trip for the family but you'll also learn a lot about the gold mining industry including the everyday hardships and challenges faced by the early prospectors. You will see what life there was like in 1876 and also get some great photos.

Another  related story you may find interesting is Sutter's Fort and the California Gold Rush.

The sites below give detailed information to help plan a visit.





Get your South Dakota travel guide and South Dakota maps at  www.travelsd.com/About-SD/Request-Information

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

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Yuma Prison And The Female Stagecoach Robber / Arizona

I know that a prison may not be on the top of your list as a vacation stop, but the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park is quite a unique site. First of all, the Yuma Prison was the Arizona Territory's first prison. Secondly, when it opened in 1876, its first seven inmates had the opportunity to build their own cells. I believe that may be a first.

The prison was located in what was the most remote outpost in the extreme southwestern part of the territory, along the Colorado River and right along the Mexican border.

The southwestern territory certainly had it's share of criminals and law enforcement was spotty at best due to the vastness of the region and the distance between settlements.

The Story of Pearl Hart

There is a very interesting story to tell regarding one of the prison's inmates but before that I wish to say that a stop at the prison site which is now a state historical park is an entertaining time. You'll also learn a lot about the early settlements in the old Arizona Territory. The park which also includes a museum is close to Interstate-10 in far southwest Arizona making it easy to get to.

For sure, Yuma Territorial Prison housed convicted murderers. Records indicate however the vast majority of inmates at the Yuma Prison were sent there for crimes of fraud, theft, etc. In that early era, capital punishment was administered in local towns as opposed to a territorial prison.

The picture at left was a woman by the name of Pearl Hart. Pearl was born to a middle class family in Ontario Province, Canada of French descent. She received a strong education but as fate would have it she fell in love with a man by the name of Fred Hart. Fred unfortunately was a gambler and not a good one. He held odd jobs, sometimes as a bartender, and seemed to lose to gambling what money he earned. Eventually, Pearl got tired of it and left him. In the meantime Pearl became fascinated with the west and in particular with such colorful figures as Annie Oakley.

After leaving Fred, Pearl traveled west to Colorado where she took a job as a saloon singer. While there she found out she was pregnant with Fred's child and returned to Canada. After giving birth she left the child with her mother and headed back out west this time to Arizona. The story moves fast. Fred found her in Arizona and talked her in to reunite. While with Fred a second time Pearl gave birth to a second child. Again, Fred proved to be an awful provider and decided to run off and join Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Pearl then went back to Canada and left the second child with her mother and returned once again to Arizona.

This time, Pearl took up a variety of odd jobs, mostly in the mining camps. There she met a miner named Joe Boot who claimed to be a miner by trade. Again, Pearl's choice of men proved not to be her strong suit.

To explain a bit about Joe's personality, he had been working on plans for some time to rob a train. When Pearl received a letter from home that her mother was ill and needed money for medical care, Joe's first suggestion was that they get the money the fast way. His idea was that Pearl would lure men into their hotel room where Joe would knock them over the head and take their money. Not too creative of a plan.

When this method proved too slow, Joe decided that robbing a stagecoach was the answer. For the big heist, the lady bandit Pearl cut her hair short and dressed in Fred's clothing. On May 30, 1899, the couple jumped in front of the stage traveling between Florence and Globe, Arizona. With guns drawn they stopped the stage and robbed it's occupants of several hundred dollars. As it turned out a few days later, Pearl and Joe were surrounded by sheriff deputies and were captured at their camp. A newspaper account of the capture described Joe as being very frightened whereas Pearl went for her guns and gave the deputies a tough time.

The prisoners were taken to the Globe Arizona jail where Pearl became quite a sensation with the locals. She reportedly signed autographs for the townspeople and took on the title of the "Bandit Queen". This was also a name at one time used to describe Belle Starr. Not long after being jailed, the Bandit Queen Pearl escaped but was subsequently recaptured. After faking a suicide attempt in her jail cell, Pearl was eventually put on trial in Florence. Joe Boot was tried separately and convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to 30 years in the Yuma Prison.

The local sentiment sided with Pearl who not only claimed that she never had trouble with the law before but also made the women's right movement an issue by stating "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making".  The jury was out for about 15 minutes and came back with an acquittal. Judge Fletcher Doan (later to become a state Supreme Court Justice) was furious at the verdict and accused Pearl of flirting with the jury. The judge quickly formed a new jury and had Pearl tried for stealing a six-gun from the stagecoach driver. This she was convicted of and given a 5 year sentence to the Yuma Prison. Pearl ended up serving only 2 years of the 5 year sentence. The picture at left is of Pearl Hart as a prisoner at the Yuma Territorial Prison.

