Western Trips

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fort Kearney / The Key Fort For America's 1800's Westward Expansion

Fort Kearney was located on probably one of the worlds busiest immigrant trails. That was the reason for it's existence. Fort Kearney Nebraska just happened to be located on the Platte Road which was the east-west thoroughfare traveled by settlers emigrating to points west, namely to California and Oregon. It was also well traveled earlier in the 19th century by gold seekers heading to California as well as freighters bringing supplies west to both settlers and the various military posts.
stephen kearny
Fort Kearney was named after Stephen W. Kearney (his name also appears as Kearny in some biographies). Kearney served as a First Lt. during the War of 1812 and further distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War of 1848 especially for his service in the California Campaign. It's interesting to note that Kit Carson, then a scout, served under Kearney in California primarily as a messenger which at that time was an important task. In regards to the Native Americans, in the early 1840's Kearney traveled with troops to a spot in southeastern Wyoming about where Fort Laramie is located in a show of force after settlers were raided by several Indian tribes. His journey really had two goals. One was to try to restore peace with the tribes by offering presents and at the same time to display the American firepower and weaponry in a bid to discourage the Indians from further raids on both the settlers and the freighters. The results were mediocre in as much as the Indians were not really intimidated, at least not to the degree Kearney had hoped.

After the Mexican-American War ended Kearney became military governor of the California Territory for a short time After returning to Washington D.C. he was then named governor of Veracruz and then Mexico City. Kearney contracted yellow fever while in Veracruz and subsequently died at age 54 in St. Louis Missouri.

The First Fort Kearney

Fort Kearney was built at two different locations. The first was near present day Nebraska City, about 50 miles south of Council Bluffs, and was constructed by Kearney and his troops with orders from Washington. While being constructed in 1847 it was determined that this really was not an ideal location to protect the emigrating settlers who started their journey in western Missouri. As a result, a new location along the Platte River, about 200 miles west of the first fort, was surveyed and construction was begun there in 1848 with 175 troops used as labor. The early 1850's was a relatively peaceful time at the fort but things then turned hostile with the Indians when the Nebraska and Kansas Territories were formed.

The post served as the first major resupply center for settlers heading west from Missouri. In addition to providing supplies the soldiers also had the duty to protect wagon trains. Much of the Indian trouble after 1865 however was located west and northwest of Fort Kearney in the area of Fort Laramie and northwards into Montana. These were the sites of the Fetterman Massacre and Red Cloud's War in 1866 and the Custer defeat by the Sioux in 1876.

fort kearney map
 The Second Fort Kearney

The second Fort Kearney consisted of about fifteen structures, some unpainted wood and others adobe or sod buildings. There might be a blockhouse which served many purposes such as a post office, drugstore, court, jail and storehouse. The typical western military fort as depicted by Hollywood is surrounded by a wall of timbers or what we refer to as a stockade. The fact is that most western forts did not have stockades and Fort Kearney simply had structures built around a parade ground. During the Indian troubles some earthen reinforcements were added however a stockade was never constructed.

A western military fort such as Fort Kearney was constructed at this vital geographic point to not only supply the westward moving settlers and wagon trains and not solely to provide protection. It really was a combination of both of these services with the overall aim to do everything possible to aid western expansion. In other words, a fort such as Kearney was a key element in the achievement of Manifest Destiny. Over 500 ox teams could travel past the fort on a summers day and the army became very involved with the overland travelers. A cavalry officer might come to the aid of a settler in need. He might be found arbitrating a dispute among the emigrants which did happen from time to time. He might try to provide emergency aid when possible to settlers who started their journey unprepared for the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail trek.

Fort Kearney became the major mailrek. Some emigrants started out their trip with no knowledge of the ever present dangers. stop along the Platte Road when stagecoach service was established. It served as a stopping point on the Pony Express trail. When Indian hostilities broke out in 1864, Fort Kearney was reinforced with troops from the Nebraska Volunteers and strict rules were in place regarding wagon train travel. During this period wagon trains traveling west of the fort were required to be at least fifty in number to be able to fend off Indian attacks.

As was the case with many western U.S. military forts, civilian settlements sprang up very close, sometimes within a mile or two, and these small towns attracted a wide array of characters...some good and hardworking and others very bad. The U.S. Government had a rule against military forts becoming civilian trading areas therefore small settlements grew within the shadow of many forts. In the case of Fort Kearney, a settlement named Dobytown was located just a few miles west of the fort. It acquired a reputation of being a wild frontier town with an overabundance of bad characters.

fort kearney
Fort Kearney provided an essential service to Platte Road and Oregon Trail emigrants for many years but as the railroad stretched across Nebraska and then with the Transcontinental Railroad's completion in 1869, the necessity of maintaining these forts, and the expense involved, was debated. While outposts were still required, the number of forts needed was the question, at least along the path of the railroads. As a result Fort Kearney was abandoned with the last soldier leaving the fort on May 17, 1871. You also may be interested in the story of Fort Davis Texas along the San Antonio to El Paso Trail.

The State of Nebraska offers many unique historic vacation attractions and a visit to the Fort Kearney State Historic Park is one of these. Located just south of Kearney Nebraska and Interstate-80, the area is easily accessible.

Another good frontier era attraction is the General George Crook House on the north side of Omaha Nebraska. The Crook House was once the headquarters of the Army's Department of the Platte. While planning a vacation to Nebraska you may also want to add the site of the first Fort Kearney located near Nebraska City and about 50 miles south of Council Bluffs. Travel and tourism in the state of Nebraska can be an educational trip back to the time of America's massive westward expansion and the Oregon Trail days.

You will also want to see our Western Trips article and photos of Oregon City, the official end of the Oregon Trail.

(Photos are from the public domain)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mark Twain / America's Famous Steamboat Pilot

 If there ever was a man who lived so many different lives in a span of 75 years, it was Samuel Clemens who we often refer to as Mark Twain. Who was Samuel Clemens? Who was Mark Twain? Using both of his names he was an author..he was an American humorist...he was a newspaper journalist...he wrote travelogues...he received several honorary degrees...he traveled the world and he was a steamboat captain. Add to that having a U.S. Postal stamp issued in your name. Quite a lot of adventure in one man's lifetime. The biography of the young Mark Twain is quite amazing.

There are many sites in America where one can learn more about Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain. Travel to Missouri and visit the town of Hannibal where the young Samuel Clemens spent his boyhood. This is the setting for his Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer novels. Add to your vacation trip planner the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. 
There is also the Steamboat Mark Twain in Hannibal of which you can take an enjoyable river cruise. If your travels include a California vacation there is the Mark Twain Monument located at Angels Camp, a very unique old California mining camp which is now a tourist destination and very near to Yosemite National Park about 120  miles east of San Francisco. Angels Camp is also home to the Jumping Frog Jubilee held every year at the Calaveras County Fair.