Pearl After Prison

There are several stories of what happened to Pearl after her release from the Yuma Prison. The prevailing one is that she moved to Kansas City and operated a cigar store. There was also rumors that she ran into trouble with the law there involving theft. One version has her passing away in 1925 and another not until 1956. Another rumor was that she married a successful Arizona rancher and lived out her days there.

There were several reasons why her crime turned into a legend. One was the uniqueness of a female stagecoach robber. Another was her reported resistance while being arrested and her escape from the Globe jail. Another is the combination of the first two coupled with the fact that she was born into a respectable middle class family from Canada. Pearl's penchant for publicity by giving out autographs was probably another reason.

Visit the Historic Old Yuma Territorial Prison

The old Yuma Territorial Prison is now a state historical park. The visitor can examine what the old cells look like and can explore the museum and gift shop which displays many interesting artifacts of the period. There is also the original water tower, guard tower, entrance gate and library room among other things. It's proximity to Interstate-10 makes it an easy stop for travelers driving between California and Arizona. You'll also have a chance to take some unique pictures. Another interesting story is that of Sam Bass the Texas train and stage robber.

The sites below will give you information to plan your visit as well as additional information about it's history and the adventures of it's first female inmate Pearl Hart.





Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Buffalo Soldiers

One of the most effective military units ever established in the United States Army was that of the famed "Buffalo Soldiers". Buffalo Soldiers history was an important part of US military history. The 10th Cavalry was formed in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At the same time the 9th Cavalry was formed at Greenville, Louisiana. Forming the 10th Cavalry was Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a career army officer. The 9th was formed by Colonel Edward Hatch. Both regiments were comprised of African-Americans led by white officers.

The African American Soldier of the 1800's

group of buffalo soldiersIt's a well known fact that African-Americans fought alongside the Union Army during the Civil War. There are many records of their valiant service during that war but it was not until the Civil War ended that Congress, while reorganizing the peacetime army, officially acted to establish official African-American regiments.

When the Civil War ended there was a big need for added troops on the western frontier. Settlers were moving west in droves and the transcontinental railroad added even more. The need for a heavier army presence in the west was great and the new African-American regiments helped fill the need.

Involvement All Over The West

buffalo soldier on horse
For over twenty years these regiments were involved in numerous campaigns in the west before, during and after the Indian Wars. They served all over the west, from Montana in the north to Arizona and new Mexico in the southwest.

 The photo at right is of a Buffalo Soldier circa 1890.

The Buffalo Soldiers guarded stagecoach lines, railroads, telegraph lines and settlers. They engaged the Indians very shortly after they entered the plains and in some instances they were threatened by the very same white settlers they took an oath to protect. This plus the harsh elements of the northern plains made the duty of the Buffalo Soldier a particularly tough one. While the Buffalo Soldiers did not take part in such high profile battles as at the Little Bighorn, they were involved in many lesser, yet equally dangerous, campaigns.

During the years 1870-1890 there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to Buffalo Soldiers. The Medal of Honor was the military's highest award for bravery. When the 1890's arrived the Buffalo Soldiers pretty much worked themselves out of a job. The Indian Wars were over with most tribes settled on their reservation land. Towns were growing rapidly and law enforcement was mostly relegated to local and state jurisdictions.

The picture below is of the Buffalo Soldiers at the Red Cloud Indian Agency.

There are a few different versions as to how these regiments were given the name Buffalo Soldiers. What is known is that the name originated during the Indian Wars, One story is that the name was given to these soldiers by the Cheyennes in 1867. The Indian name translated as "Wild Buffalo". Another version is that the name was given during a Comanche campaign in 1871. The Comanche translation was "Fierce Fighter". There are other versions but what is known is that the Indians respected the fighting ability of these troops. There is another very interesting story of the Buffalo Soldiers involvement in New Mexico regarding Indian uprisings and the Lincoln County War.

The Buffalo Soldier in the Twentieth Century

The Buffalo Soldiers  went on to play a big part in other historic events. One in particular was during the Great Fires of 1910. This was the total devastation by several connected forest fires in a large area of Montana and northern Wyoming.

Towns were being evacuated, people were being trapped by the flames, some while inside retreating rail cars,, and the Buffalo Soldiers were called from their encampment in Montana to help maintain order. They operated successfully in what was considered the largest forest fire in American history and obviously under very dangerous conditions.