At 12 years of age Samuel Clemens after losing his father, an attorney and local judge, in Hannibal became a printers assistant and typesetter working in such cities as New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis.  The picture to the right is of Samuel Clemens at the young age of 15. Samuel Clemens was self educated spending days after days at the public libraries absorbing books of the greatest variety of subjects available.  His explanation was that he felt this regimen would provide a wider scope of knowledge than one could attain in a public school. There was always something about the young Mark Twain that yearned for nonconformity.

At about the age of 22, Samuel traveled by steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans on a planned Amazon River journey with a $50 dollar bill he found on the street. The upper Amazon River had recently been explored with much fanfare and Clemens was caught with the bug to go there. While on this Mississippi trip he was awed at the skill of the steamboat's pilot and the steamboat's pilot gave Clemens the inspiration to begin training to become a pilot himself. It probably didn't take too much urging since Samuel was infatuated with the pilots job to begin with. In those days a steamboat pilot was paid about $250 per month which is the equivalent to about $75,000 today. Not a bad sum of money and with it came the prestige of calling yourself a steamboat pilot. Young Samuel Clemens jumped in with both feet. Clemens eventually convinced his younger brother Henry to join him on the steamboats. Henry did but met with misfortune when he was killed during the explosion of the steamboat Pennsylvania in 1858. Samuel had been with his brother on the Pennsylvania but transferred off shortly before the explosion.  I need to point out that steamboats, while appearing serene and relaxing the relative slow way they travel down a winding river, were known to be quite dangerous during their heyday. Thousands of people were killed during this era while traveling on steamboats. Records show that the biggest danger was from exploding boilers. Two such disasters were the Saluda Explosion in Lexington Missouri and the Sultana Explosion just a few miles north of Memphis Tennessee. Steam boilers during the middle of the 1800's were a new technology in as much as the safety mechanisms in place were not sufficient. The problems regarding steamboat boilers were that pressure instruments were unsatisfactory as was in many instances the physical oversight of the boilers by the riverboat crew. In other words, unmonitored boilers could build up too much pressure and explode. Often an explosion would occur because the boats captain would order maximum speed or in these cases too much speed for the boilers to operate safely. A boiler explosion within the confines of a boat's structure would be devastating to those on board. It's one thing having a boiler explode in the open and quite another down deep within the boat's structure as shown in the picture below left. Boilers were located down in the bowels of a riverboat. In steamboat history the problem of providing safety became so dire in the 1850's that Congress, because of public pressure, had to pass several regulatory acts to try to make things safer on our rivers. An interesting side note about Samuel Clemens is that he supposedly had a dream beforehand of the explosion that killed his younger brother and after the disaster became involved with paranormal associations.

Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain after eighteen months of apprenticeship obtained his steamboat pilot license which was his dream since childhood. In his later writings he would reflect that the riverboat pilot's job was the most satisfying work of his life. He felt that the riverboat's pilots These and other thoughts of Twain's are in his literary work, Life On The Mississippi. He felt that the riverboat pilot's job offered more freedom than other positions where one toiled all day under the watchful eye of a boss or master. He enjoyed the prestige, freedom and of course the high salary paid to pilots on the Mississippi. It was common that steamboat pilots would gather at local watering holes and trade stories and Twain was one of these. The young Mark Twain was able to help his family financially out of his generous salary. It should be noted that during his eighteen month apprenticeship he was not paid a salary so when he achieved the goal of licensed river pilot that was quite a big event both financially and prestige wise. His childhood ambition was achieved at the age of 23.
Just like his penchant for book reading, the river was a great addition to his education about people and human nature in general. Samuel Clemens spent four years on the river and stated that in those four years of river schooling he got to know every bit of human nature that you would find in fiction, biography or history.

Shortly after he became a licensed pilot and Abraham Lincoln's election the Civil War broke out. Pilots were trying to decide which side to join. His partner and earlier river pilot teacher and mentor, Horace Bixby, sided with the North. Clemens couldn't decide and had to think about it. At first he joined a Confederate regiment from Missouri but after a short while got tired of it and eventually changed sides to the Northern cause. While on the Northern side he befriended a man high up in the Lincoln administration who was destined to become governor of the new Nevada Territory. Samuel Clemens journeyed west with this group using much of his riverboat pilots savings and ended up in the new territory. This is where another chapter of Clemens life started. It was in Nevada Territory where Samuel Clemens not only took on a new profession as a newspaper journalist in the silver mining town of Virginia City Nevada but also took on the pen name of Mark Twain.

Whether it's a visit to Hannibal Missouri and the Boyhood home of Samuel Clemens or to Angels Camp California, there are many ways to learn more about Mark Twain, a very unique American. These sites will make excellent additions to your western U.S. road trip.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Donner Pass Snowsheds And Theodore Judah's Transcontinental Railroad

If you find yourself on one of those San Francisco trips driving on Interstate-80 through the Sierra Nevada's  or perhaps on your tour of America, you can look out your car window towards the south and see an innovation that made the transcontinental railroad possible.

Crossing the Sierra Nevada

This story is about both the tunnels and snowsheds you see on the side of the mountains near Donner Summit and about the man who made this famous transcontinental railway possible. The man who put investors together and badgered Congress to act. The tunnels you see are along one of the most popular passenger routes in America today. It's where the California Zephyr runs, Amtrak's service between San Francisco (Emeryville) and Chicago. It's the old route of the Central Pacific Railroad which was built eastward from California to join the Union Pacific which was building westward.

The snowsheds, whose rebuilt and fortified cousins you can now see in existence were man made tunnels along the sides of the mountain and they are what made the rail line over the Sierra Nevada's operable, especially during winter. In fact, there was no larger challenge than building a rail line over this particular mountain range. The picture at left shows the rugged Donner Pass in 1870. The Sierra Nevada's granite cliffs represented the biggest obstacle along the entire way from Missouri to California.

The Importance of the Transcontinental Railroad

The idea of a trans continental railroad was floating around Congress for many years. Connecting the country from sea to sea was an important step to fulfill Manifest Destiny. It's a key part of the history of the state of California.

As with most issues however that are both commercial and political and where fortunes could be made, there was a great deal of debate as to the how's and especially the where's. The critical debates took place in the 1850's, a time before the Civil War when regional rivalries reached a peak.