Prior to that the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves during the Spanish-American War. There appears to have been some disagreement at the time regarding their involvement in that war. Some thought that the African-American regiments should not be involved in conflicts off  American soil. Nevertheless, they were involved in the war and were sent to Cuba via Tampa, Florida. These soldiers put up with a lot of abuse from certain whites in their own country and it was certain that it would continue during their deployment in Cuba. It did continue but the Buffalo Soldiers performed exemplary. Even knowing what they were getting into, the soldiers looked at their participation as yet another opportunity to prove themselves. The photo below is a Buffalo Soldier regiment stationed in Cuba.

buffalo soldiers in cuba
The 92nd Infantry Division was an African-American unit with soldiers from all states. The division was formed in 1917 and participated in both World Wars. Most action was seen in France during World War I and Italy during World War II. The picture below right is the 92nd Infantry Division marching through Italy in 1945.

Below left are the pictures of two Buffalo Soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997 for their bravery with the 92nd Infantry Division during World War II.

buffalo soldiers 92nd infantry division
At top is John R. Fox who was killed after deliberately ordering artillery fire on his own position while being overrun by Germans. His actions stalled the enemy advance. The picture below it is of Vernon J. Baker, awarded the Medal of Honor for destroying six enemy machine gun nests, two observation posts and four dugouts.

Another interesting note about the Buffalo Soldiers is that aside from serving their country as military fighting men, parts of the 9th Cavalry and 24th Infantry Regiments served in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1899 as some of the very first national park rangers. The army was involved with our national parks acting similar to forest rangers as far back as 1891 but it was not until 1899 that African-American units were involved. The park ranger hat visitors are accustomed to seeing today dates back to photographs of the Buffalo Soldier Rangers from 1899.

The Buffalo Soldiers were an incredibly brave fighting force. Today there are several monuments across the country honoring their contributions. One is the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas. It's a great weekend trip or a good educational stop during your extended vacation. There are also monuments located in Kansas City, MO, Junction City, KS. and at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.

The web sites below will give you more detailed information.




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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bandelier National Monument / New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument is a fascinating site. Named for Adolph Bandelier, a 19th century anthropologist, this is where native Pueblo Indians had permanent settlements as far back as 1150 AD. Humans are thought to have been in the area over 10,000 years ago. Located just a few miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the monument is an excellent example of old cliff dwellings. It's believed that by about 1550 the cliff dwellers moved to pueblo settlements along the nearby Rio Grande.

See the Ancient Wonders at Bandelier

bandelier national monument
The monument features kivas, petroglyphs and rock paintings as well as many fun hiking trails. The museum features native pottery, tools and other ancient artifacts.

There is a great deal of wildlife at Bandelier. Deer and elk are abundant.  Black bears and mountain lions are also present but are rarely seen by visitors. During winter months there is also the opportunity to Nordic snow ski on several trails in the upper elevations of the monument. Bandelier offers over 70 miles of hiking trails within it's 33,000 acres. Camping is also available at three different campgrounds.

The area was named a National Monument in 1916 during the Woodrow Wilson administration. The structures at the site are from the era of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the time of the Great Depression. You can also see several pastel artworks from Helmut Naumer Sr. and the Works Progress Administration, another New Deal Agency from the depression years. Bandelier is constructed in a rustic style which is an excellent example of the construction during the time of the Civilian Construction Corp years.

Bandelier Ranger Programs

bandelier cliff dwellings
During the summer months there is a weekly evening ranger program that takes visitors on a magical walking tour past the cliff dwellings. The tour begins at sundown and the group has a chance to see the cliff dwellings as they would appear at night time, lit with fires and the sound of Pueblo Indian chants. It's a fun and educational experience of which I have been on. There is only a limited amount of visitors allowed on each tour so it's a good idea to phone the National Monument and make a reservation in advance.

If you plan an extended stay in the northern new Mexico area you also may want to check out the river rafting opportunities. There's water for all skill levels and I assure you you'll get some great looking pictures from the river.

Be sure to bring your camera because as you can see from the pictures here, Bandelier offers a great many picture taking opportunities. In addition to the numerous hiking trails and dwellings you will also have a chance to peruse their bookstore which offers many one of a kind books.

Visiting Bandelier National Monument and Northern New Mexico

bandelier national monument kiva
If you are in the Santa Fe, NM area, Bandelier National Monument makes a perfect day trip. Also, beginning in 2011, Bandelier has a new high tech theater where you can view a stunning 14 minute film about the monument and the scenic surrounding area. The film was shot during different seasons of the year and some were taken by helicopter.

You would also want to stop at nearby Los Alamos and visit the Bradbury Science Museum. The museum has some amazing interactive exhibits that make it both a fun and educational experience.

If you have a longer stay in northern New Mexico you may want to try river rafting. There is water for every skill level and I guarantee you'll be able to snap some great pictures during your trip.

The sites below will give you all the information you need to plan your visit to Bandelier National Monument. I would highly recommend you consider adding this to your summer trip agenda.

Bandelier National Monument is about a 44 mile scenic drive northwest of Santa Fe New Mexico.

Also see our Western Trips photo articles below:

Historic Jemez Springs

A Visit to Los Alamos

Get your New Mexico vacation guide at  www.newmexico.org/guide

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How To Send A Letter From New York To San Francisco In The 1850's

The good news was that at with the end of the Mexican/American War California became a state in 1850. The tough news was how to communicate with such a distant outpost. Our major settlement in California was San Francisco and after the 1849 Gold Rush began it and the surrounding areas grew rapidly.

Those heading out to join the Gold Rush had two ways to get to California. The first was overland and the other was by sea.

Neither route was appealing. Overland could take three to four months over a rough landscape with the possibility of Indian attacks and even more likely the lack of water. The overland trip could be so difficult many of the gold seekers who tried this option reached their destinations minus their horses and wagons.

The sea voyage could take more than six months sailing around the southern tip of South America. Weather was always an obstacle and the sheer amount of time on board the cramped vessel made the voyage incredibly difficult.

There was also a way to travel by sea and land through the Isthmus of Panama shown below. You sailed from New York to Panama then a five day journey through the jungle to catch a ship heading north to San Francisco. None of these alternatives would be considered a vacation. Every one came with dangers.
map of the panama isthmus
Remember, this was the era before the Butterfield Overland Stage route and before the transcontinental railroad and it gives you an idea why San Francisco became such a busy and important seaport.

In 1848 the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began to bring agricultural products east from California. The Gold Rush started a year later...a year later statehood and their original purpose changed from agriculture to passengers, general goods and mail. Also, the Panama Railroad began construction in 1850 with the route completed in 1855. This meant that the land portion of the Isthmus route was made much easier and faster. Prior to the railroad, mail was hauled by mule, steamboat or canoe. It was a rugged journey through the Central American rainforest. The new railroad provided plenty of reasons why not to sail around the southern tip of South America.

ss california steam ship
The SS California, the sidewheeler shown left, was the first ship of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company beginning service in 1850. Built in New York in 1848, the SS California steamed to San Francisco and then operated between Panama City and San Francisco until 1854 and for a few more years as a spare steamer in both ports.

There was competition between Pacific Mail and the U.S. Mail Steamship Company out of New York but eventually the two companies merged into the Pacific Steamship Mail Company.

Mail Transit Duration

After the construction of the Panama Railroad, mail transit time was from 25-29 days from New York to San Francisco. Bags of mail per steamer were in the 275-350 range. The arrival of a mail steamer to San Francisco was a big event. Guns would be shot off to announce it's arrival before entering the wharf. Crowds would gather at the wharf to learn if they had mail. Postage appears to have been anything from 2 cents to 15 cents per letter depending on where it was to go and whether there would be a special courier handling it. Postage could also be much higher depending on size and whether it had an isolated destination. The two stamps below are from the government's initial issue in 1847.

A stagecoach line was not big competition to the mail steamers. For one thing they were not as fast. They were also less reliable due to breakdown, Indian attacks and wars and they couldn't handle the volume of mail a steamer could. During the Civil War years Union stage routes were moved up into the central part of the country because the Confederacy controlled the southern route. The 18 month long Pony Express in the early 1860's was created primarily to get Union mail to California quickly during the Civil War. Ten days was the average which was quite fast.

the california mail steamer goldengate
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had a good overall safety record in an era where steamer disasters and wrecks were reported almost daily in the newspapers.

The Pacific Mail Steamer Golden Gate shown left was one of their best. The ship was averaging the San Francisco to Panama City leg in just a bit over eleven days which was fast. Unfortunately, on July 21st, 1862, the SS Golden Gate caught fire off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico and sank. It was carrying over 300 passengers, about $1.4 million in gold as well as mail. An estimated 238 people were lost.

Enter the Transcontinental Railroad

The first serious competition to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was the transcontinental railroad completed in 1869. An express train could make the journey from New York to San Francisco in about 84 hours, a fraction of a steamer's duration. Even non-express trains could make the coast to coast journey in a fraction of a steamers time. The train was also more reliable. A steamer was at the mercy of weather and unreliable and often the dangerous maritime boilers. At the same time the transcontinental railroad act was passed by Congress, funds were provided for future construction of a telegraph line following the same route.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company began trans-Pacific mail service in 1867 with scheduled service from San Francisco to Hong Kong, Yokohama and Shanghai. This was a passenger, freight and mail service route. Commerce with Asian nations would continue to grow through the decades.

San Francisco Bay is the  west coast's finest natural harbor and the area would have grown with or without the steamer mail service. Manifest Destiny meant sooner or later the west coast would grow and the fact that the Bay Area could handle an unlimited amount of shipping just made things happen sooner.