The political infighting was not only on a larger scale such as free states versus pro slavery states but also on a county against county basis. The infighting was certainly a result of the prosperity a rail line would bring and everyone wanted their share. There were factions favoring a northern route from St. Paul Minnesota to Seattle Washington. There was a faction demanding a southern route through the southern states, Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona and into San Diego. Of course there were the supporters of the central route from Missouri, through Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada and ending up near San Francisco. The central route represented the busiest corridor since it really ran along the Platte Road from western Missouri through Nebraska which turned into the Oregon Trail. This was the most popular route for western migration into both California and Oregon during the earlier years.

Any undertaking of this magnitude needed a driving force. The driving force behind the transcontinental railroad was a young man from the east named Theodore Judah pictured at left. Judah was an educated engineer who had worked helping to build some of the eastern railroads before deciding to move to California. California had grown substantially after the Gold Rush and offered new adventures for a young industrious engineer. After arriving in California Judah became involved with the local railway industry and helped engineer some of the instate lines.

At this time during the old west there was a big need to improve transportation over the Sierra's since among other things, the mining towns in Nevada relied upon California for basically all of their needs. Everything from food, mining equipment and everything in between.

The current mode of transportation over this formidable mountain range was wagons drawn by mules and oxen. It was a rugged, dangerous and long journey to say the least and during the winter it was all but impassable because of the legendary snowfalls in the Sierra's. What happened to the Donner Party a decade earlier is but one example of being stranded in winter in the Sierra Nevada's.

Prior to the railroad there was one other mode of transport and that was the Pony Express which was in existence for only about 18 months during the Civil War. The obvious way to improve transportation was the building of a rail line over the Sierra Nevada's and down to the desert plateau of Nevada. The task was easier said than done because the rise to the summit from the California valley was something like 7,000 feet in only about 20 miles distance. A tremendous and steep incline. The Union Pacific crews building the westward section from the plains to the point which years later joined the Central Pacific line at Promontory Point Utah was comparatively easy as opposed to the crews building eastbound. Add to that the enormous snowfalls in the Sierra's and the Central Pacific crews had a real challenge.

Theodore Judah became quite active in not only promoting the surveying and building of an eastward line but also worked tirelessly in securing the capital needed for the project as well as making trips to Washington lobbying Congress for their support. As you could imagine there were supporters as well as naysayers, some  believing that such a route was physically impossible to build. To aid in his lobbying efforts Judah wrote a 13,000 word essay "A Practical Plan for Building the Pacific Railroad".

Judah offered an overview of special express trains traveling across the prairies at speeds of 100 MPH with passengers riding in restaurants, reading and smoking rooms and ladies in private sleeping berths. He wrote that he heard dozens of people coming up with objections and he went on to answer each one. He also wrote that the railroad issue should be taken out of politics because he felt that a house divided would never agree on anything. The only way he stated that an agreement could be reached was to judge it solely on engineering criteria.

The Raising of Capital

Judah eventually raised money for a survey from Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington, two Sacramento merchants.

More investors came aboard including such names as Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker. History eventually referred to this group as the "Big Four". From an investors standpoint Collis Huntington was thought to be the overall leader of the enterprise.  These four names are prominent still today in California. The picture at left is the Gov. Stanford locomotive of the Central Pacific line.

As with just about any new venture requiring numerous investors, there was some squabbling and a few people pulling out but eventually the project got under way.

Judah's Surveying

Theodore Judah made survey journeys into the Sierras looking at several possible routes that had the right geography to support the laying of rails. Some of the current wagon routes were not suitable for a variety of engineering reasons and eventually a route past Dutch Flat in the foothills led up to the Donner Lake area was chosen.

 According to Judah, the mountain sides could support a rail bed and the down slope into Nevada was gradual. The question of enormous snowfall did come up but at the time Judah believed that snowplows attached to locomotives could keep the tracks clear. As it turned out, this solution fell short. It was finally determined that the only feasible way to fight the snowfall obstacle was to build snowsheds at specific places. These were tunnels, similar to the ones you see today, that would protect against insurmountable snowdrifts. The snowplow idea was just not sufficient against possible 20-30 foot drifts.

Years later the Great Northern Railway ran into the same snow problems in the northern Rockies. In the case of the Great Northern years later there was an avalanche which derailed an entire train and cost many lives. The snow fall in the Rockies not only posed a scheduling problem but it was potentially deadly as well.

The picture below rightt is an old rotary snowplow at work trying to clear track. The picture further below to the left is of the debris field after the Great Northern derailment from the avalanche in Wellington Washington on March 1, 1910.

Finally, in 1862 Congress passed a bill which was signed by Abraham Lincoln authorizing work to be started on the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Judah while traveling east, via ship and the Panama Isthmus to meet with new investors ( he reportedly became concerned with the Big Four's commitment to the venture) , became ill from a mosquito bite and although nursed by his wife died a few weeks later.

Judah was the man who was responsible for convincing Congress to act after years of intense lobbying but ironically did not live to see his dream come to fruition. His associate, Lewis Clement, also an engineer was the man called on to see the project completed in 1869.

Chinese Laborers Clear a Way Over the Sierra Nevada

Clement oversaw the laying of track beds which was only possible by the skill of his Chinese laborers (the white laborers were unable to do this work) who dangled on ropes and meticulously placed explosives ( nitro-glycerine) to clear a way around ridges and to bore holes for tunnels through solid granite. The Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese workers, or in the day referred to as coolies, to perform these jobs. There was probably about 8,000 total workers with 90 percent being Chinese.

Wreckage after Great Northern Railroad avalanche
The fact was that the Central Pacific could not have been built through the Sierra's in any reasonable amount of time without the Chinese laborers. More problems did develop but not involving the actual construction. Local Californians, unable themselves to do the job adequately nevertheless became agitated with the amount of Chinese labor used.

There were meetings in San Francisco in 1867 by the Anti-Coolie Labor Association. The issue was politicized and it marked the beginning of problems for the Chinese in California. Chinese property was damaged and destroyed by the white agitators and nothing Leland Stanford could say or do regarding both the agitators or his own stockholders had much effect.

The anti-Chinese sentiment against the coolie labor in California lasted right into the twentieth century and the Central Pacific felt the fallout for many decades. Historically speaking, the facts is that white miners who emigrated to California actually complained and set upon the Chinese dating back to the Gold Rush days. The Central Pacific issue just appeared to resurrect old prejudices.

The work performed to make the transcontinental railroad a reality was dangerous and required quite a bit of courage and skill to complete. The picture at right ( Courtesy of the Library of Congress) is just one of the many tunnels constructed by the Chinese laborers. The rock was so hard that only about eight inches of progress was made per day even with the use of nitro-glycerine.

Lewis Clement's engineering knowledge along with the Chinese labor skill made the Sierra crossing a reality. Clement lived to the age of 77 and passed away in Hayward California in 1914. The Big Four led by Leland Stanford took private railway cars to the Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Point Utah on May 10, 1869. Stanford actually drove the final spike (Golden Spike) himself and it's on display today at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto California.

The image at left is the poster of fares published the day after the Golden Spike was driven. Although the railroad was connected, it wasn't long before the Central Pacific found it hard to keep the tracks open in winter.

When the snowplows proved inadequate a large number of snowsheds were built at key points. It is at those points where today you can see the snowsheds in place in the Donner Pass area when driving on Interstate-80.

When driving Interstate-80 you can look south at the mountains and visualize what it looked like before the tracks were laid. You can get a feel of the monumental task it was to blast a passage through this wild and remote area.

In addition to viewing the actual Golden Spike on display at Stanford University, you may want to add the California State Railroad Museum to your travel planner. It's located at the Old Sacramento State Historic Park in Old Town Sacramento. 

Among it's exhibits is a replica of a Central Pacific Railroad station. These historic California exhibits can make great additions to your San Francisco area things to do list. Below are some good links pertaining to this American story. Also, The University of Arizona has Central Pacific records and manuscript letters on microfilm for those wishing to do further research.

California State Railroad Museum

Cantor Arts Center/ Stanford University 

Theodore Judah Monument/ Old Sacramento

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Missions in California / Mission Trail

A California vacation is not complete unless you visit one of the old missions from Spanish colonial times. If your California visit includes a road trip then you're already halfway there. The missions of California are located on what was named the El Camino Real which stretched all the way from San Diego northward to present day Sonoma County California. The history of California is not complete until one explores the history of the Christian missions.

The very first Spanish mission was erected in 1769 as a primitive shelter at San Diego by Father Junipero Serra. In fact, some historians consider Father Serra to be the first genuine Californian. At that time the region north of Baja California was called Alta California. The California coast was discovered back in 1542 by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo however the Franciscans didn't begin their mission building until Father Junipero Serra arrived. Explorations out of New Spain (Mexico) went northward along the Rio Grande into Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico) and Santa Fe was settled in 1610. It would be another 150 years before the first California mission was erected.

A total of 21 missions were built in California over the period 1769 to 1823. In all the Franciscan mission system in California only lasted for about 60 years which is not a long time. Starting in the 1820's the California missions were secularized which really took them away from Franciscan management. This was during the time that the Spaniards were being driven out of both Mexico as well as Alta California. When the Mexicans eventually took control from the Spaniards then the secularization increased. San Diego being the first mission and Mission San Francisco Solano (pictured long ago below right)  being the last. The last mission built was the only one built during Mexican rule. The question that often comes up is, why did the line of missions end in Sonoma California? The reason was that the area just north of San Francisco Bay marked the Alta California frontier. North of that the Russians established Fort Ross on the Pacific coast and England was occupying much of the northwest area. In fact, the Russians ventured as far south as the Farrallon Islands 25 miles west of San Francisco.

The mission featured here and which makes an excellent addition to your California trip planner is the first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcala. This mission is located 5 miles east of State Hwy 5, off State Hwy 8. The address is 10818 San Diego Mission Road just outside San Diego. The original crudely built mission was erected on Presidio Hill which also housed the Spanish troops. Now on Presidio Hill, the one time site for the mission, is the Father Junipero Serra Museum. Also an excellent additon to your California trip planner. Not long after, a new mission was built at the location mentioned above. The reason for the move was that the friars though it better to be somewhat removed from the military and a bit closer to the Indian village. This proved fatal because while the Indians were curious of the Spaniards at first, they soon turned hostile and began pilfering from the mission area. The new mission which was about 6 miles away from Presidio Hill and the troops was raided, burned and there were deaths including that of Father Luis Jayme who ironically pushed for the new mission away from Presidio Hills. Eventually the might of the Spaniard troops and their weaponry brought the Indians to bay and the mission was rebuilt with the aid of the Indians. While the friars erected their missions to aid and convert the Indians into Christianity, the going at first was not easy. Essentially you had a European culture imposing itself on the Natives who themselves had their own culture dating back centuries. In addition to conversion, the friars were engaged in secular teachings as well as organizing agricultural programs. Agriculture was important because a mission's goal was to become self sustaining.

There is an interesting story of why the California missions were built and how the Franciscans regarded and treated the Indians compared to the American far westward migration which occurred about 100 years later.

Mission work had many aspects. The first aim of the Franciscans were to convert the Native population to Christianity. Spain, and more importantly the King, felt that the first step toward civilization was to become a Christian. When the Natives were converted they would be able to assimilate with their European  rulers and become "true" citizens of New Spain. The Spanish rulers also felt that what they paid the Franciscans to establish the missions was a fraction of what the cost would be to pay an army to go to war, not to mention the loss of life as during the American Indian Wars. You could say the line of reasoning was "give peace a chance". In fact, budgets for both the missions and the friars themselves came from Spain's general war budget. There was never however a program to put the Natives onto reservations as was done in the American West. Quite the opposite, the California Spanish mission was created to be an oasis for the Indian in an otherwise wild frontier land. The Natives were encouraged to use the mission as a sort of town settlement. In addition to the conversion teachings the missions also served as a center for educating the population. Instead of throwing the indigenous population off their land, the missions sprang up in their midst and began their work of "civilizing" the locals with the intent of making them subjects of new Spain. There was not a mass Spanish migration of civilians into Alta California until the last years of Spanish rule. There were no hoards of people rushing in and taking land from the Indians. 

During America's push westward, the Indians were driven from the land and put on reservations. Europeans arrived in America decades later and many headed west to stake their claim on land previously held by Native Americans. When gold was found in Montana and the Black Hills, the situation on the American frontier grew worse.  A very different approach than what the Spaniards attempted 100 years earlier. To be sure, there was violence during both eras but the magnitude in Spanish California was nothing near like the Indian Wars in the American west during the last half of the 1800's. There were no Battle of the Little Bighorn, Fetterman Massacre or 25 year long Apache wars.

The California and southwest map on the left gives you some perspective of Alta California and the Spanish territory of Nuevo Mexico, now the state of New Mexico. Bureaucracy in New Spain was legendary and decisions were enacted and sent out at a snails pace. The overall authority for Alta California resided with the Viceroy back in Mexico City. The building of the missions were part of Spain's policy of exploration and settlement carried out jointly by the military and the religious factions. While the Spanish settling of Alta California was a joint effort, the Franciscans worked to distance themselves from the military. The reasoning was that the military intimidated the Natives and the friars felt they could make better inroads operating separately. Even so, the Franciscans would not hesitate punishing Natives who they felt were stirring up trouble. The punishment meted out by the friars sometimes provoked Indian backlashes.
While history tells a story of gentle and caring friars, the truth was that they were not totally absent from handing out corporal punishment. Kind of a "speak softly and carry a big stick" approach.