With or without the Gold Rush the Bay Area's geographic location and natural advantages guaranteed it's long term importance. San Francisco today remains one of the busiest seaports in the world.

Sites to See in the San Francisco Bay Area

A must stop for anyone interested in the shipping history of the San Francisco Bay area will want to visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Located on the west side of Fisherman's Wharf, it is one of the most complete maritime museums in the country. Photos, documents, woodworking and boat building shops and at the Hyde Street Pier a large display of refurbished vessels including the old sidewheeler ferry boat the Eureka.

Nearby there are also a retired Navy W.W. II submarine the Pampanito and a transport ship Jeremiah O'Brien which took part in the D-Day landing. You'll have a lot of fun while learning about San Francisco's maritime history. Perfect visit for the whole family.

See our Western Trips articles on the links below...

USS Pampanito

Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien

(Article copyright Western trips)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Day Of The Saluda Explosion And The Federal Government's Response

memphis steamboats

During the first two-thirds of the 19th century, steam boating was the most popular mode of transportation.

The first steamboat appeared in North America circa 1815 and the number of boats increased every year. The old images above show how steamboats lined up one after another in Memphis and below portrays the old Levee area of St. Louis which was always busy, night and day, with steamboat traffic. To understand how exciting this new mechanized way of river transportation was, one needs only to read the stories and quotes from Mark Twain himself a riverboat pilot.

Fast Transportation for the Era

Steamboats offered a fast mode of transportation. In fact, faster than anyone had ever experienced. A steamboats massive power came from it's boilers. The steam engine was a spectacular invention, one in which came before much of the inherent science of it was understood. Steam pressure inside a boiler turned the boat's paddle wheels. More pressure meant more power and more power meant faster speed and faster speed seemed to be in demand.

Steamboat Boiler Dangers

saluda steamboat explosion
When unregulated pressure continues to build in a steamboat's boiler you can have a spectacular explosion like the image to the right.

This is exactly what happened on Good Friday, April 9th, 1852 at the docks of Lexington, Missouri.

The boat was chartered to bring Morman converts to Utah who had arrived from Europe. The immigrants sailed to New Orleans then up the Mississippi to St. Louis. From there a steamboat was to take them to Council Bluffs, Iowa where they would begin their overland journey to Utah.

The boat exploded very near the dock after only about two revolutions of it's paddle wheels. Records are a bit inaccurate but it appears about 175 passengers boarded the Saluda in St. Louis. The death toll of the explosion was over 100 people some of which were bystanders on the dock. So violent was the boiler explosion that parts of bodies were strewn everywhere including in the town itself. The body of the captain and part owner of the vessel was found on the far side of the dock warehouse. Other victims were found on top of nearby bluffs. To give you an idea of the hazards of steamboat travel in that era, there were a total of 34 steamboat accidents/disasters in North America during the two year span 1850-1851.

Out of that amount 12 of these mishaps were due to boiler explosions. The total death toll for for all mishaps those two years were an astounding 525 people. Out of that figure 199 died because of boiler explosions. During the year 1852 there were 6 other steamboat boiler explosions aside from the Saluda.

To demonstrate how bad the boiler problem was, 13 years into the future the steamboat Sultana, image at right, exploded it's boilers on April 27th, 1865 near Memphis costing the lives of an estimated 1,300 to 1,900 people most of whom were returning Union soldiers who had been held in Confederate prisons. There were estimated to be about 750 survivors. The Sultana had been extremely overloaded with the returning troops.

Another fact about steamboats during this era is that they had a life span of some 3-5 years. This was not only due to boiler explosions but also from collisions, snagging an object and sinking, catching fire and running aground. It's almost unbelievable when you compare that to our modern transportation system.

Boilers Powered Just About Everything

Boiler explosions were not only confined to steamboats. The picture at left shows a train locomotive after an explosion. With the locomotive the explosion happens outdoors. You can imagine the total destruction when a boiler blows apart inside the wooden structure of a steamboat. Many steamboats also had more than one boiler.

The boiler problems were a result of new technology that wasn't fully understood coupled with lax government oversight. The lax oversight was due to Congress not wanting to be accused of hampering national expansion by regulating the steamboat industry. Travel safety in that era was not a top priority.

There was a lot to be learned about steam boilers. How much boiler plate thickness was required for a certain amount of pressure? Why were pressure relief valves not installed in many boilers? How can one accurately measure how much pressure is in the boiler? What should the boiler water levels be? These were just a few of the questions that were open to speculation. A steamboat boiler needed to be constantly monitored by an engineer or crewman. The boilers drew in large amounts of water usually from beneath the boat. Rivers have a lot of mud  and often the mud and pebbles would be sucked into the pipes. An explosion could occur if the water was blocked long enough causing the pressure to increase.

Steamboat Regulation

Safety Inspection of U.S. flagged merchant vessels powered by steam or partially by steam began in 1838.

While the intention was to protect lives and property, the reality was that things didn't improve much afterward. The Steamboat Act of 1852 was the result of yearly increases in maritime disasters and carnage. The 1852 Act put more formality into the federal inspection effort. Although the new act started things in the right direction the inspection procedures still proved inadequate.

The Sultana disaster in 1865 was an example. Another Congressional Act was instituted in 1871 which formally created the Steamboat Inspection Service. Any progress that was made since 1852 was kept and in addition a formal set of maritime safety codes were established. The 1871 Act pertained to all steam powered vessels including freighters, tugs and ferries.

See additional Western Trips photo article on the links below...

The Tall Ships

A Steamboat and an Indian War

Visit Lexington Missouri

Lexington, Missouri is a short 35 mile drive east of Kansas City. I think you will find it interesting to stop and visit the memorial in Lexington's Heritage Park created in 2002 for the victims of the Saluda disaster.

Lexington has a very rich history including a famous Civil War battle site and a city park commemorating where Lewis and Clark made a stop during their historic journey west.

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

The sites below will give you plenty of information.




Friday, May 13, 2011

Galveston's Strategic World War Two Defenses

World War II is usually associated with events like Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge, the Italian battles and the African campaigns. These are what fill most text book pages but there was major war activity right here at our doorstep in the Gulf of Mexico. Our concern was the German U-Boat like the one pictured below.

The U-Boats were in the Gulf for one reason and that reason was oil. Ports such as Galveston, Houston and New Orleans were our nations busiest oil exporting terminals. A war runs on oil and that made this area of the Gulf a prime target for the U-Boats.

U-Boats in the Gulf

The best estimates are that 24 different U-Boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico during 1942 and 1943.

Cities such as Galveston had regular nightly blackouts. The blackouts had nothing to do with protection against air strikes. The blackouts were necessary because an unlit oil tanker passing a city's lights at night would reveal it's profile to an enemy submarine. If the city's lights were off then there would be no profile. It's no secret that German U-Boats were operating in many areas along our Atlantic coastline but the Gulf of Mexico presented a target rich environment of oil tankers. Sinking oil tankers was a prime war objective for any U-Boat. The first two U-Boats entered the Gulf through the Florida Straits in May 1942.

The picture to the right is an example of what happens when an oil tanker is attacked by a U-Boat. U.S. records show that 56 vessels were sunk and 14 damaged in the Gulf due to U-Boats. That's quite a bit of activity when you consider how close this was to America's shores.

At the time there was concern not only with Gulf shipping but with the safety of residents along the coast. The political situation in Mexico was volatile, many German agents were stationed throughout Mexico and Germany received much of it's oil from Mexico. To illustrate further just how close the action was to our mainland there were reports of people in the extreme southern reaches of Louisiana actually seeing the flashes of U-Boat attacks at night in the distance.

The Sinking of the Robert E. Lee

Probably the most talked about Gulf U-Boat attack was the sinking of the steamship Robert E. Lee on July 30th, 1942 just 25 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi.

The ship pictured right was steaming from Trinidad to New Orleans and was being escorted by naval vessels. One torpedo from U-166 sank the ship.

The escort vessel chased after the sub, dropped several depth charges and saw an oil slick. Nothing further was known about this U-Boat until 2001 when a major oil company was having the area surveyed for a proposed pipeline. The survey team not only located the Robert E. Lee but also the wreckage of U-166 a short distance away. The sinking of the steamship cost the lives of one officer, nine crewmen and fifteen passengers. Ironically, most of the survivors were survivors of previous U-Boat attacks on ships headed to the U.S.

Coastal Defenses

Our coastal defenses consisted of protecting the ports themselves and also with hunting down and sinking U-Boats. One defense element was the shore battery pictured below. Shore batteries had been established before the war but were not protected. Eventually the military decided to put them in

cement casements for protection from aerial assault.

While the guns have been removed you can still see the cement casements today when you visit Galveston Island. Another way in which harbors were protected was by laying down anti-submarine nets. Along with the guns and the nets were the placing of mines outside the harbor. While Galveston's entrance was heavily mined during the war there are no records of U-Boats actually hitting one.

Army Airfields

Another defense element was searching the Gulf for U-Boats. Airfields in southern Louisiana and Texas launched regular Coast Guard patrol flights using planes such as the Grumman J 4 Widgeon.