Not long after the mission secularization began in the early 1800's, the Spaniards had to withdraw due to the successful Mexican Rebellion and after that occurred the Mexicans really didn't support the missions at least in the way the Spaniards did. What remains now are both rebuilt missions and in some cases their ruins. As I mentioned, the last mission built in Sonoma County was the only one built under Mexican rule.

When the American's entered California in droves in 1849 due to the Gold Rush and then after California statehood in 1850, the missions in California took on a culture of their own. The newly arrived immigrants created  a romantic aura regarding the whitewashed missions with their red tile roofs. This is what many think was the beginning of the missions as a tourist destination. After all, the new population needed some kind of historical perspective for their new home and the beautifully decorated missions became a part of that.

If you have the time while vacationing in California, it's quite interesting traveling north from San Diego and visiting each one of the old Spanish mission sites. Many are functioning and provide religious mass to the local population. Each one has a story to tell and I'm certain you'll get some great pictures. It is a big part of California history. There is a lot of reading material on the California mission system and information on California mission exploration. Much material relates on the work of the friars which also answers the question of how to be a missionary in a wild frontier land. Another related story that's very interesting is the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico.

Below is a list of the twenty-one California Spanish Franciscan missions and the dates they were founded.

San Diego de Alcala, July 16, 1769
San Carlos Barromeo de Carmelo, June 3, 1770
San Antonio de Padua, July 14, 1771
San Gabriel Arcangel, September 8, 1771
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Sept 1, 1772
San Francisco de Asis, October 9, 1776
San Juan Capistrano, October 9, 1775
Santa Clara de Asis, January 12, 1777
San Buenaventura, March 31, 1782
Santa barbara Virgen y Martir, December 4, 1786
La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima, December 8, 1787
Santa Cruz, August 28, 1791
Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, October 9, 1791
San Jose, June 11, 1797
San Juan Bautista, June 24, 1797
San Miguel Arcangel, July 25, 1797
San fernando Rey de espana, September 8, 1797
San Luis Rey de Francia, June 13, 1798
Santa Ines Virgin y Martir, September 17, 1804
San Rafael Arcangel, December 14, 1817
San Francisco Solano, July 4, 1823

Sunday, July 10, 2011

China Clipper San Francisco To Hong Kong

Pan Am's China Clipper was a huge milestone in aviation history. The China Clipper could take you across the Pacific Ocean in a fraction of the time as by ship. The China Clipper added an entirely new dimension to air travel and opened the Pacific region to far better mail service.

 Posters advertising destinations throughout Pan Am's route system remind one of the advertising created by railroads such as the Northern Pacific  and their Glacier National Park poster.

Explore the History of the China Clipper

If you're contemplating a San Francisco vacation and you're one of the many that fly directly into SFO there's a terrific display at the SFO Airport Aviation Museum.

Among other exhibits, the aviation museum has quite a collection of China Clipper pictures, documents and original items from the actual Clipper aircraft. It's an excellent museum of California airline history and worth the visit.

Pan Am's China Clipper Opens Up the Orient

The story of Pan Am's China Clipper is a story of America's attempt to meet ever growing international competition.

The world airline industry was in it's first years. The feasibility of international airlines had a lot to do with the aircraft available to fly long distances. The German's were the first to start air routes into South America with their SCADTA Colombian airline back in the mid 1920's. SCADTA even  vied for U.S. mail contracts into the region. This didn't sit well with Washington who preferred not to see a German airline presence through the Canal Zone which it would have entailed.

As a response, two ex Air Corps majors joined together and formed a shell company in 1927 that was later, after acquisitions, mergers and the raising of capital through a stock sale, was to become the Aviation Corporation of the Americas with Pan AM as a subsidiary. Major investors in the fledgling company included eastern millionaires Vanderbilt and Harriman. Pan Am was managed by Juan Terry Trippe, pictured below right.

A Start With Mail Contracts

Trippe was a Yale graduate and many of his financial backers were also Yalie's. The first Pan Am flight was a mail contract route between Key West Florida and Havana Cuba. The first flight transported some 30,000 mail pieces to the island. The aircraft was a leased single engine float plane. This was used until Trippe's Fokkers were delivered. From that point on the goal for Pan Am was to obtain as many mail contracts as possible all over North America, Central America and South America. An interesting truth is that through American history every new mode of transportation relied upon government mail contracts when they began service. This included steamboats, the Butterfield Stage Line and the first railroads. The same held true for American aviation. Since the demand for  passenger traffic was an unknown, a government mail contract offered a steady stream of revenue. Likewise, the mail service was in need of a faster mode of transportation.

The Goal of Adding More Routes

The routes Pan AM initially vied for were to South America although North American mail contracts were also sought. Landing rights, aircraft, crews, support personnel...all these had to be negotiated and put in place. As mentioned above, the first route obtained was a mail flight between Key West Florida and Havana Cuba using a rented float plane.

This certainly was a humble beginning but the goal was to expand to the South American mainland. By 1930 Juan Trippe was at the helm of the world's largest airline. There is a lot of additional information regarding the mergers and setbacks in Pan Am's early history and I think you may enjoy researching it in greater depth.

As time went on and routes were added, Trippe kept pushing for larger and more powerful aircraft that could fly longer distances. Eventually he had a fleet named Clippers.

If you wonder why these planes were named Clippers, the most popular answer is that Juan Trippe came from a very wealthy family whose fortune was made operating a fleet of Clipper Ships on the world's oceans. The other question that comes up is..why were these planes manufactured as flying boats? The answer is that back in the 1930's, concrete runways were scarce. At least they were scarce enough to not be readily available for lucrative mail routes. The Clipper aircraft were able to use any large enough body of water as a landing strip and this opened up quite a few coastal cities to it's services. Rio, Miami, San Francisco and along the eastern seaboard just to name a few.

Manufacturing the Pan AM Clippers

During the reign of Pan Am's Clippers, the aircraft were made by three different manufacturers. They were Sikorsky, Martin and Boeing.

Trippe's vision was for these Clipper planes to have amenities similar to first class ocean travel by ship. Luxuries such as lounges were added to these planes.Not a bad way to travel long distances if you could afford the airfare. Also a five to six day journey across the Pacific sounded better than a several week ship voyage. Juan Trippe had interest early on in a route to the Orient and dispatched Charles Lindbergh on a surveying mission to determine if a route through Alaska, the Aleutians and into China was feasible. Political problems in the Orient made this type of route impossible during the 30's.

The China Clipper was a Martin M-130 four engine flying boat similar to the one shown at the top of this story. It was built at a cost of $417,000.