The old picture at right shows a Widgeon passing by New York City. The Navy also patrolled the Gulf often using PBY's like the one pictured below right. The military built many airfields in Louisiana and Texas for both pilot training and the launching of Gulf patrol flights. Four of the busiest fields was the Lake Charles Army Airfield in Lake Charles, Louisiana which today is the Chennault International Airport. Also the New Orleans Army Airfield which today is Lakefront Airport, the Galveston Army Airfield and the Houma, Louisiana Naval Air Station.

These aircraft were capable of dropping depth charges and it was well known that U-Boat captains feared being sighted by any aircraft, large or small. Coast Guards cutters and Naval vessels were also regularly on patrol equipped with depth charges.The picture to the right below shows the 1940's construction of the Galveston Army Airfield which was one of several being quickly built during the very early war years.

Even with these amount of assets arrayed against the Gulf U-Boats, they were largely successful in disrupting our oil shipments particularly during the first half of the war.

Records show that only two U-Boats were sunk in the Gulf during the entire period. U-166 near the mouth of the Mississippi and U-157 in the Florida Straits. The toll was much heavier for the U.S. than for the Germans. What really solved the problem was the building of an oil pipeline from Texas to New Jersey called the "Big Inch". Completed in 1943 it's size was 24 inches in diameter and ran from Longview, Texas to Phoenixville, PA at which point the line changed to a 20 inch diameter.

Several of these old battery emplacements still exist today minus the guns. When you're traveling in the Houston area you may find it interesting to head down to Galveston and see these concrete bunkers for yourself.

The old artillery sites give you a pretty good idea of just how close World War Two was to our southern shores. They are located at Fort Crockett and Fort San Jacinto on the island of Galveston and also at Fort Travis on the tip of Boliver Island just across the channel from Galveston. Good picture taking and also a a nice trip to the beach. Good inexpensive side trip for the whole family and educational as well. Another great stop on the way to Galveston is the NASA Space Center just south of Houston.

Web sites below will give you information to plan your visit.





(Article copyright Western Trips)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A City Grew From Horse Power To Electric Power

If a city was to grow and prosper it had to have a means of mass transportation. A good means of mass transportation even today is important to a cities growth but back in the 1800's before the automobile it was even more critical.

The "horsecar" pictured below left is how people got around the big city before the advent of powered streetcars. This draft horse mode of transportation is still with us today when you refer to your automobiles "horsepower". Horsepower was coined in the 1800's when the steam engine's power was compared to the power provided from a comparable number of draft horses. Then in the 1900's the piston engine's power was compared similarly.

The Omnibus

The very first urban mass transit vehicle was the omnibus. It was similar the the horsecar shown at left except it wasn't on iron tracks. It was like a big carriage. In a way the omnibus was very similar to it's cousin the stagecoach. The omnibus, pictured below right, picked up and discharged passengers along a scheduled route just like intra-city stagecoaches had done prior. Most even followed the old intra-urban stage routes. The main difference was that the omnibus could carry many more people than a stagecoach.

Placing horsecars on tracks was a big leap forward because the resistance between iron tracks and iron wheels was very low. Low resistance meant that the horse or horses could pull much more weight. In fact, the nations first railroad considered to be the Baltimore and Ohio was originally propelled by horses. This was before the steam locomotive. The first known North American rail horsecar was put into operation in New York City in 1832. The second in New Orleans in 1835. San Francisco used horsecars but there were many safety concerns because of the extra steep hills.

There were some limitations and drawbacks to horsecars. One obvious problem was that the horses left excrement on the street although this was nothing really new since all cities and towns big and small had this to contend with since the earliest times.

Another drawback however was that in a hilly area the horse could pull a car up a steep hill but because of gravity couldn't safely lead it down. In this case, seen in the picture at left, the horse was put aboard the coach just like a passenger (we assume the horse rode free) and rode the car down the hill by the luxury of gravity. An interesting side note is that when these horses aged and were eventually sold to farmers, they would only know to pull a plow on level land or uphill but wouldn't know how to pull it downhill.

In Comes Electric Power

Technology was advancing rapidly in the last half of the 1800's and the first electric tram (streetcar) was put into service in Berlin in 1881. A second one was put into service in 1883 in Brighton, England. You might ask why steam power was not embraced before electricity. The reality was that steam powered locomotives were not only very noisy, but they spewed smoke and soot everywhere they ran which wasn't conducive for the close confines of a city. Steam power was also costly to operate because of the constant need of fuel and water and the required infrastructure.

There were several immediate advantages of electric power over horse power. One was that it was obviously cleaner. Also, horses had to be fed and stabled and they had to be replaced and rested at set intervals. Electric power eliminated these burdens and enabled more weight to be pulled and it solved the problem of the horsecars on hills. Electric power was provided by overhead lines. The electric streetcar at right drew it's power from a extension pole on the roof of the car. This type of electric streetcar survives today in cities such as San Francisco and New Orleans.