The First China Clipper Flight

 The China Clipper took off on November 22, 1935 from Alameda California at the site of the old Alameda Naval Air Station in front of an audience of thousands. People arrived early to gain the best vantage point all along the bay area and the take off ceremony itself was broadcast live on radio.

Many historians draw comparisons to the excitement of the first moon landing. It was also a positive newsworthy event in the middle of the Great Depression. Positive events were in great demand. The destination was Manila via Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam. The flight carried over 100,000 pieces of mail. A few historic side notes were that the navigator on the flight was Fred Noonan who later flew with Amelia Earhart and disappeared with her just two years later in 1937. The pilot of the 1935 flight was Edwin C. Musick who ended up on the cover of Time magazine in December 1935 but later was killed with his crew in the Samoan Clipper when it exploded about an hour after take off near Pago Pago in American Samoa in 1938.

The first China Clipper flights carried only mail but by 1936 there were three Martin M-130's operating on the route and passenger service began.  The three were the China Clipper, Hawaiian Clipper and the Philippine Clipper although people would often refer to any of them as the China Clipper because of the popularity of the route.

The trip from California to Manila Bay took about six days at an average speed of 130 MPH. The planes carried twelve passengers and two sets of crew. There was quite a bit of navigational training going on and typically the first crew would help train the second. In these days, before global positioning systems, the crews would navigate using compass, map and celestial positioning. It was said that some charts could be as much as 100 miles off therefore knowing how to follow the compass was quite important. Pan Am flight crews earned the reputation as being the best in aviation. The route eventually reached Hong Kong where travelers could connect to other airlines owned by the Pan Am company which had bought out several operators.

 In 1942 the U.S. government due to the Pacific War took control of the Clippers although the flight crews were employed by Pan Am. During the war the routes tended to run from San Francisco southeastward to the Fiji Islands and on to Australia and New Zealand.

To the left is a printed schedule of the U.S. to Philippine route. Prior to World War Two, Pan Am had a virtual monopoly with overseas routes including those to Europe. Competition didn't arrive until 1945 when Howard Hughes' Trans World Airlines vied for those lucrative routes. If you've seen the motion picture "The Aviator", while the movie is about the life of Howard Hughes, you had a glimpse of the competitive route war going on between Pan Am and TWA.

More Concrete Runway Airports

The end of the flying boat era came as a result of new concrete runways built throughout the world at the end of World War Two and the arrival of competitors both in North America and overseas. As a result of this, the aircraft manufacturers built new and larger aircraft for land use. There is no question that the rapid rise and fortunes of Pan AM had a lot to do with it's monopolies of routes and government contracts. Nevertheless, the service they offered and the unique amenities they provided travelers is quite an amazing story and exemplifies the farsighted vision of it's original creator, Juan Terry Trippe.

Explore the History

In addition to the Aviation Museum at SFO Airport you'll find a California Historical Marker #968 at the Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS Alameda) in Alameda California. This is also adjacent to the USS Hornet at Alameda Point.

Also you will find a good compliment of Pan Am Clipper exhibits at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. If you make it to Hawaii there are excellent Pan Am Clipper photographs at the Hawaiian Historical Society in Honolulu. All of these interesting exhibits can be fun and educational low cost additions to your vacation planner.

Another interesting Western Trips article is the story of  Wiley Post and his recordsetting Lockheed Vega.

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Trip To Skeleton Canyon New Mexico And Geronimo's Surrender

 Explore Historical Sites of the Southwest

If you are planning a trip to southern New Mexico or Arizona, you're passing through territory that was very active near the end of the Indian Wars.

 The scenery is beautiful as you might expect and the desert/mountain geography allows many good photo opportunities. A road trip to Skeleton Canyon is a good addition to your vacation planner. Interstate-10 runs just north of this location which makes it a good, convenient and historic low cost side trip. The area straddles the modern day New Mexico/Arizona border. Southwest of Skeleton Canyon is Douglas Arizona and further is historic Bisbee and Tombstone Arizona.

Chasing Geronimo

geronimo with rifle
When General George Crook pursued Indians he went by the principle of "it takes an Indian to catch an Indian". That method doesn't say a lot about the ability of his regular troops but I don't think he really meant it that way. Native Americans were children of that land and often times to pursue an Indian it always helped to see things through the Native's eyes. Nobody knew the southwest as well as an Apache Indian. The fact is documented that the U.S. Cavalry, especially during the last decade of the Indian Wars, employed Native American scouts during these type of search expeditions.

In the year 1886, Crooks target of pursuit was none other than Geronimo.

There were several photos taken of Geronimo. The one shown above was taken in 1887.

The Apache tribes were regarded quite differently than the plains Indians. The army learned that the plains tribes would engage them head on. In other words there was a battle ground such as at the Little Bighorn in Montana. The plains Indians engaged combat in the open as if defending ground. The Apaches on the other hand fought guerrilla style.

There were hit and run attacks and the Apaches engaged in combat when there was something of material value to gain. Attacking settlers to steal livestock and other property. More than not the settlers attacked were killed.

The Apache tribes were similar to the Comanches, being nomadic and very skilled warriors. History tells us that some Apaches were even part of Quanah Parker's several hundred strong Comanche assault at Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle back in 1864 involving Kit Carson. It took some time for the War Department to realize they were fighting a different kind of foe. Several publications point to the fact that General Philip Sheridan, shown below right, then the head of the Army in Washington, himself didn't fully understand the Apache Indians. Because of this he often issued orders that realistically couldn't be carried out.

Geronimo The War Leader

general philip sheratonThe facts are that Geronimo was a leader. He was not officially an Apache chief. Geronimo led the Apache struggle after Cochise began the uprising back in 1861 during the Civil War years.

Geronimo and several other leaders went off the reservation and raided civilians on both sides of the border with a campaign of murder and pillage. For instance, it was chronicled in Mexico that the Apaches would enter a town on the premise of peace. They would get drunk with the locals and maybe a day or two later would turn back and attack the same town. Supposedly this happened in many Mexico settlements.

The Dangerous Border Area

The atmosphere along the American side of the border in the early 1880's was that of outrage. Local newspapers demanded that the army do more to protect the towns. Because of this there were large groups of American civilians also hunting Geronimo and his group. The Mexican army itself was engaged in the pursuit on their side of the border but met with little success. The renegade Apaches held up in the canyons on the western side of the Sierra Madre range just south of the border. This was a rugged mountain range with peaks of 10,000 to 12,000 feet. If the Apaches were met by an overwhelming opposing force they would scatter into the canyons and be impossible to battle. The Mexican's could not penetrate this mountain stronghold and essentially gave up the chase.

After General Crook's 1883 expedition into Mexico he was given pointed suggestions by his superior, Gen. Philip Sheridan, commander of the army, to consider just pulling back and to simply provide protection to the American border towns. Sheridan thought this was the best tactic and it most likely was inspired by the cries of the press. In response, Crook asked to be relieved of his command. He told Sheridan that the past eight years of his command of the army in Arizona were the hardest years of his career. Sheridan obliged and turned over command to General Nelson Miles, pictured below left. Miles in later years would be known for his intervention in the Chicago Pullman Strike. He was also a veteran Indian fighter serving in the Sioux uprising immediately after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. He was a very well regarded officer.

In Comes General Nelson Miles

general nelson miles at skeleton canyon According to the 1920 book "The Truth About Geronimo" written by Britton Davis, there was quite a change after Nelson Miles assumed command. Davis contends that the farms of the peaceful Apaches had been protected by Crook's presence but that after Miles took over the Apaches were removed to San Carlos and their homes, farms and all fixed improvements were turned over to white settlers. Also under Miles watch there were trainloads of Apaches, not combatants, sent east to Florida.

An Offer To Surrender

In 1886, General Miles sent a Major Charles B. Gatewood, pictured below right, on a mission into Mexico to speak with Geronimo about surrendering. Charles Gatewood was a 1877 graduate of West Point and the son of a Confederate soldier. Upon his graduation he was assigned to the Army of the West. Gatewood was chosen by Miles because he had a relationship with Geronimo dating back when the renegade leader spent time around Fort Apache in the 1870's. Gatewood was also very familiar with the causes of the Apache outbreak and Miles felt he was just the emissary he needed.

Gatewood Travels Into Mexico

In 1886 Gatewood and his troops did travel to Mexico and did meet with Geronimo. The story of his meeting is a long one but essentially Gatewood met up with other army detachments that had been in Mexico for months occasionally skirmishing with the renegades. It was not through these sources but through two of Gatewood's Apache scouts that he finally determined where Geronimo and the one remaining Apache leader with him, Nachite, were camped. Geronimo agreed to meet with Gatewood but only if Gatewood came with only a few others...no troops.

major charles gatewood
Major Charles Gatewood
Geronimo was interested in what message Gen. Miles had sent. Gatewood reportedly got right to the point and told Geronimo that he had to surrender and he and the others would be sent to Florida. Gatewood told Geronimo that all of the Apaches had already been sent to Florida. Geronimo initially refused but the meeting continued for a few days. Nachite wanted to see his family in Florida and the prevailing story is that he convinced Geronimo to change his mind and agree to go north with Gatewood. The terms were agreed upon, most of which was for Gatewood to protect them during the journey from both the Mexican's and the United States Army already deployed in Mexico.

The Journey Back to New Mexico

The traveling party finally crossed the border near where New Mexico and Arizona meet Mexico.
There are many side stories connected both with Geronimo's surrender and with the trip up from Mexico.

Geronimo ultimately surrendered to General Nelson Miles on September 3, 1886  at which time Miles repeated the terms of the surrender. On September 8th Geronimo and others were put on a train to Florida.

Much to Geronimo's surprise the destination was not St. Augustine where the other Apaches were but to a prison at Fort Pickens in Pensacola. The decision to send him to prison must have come from Washington. No research material I've found mentions this in the agreement Geronimo made with Gatewood in Mexico.

The Apache families were ultimately put together and sent to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) via Alabama. Geronimo passed away on February 17, 1909 of pneumonia. His gravesite is at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Reportedly, on his deathbed he confided to a family member that he regretted surrendering in 1886. Geronimo's name lives on in Native American history along side many others such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Cochise and Red Cloud. Geronimo's Fort Sill gravesite is shown below left.

geronimos grave at fort sill oklahoma
An interesting side note is that the U.S. military used the codeword "Geronimo" for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Another interesting Western Trips story is the Buffalo Soldiers involvement in New Mexico.

If you would like to add the Geronimo Monument to your New Mexico vacation planner, directions are to take Route 80 south off Interstate-10 to Rodeo New Mexico. This is near Apache Arizona and southwest of Lordsburg New Mexico. A short drive southeast of the monument is the actual surrender site. The Google driving directions tool on this website can help with getting there. 

The photo below shows the surrender site.  You may also be interested in the Western Trips short story about George Armstrong Custer's Garryowen. 

Another quite interesting Western Trips article is the Cheyenne Campaign of 1868 and Custer's involvement in the Washita River Battle.

The websites below offer more information on New Mexico and Arizona vacation planning.

Southwest New Mexico Tourism

Arizona Travel and Tourism 

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Soldiers of America /The Western Frontier Soldier

As we discussed in Part I of this story, the frontier U.S. military was ordered into action in situations that concerned civilian. This was a departure from their typical duties of protecting westward migrating settlers from the many Indian raids and skirmishes in the last half of the 19th century. As we also pointed out many of these actions were controversial  either at the time they were ordered or if not then certainly in the aftermath. The Pullman Strike mentioned in Part I was a perfect example. The interesting image to the left is a painting entitled "Strike" by Stanislaw Lentz.
Probably the most controversial ones were the use of military to put down labor unrest. The use of force against laborers, many of them newly arrived immigrants, typically ended up in partisan bickering. Unlike rounding up outlaws, intervening in a labor strike, such as the Pullman Strike, gave the impression of taking sides, usually on the side of industrialists or mine owners. To demonstrate this point further, the Pullman Strike spread across the country endangering railroad property in the western U.S.  The army was called out to protect railroad property in areas such as Green River Wyoming, Pueblo Colorado, Laramie Wyoming and Los Angeles. When it was all over the army was honored by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and derided by the unions and union members. As we pointed out, the typical rank and file soldier himself found himself in the middle. He was much more philosophically in tune with the strikers which made intervention even more complicated and delicate. Remember, the frontier army was made up of large groups of immigrants and so were the strikers.

Another example of a no win situation for the western army was the Coeur d'Alene mine disturbances that began in July 1892. The unyielding mine owners conflicted with the militant tactics of the Western Federation of Miners. As with other mine strikes the mine owners hired Pinkerton agents (Pinkerton We Never Sleep logo to right) to try to deal with the strikers.  Violence started in earnest when union members dynamited some mines, threatened strikebreakers and other nonunion workers. Neither the state's National Guard or the Pinkertons was able to deal with the scale of violence and federal help was requested. This was almost the same type situation that happened in the Colorado coalfields a few decades later. President Benjamin Harrison eventually ordered Colonel William P. Carlin, pictured below left, to take troops to the strike scene. Carlin arrived on July 14th.