Frank Sprague and the Electric Streetcar

In the U.S., the first electric streetcar system was built in 1888 by Frank J. Sprague in Richmond, VA. Sprague had invented the overhead power wire system using a spring loaded trolley pole with a wheel attachment. Sprague had been connected with Edison's Menlo Park, NJ laboratory and also had patents for elevator mechanisms.

Richmond was chosen as a test site by Sprague because of it's many steep grades. The Richmond test went very well and within one year the electric streetcar replaced many of the horsecars. The electric streetcar allowed cities to expand their lines dramatically such as is shown in the map to the right of the Los Angeles electric rail system.

Another advantage of the electric system was that streetcar rail lines could be expanded much further making them an inter-urban system. This enabled suburbs to spring up in places such as Los Angeles. The picture on the left shows an old inter-urban station with the Los Angeles Red Car.

The picture below it is another example of an inter-urban streetcar. An inter-urban line was simply an extension of a streetcar line to a neighboring community. At the turn of the century it usually connected a large urban area with a smaller adjacent town. The electric railway filled a city's transportation needs before the automobile. Even after the automobile first came on the scene, many workers simply couldn't afford to buy one. The road infrastructure was also poor. The need for low cost mass transportation remained in place.

Inter-urban lines flourished in the Midwest, especially in states like Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Here you had several large urban areas like Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland with nearby smaller but still good sized communities. The map below left illustrates some of the inter-urban lines running out from the Detroit area. Incorporated in 1900 by a group of Cleveland investors, the Detroit Urban Railway extended from Detroit to points all over southeastern Michigan and continued to expand into the early 1920's.

Beginning in late 1922, the Detroit Urban Railway started to divest itself of routes such as with the lines inside the city of Detroit which were then turned over to the city. By 1928, after having sold most of it's lines, the company was taken over and renamed the Eastern Michigan Railway. As the population continued to grow, what was once considered a line to a distant community ended up being a route to one of Detroit's suburbs.

In the case of Cleveland, the Cleveland City Railway Co. had 901 electric cars and 236 miles of track. To give you an idea of it's popularity, ridership grew from 228 million in 1910 to 450 million in 1920. As with many other urban systems, ridership started to decrease during the Great Depression years and after that more people were owning automobiles. A busy Ohio inter-urban was the Lakeshore Electric Railway which ran between Cleveland and Toledo through Sandusky and Fremont. At it's peak, the Lakeshore ran several multi-unit trains along this route.

Our Modern Day Systems

Now in the 21st century we not only rely on electric powered mass transit to connect parts of growing metropolitan areas, but we're still in an expansion stage. Modern day traffic gridlock and environmental issues are two big reasons why clean electric powered mass transit remains popular. As suburbs continue to grow in many metropolitan areas, plans for route expansion have already been put in motion.

Passenger comfort has also come a long way. The picture to the right shows the interior of a Bay Area Rapid Transit car in the San Francisco area. Things have changed considerably since the days of the horse drawn omnibus. The BART system is electric powered using a three rail system of delivering electricity. This is how most of the modern electric rail systems now operate. The three rail system where one of the rails is electrified is not only less costly to build than new overhead wire lines but they also don't create an eyesore.

The picture to the left shows how the shoe of the electric train makes contact with an electrified third rail. Because the system has proved efficient and environmentally friendly, urban electric transit systems are virtually everywhere throughout the world. High speed rail systems in places like Japan and the European continent can reach speeds of over 200 miles an hour making them competitive with certain airline routes.

The picture below left shows the high speed Eurostar which connects London to Paris and Brussels via the English Channel Tunnel. Compare these high speed trains to the early transit pictures at the top of this page and you can appreciate just how much technology has advanced over a relatively short time.

There are several exhibits around the country where you can see  vintage electric railway cars. At several you'll have the opportunity to take a ride and experience what to our ancestors was their primary means of going shopping and getting to their jobs. This was the time before the freeways and before car ownership was widespread.

The Orange Empire Railway Museum is a fun stop for the family located in Perris, CA, just a short ride south of Riverside on Interstate-215. All the information to plan your trip is on their web site below.


Another good museum is in Yakima, WA. The web site for the Yakima Valley Trolleys Museum is:


Located in the Bay Area's Solano County California, just 12 miles east of Interstate-80 on Hwy 12 is the Western Railroad Museum.


If you're in the Dallas Texas area you'll want to stop in at the Plano Texas Inter Urban Museum. Some terrific displays there on the electric commuter trains from the early to mid 1900's.


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