Ultimately about 300 strikers were arrested and handed over to U.S. Marshals who were also on the scene. The U.S. Secretary of War worked to have the troops removed as soon as possible but some troops remained as late as November. After some withdrawals violence flared up again and some troops were dispatched again back to the mines.

The unions underlying discontent with pay and working conditions continued to simmer and then everything exploded again in April 1899. This time about a thousand strikers took over a Union Pacific train and with tons of dynamite blew up the Bunker Hill mine. The governor of Idaho requested federal troops immediately because most of his Idaho National Guard were serving in the Phillipines in the Spanish American War. In reply, President McKinley ordered Brigadier General Henry C. Merriam to the scene with about 500 troops from the Department of Colorado and Missouri. Martial law was never officially declared but Merriam and his troops acted as if it had. About 1,000 people were arrested. This is about the point where controversy erupted. The military of course was accused of working for the mine owners and union outrage erupted across the country. President McKinley was a prime target of the union outrage. While a case can be made that someone needed to intervene to halt the violence and property destruction, the Couer d' Alene mine strikes represented a perfect example of how military intervention into labor disputes is a no win situation for the army.

There's really no question that military intervention into economic disputes, and mine strikes fit this category, are the types of actions that draw the most criticism. The intervention topic has been discussed and argued by military commanders ever since the 1807 act regarding the use of troops in civilian affairs. The fact that the western U.S.  was growing rapidly and outstripping law enforcement capabilities was most likely why these controversies came to a head in the latter part of the 1800's. 

The  Couer d' Alene area of Idaho is one of the country's most picturesque areas. It's a perfect destination to add to your vacation planner. It's ideal as a side trip or as a vacation destination. below are websites that will help you in planning your trip to this magnificent part of Idaho.

Coeur d' Alene Visitors Bureau

Coeur d'Alene Parkway State Park 

Coeur d' Alene National Forest

Monday, July 4, 2011

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Tour Of Queen Victoria's England

Our previous story regarding Buffalo Bill's Wild West covered the life of William Cody as well as his great success with The Wild West performances both in America and in Europe. The interesting photo belowis of Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill taken in 1895.

sitting bull and buffalo bill cody
The European tour was in many ways an advertisement for America. Many thousands of immigrants were entering the U.S. each year during the last part of the 1800's and Buffalo Bill's Wild West performances influenced many Europeans as to their perception of America. With that  said, there were certainly similarities between William Buffalo Bill Cody and the great showman P.T. Barnum. One thing in common between these two men was that their productions were a mixture of both truth and fantasy. That combination alone is probably what makes shows interesting to begin with. The various stories portrayed in the Wild West shows (Custer's Little Bighorn Battle being a top draw) had their share of embellishments. Regardless, an interesting thing happened in September of 1884 when to his great surprise, Bill Cody received an unsolicited letter from no other than Mark Twain. The letter praised Cody's Wild West production and Twain went on to say how many of the Wild West stories reminded him of when he lived in the wild west. Samuel Clemens spent time as a journalist in the rough mining town of Virginia City Nevada during the boom days. Historians maintain that it was in Virginia City that Clemens invented Mark Twain. To take a quote from Twain's 1884 letter " I have seen your Wild West show two days in succession, and have enjoyed it thoroughly".  Mark Twain was a major promoter of the Buffalo Bill Show. Unfortunately P.T. Barnum, another world renown showman, never received this kind of endorsement from Mark Twain.

The Wild West shows did exceedingly well in all European cities visited. The shows appearing in England however had much more of a symbolic meaning. The Wild West show's 1887 opening and successes in England opened the doors to the rest of the European continent including a very successful tour of Italy. How Cody's show was received in England foretold how alluring the American frontier was to the entire continent as well as England. The fascinating story of America's wild west offered both promise and danger for Queen Victoria's England. The picture below left is of Queen Victoria in 1897, ten years after Buffalo Bill's Wild West appeared in England.

buffalo bill in England
Another perspective from many historians is that Britain had an underlying anxiety about a perceived racial decay in the late 1800's. Their position among the world's powers was changing. Labor strife was rampant in the last part of the century much the same way as here in America. British birth rates were declining and the small rural areas were being overtaken by the large cities. Things were changing dramatically during the industrial revolution and the "escapism" which the Wild West show represented played very well to the British audience in 1887. Additionally, the British had read many of the fictionalized portrayals of Buffalo Bill Cody since the 1870's, much the same as many Americans. Buffalo Bill's wild west stories appeared to be just what the British wanted to hear.

It probably wasn't by sheer accident that The Wild West opened in England during the Golden Jubilee, the celebration of Queen Victoria's 50 years on the throne.Not only was the Golden Jubilee going on but there was also the American Exhibition which displayed paintings and American manufactured products with the intent of luring British investment. The American Exhibition was surely planned to coincide with the Golden Jubilee and there's little question that The Wild West was scheduled to coincide with both large events.

When The Wild West cast landed in England they immediately began rehearsals. The Prince of Wales and other dignitaries attended a performance prior to the official opening and Queen Victoria had her own private performance. The Queen ended up attending twice. One thing the Queen's appearance did was counter any criticism out there that The Wild West was anything but  a first rate show. Several interesting things happened during The Wild West tour of England.

With the Queen in attendance, a horse rider came waving the American flag at which point the Queen made a bow. It was a big first. It was the first time since the Declaration of Independence that a British sovereign saluted the star spangled banner. In part, because of the official royal acceptance of The Wild West, Buffalo Bill Cody's performances were hugely successful for years in Great Britain.

picture of black elk indian
Another interesting and somewhat humorous incident occurred after the cast of The Wild West set sail back to America. Four Lakota men were lost and missed the sailing. They then decided to go to London. This was at the time that Scotland Yard and the London police were in hot pursuit of Jack the Ripper. History reports that the authorities were targeting radicals and minorities. The four were picked up by the London police and questioned. Not being familiar with the Ripper murders, Nick Black Elk (1890's picture at right with wife and daughter) who was one of those arrested was quoted with saying " The police questioned us and let us go. They had probably blamed us with something that had happened". 

The reception accorded Buffalo Bill's Wild West  in England paved the way for future tours throughout Europe. The enthusiastic acceptance from Britain's royals set a precedent that would be followed by monarchs throughout the continent. Buffalo Bill himself was every bit a part of the exhibition. The British who had followed William Cody through books for two decades could now see the living legend with their very eyes. This kind of legendary aura was something that P.T. Barnum with all his show business success could never duplicate.

Here are some interesting places to visit in connection with Buffalo Bills Wild West.

Wild West Living Museum Just Outside Yellowstone Park

Buffalo Bill Historical Center Cody Wyoming 

More On Buffalo Bill's Wild West