Notes of American History

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May 18, 1871
The Kiowa Chief Satanta joins with other Indians to massacre a wagon train near the Red River in northeastern Texas. Satanta was born the son of Chief Red Tipi & a Spanish captive around 1820, during the height of the power of the Plains Tribes, probably along the Canadian River in the traditional winter camp grounds of his people in the Texas Panhandle. He spent his youth south of the Arkansas River enjoying the peaceful alliance between the Kiowa & Comanche tribes

Satanta is primarily remembered in military history as the sub-chief to Dohäsan at the First Battle of Adobe Walls. While Dohäsan was in command of the combined Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, & Comanche forces which opposed Kit Carson & his New Mexico forces in Nov. 1864, Satanta is remembered for ably assisting him in repeated charges which drove the New Mexico volunteers from the field, & for his repeated blowing of an army bugle, which confused the troops under Carson. Satanta would counter Carson's bugler with trumpeted commands of his own, on a day where the Plains Tribes managed to drive a US Army detachment from the field. The Indian forces assembled from their nearby winter encampments vastly outnumbered the Army detachment, which retreated in good order.

One of the leading chiefs of the Kiowa in the 1860s & 1870s, Satanta was a fearsome warrior but also a skilled orator & diplomat. He helped negotiate & signed treaties with the US establishing a Kiowa reservation in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), but Satanta remained resistant to government efforts to force the Kiowa to abandon their nomadic ways. The 1867 treaty allowed the Kiowa periodically to leave the reservation to hunt buffalo, but for more than a year, Satanta & other Kiowa continued to hunt & never even set foot on reservation lands. Fearing the Kiowa hunters would never come to the reservation, in late 1868 Gen. Philip Sheridan had them arrested & brought in by force.

From the start, Satanta detested reservation life. He did not intend to become a farmer, a chore he considered to be women’s work. The beef provided by the Indian agents was stringy & vastly inferior to fresh buffalo, & he hated the tasteless corn they received. In 1870, when the Indian agent finally agreed that they could leave on another of the hunts provided for by the treaty, Satanta & several Kiowa happily rode off to Texas in search of buffalo. Along the way, they raided several white settlers, but the Kiowa were not identified & later returned to the reservation.

The following spring, Satanta grew more aggressive. He joined a large party of other Kiowa & Commanche who bridled under the restrictions of the reservation & determined to leave. Heading south, the Indians eluded army patrols along the Red River & crossed into Texas. On this day in 1871, they spotted a wagon train traveling along the Butterfield Trail. Hoping to steal guns & ammunition, the warriors attacked in what became known as the Warren Wagon Train raid (also known as the Salt Creek massacre).

Henry Warren was contracted to haul supplies to forts in the west of Texas, including Fort Richardson, Fort Griffin, & Fort Concho. Traveling down the Jacksboro-Belknap road heading towards Salt Creek Crossing with loads of corn, Warren & his teamsters encountered William Tecumseh Sherman traveling by Army ambulance. Less than an hour after encountering the famous general, they spotted a rather large group of riders ahead. They quickly realized that these were Native American warriors, probably Kiowa and/or Comanche. The corn train quickly shifted into a ring formation, & all the mules were put into the center of the ring. The warriors destroyed the corn supplies, killing & mutilating 7 of the wagoneer's bodies. 5 men managed to escape, one of whom reached Fort Richardson on foot, some 20 miles away. As soon as Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie learned of the incident, he informed Sherman. Sherman & Mackenzie searched for the warriors responsible for the raid.

Satanta & the other warriors, meanwhile, had returned to the reservation. Informed of the Texas raid, the Indian agent asked if any of his charges had participated. Amazingly, Satanta announced that he had led the raid, & that their poor treatment on the reservation justified it. “I have repeatedly asked for arms & ammunition,” he explained, “which you have not furnished, & made many other requests, which have not been granted.”

Taken to Texas for trial, Satanta was sentenced to hang. At his trial Satanta warned what might happen if he was hanged: "I am a great chief among my people. If you kill me, it will be like a spark on the prairie. It will make a big fire - a terrible fire!" Satanta was found guilty of murder & sentenced to death. Judge Soward ordered that Satanta "be taken by the Sheriff of Jack County & hanged until he is dead, dead, dead & God have mercy on his soul." However, the same judge also wrote to Texas Gov. Edmund J. Davis recommending commutation to life in prison. Gov. Davis, under enormous pressure from leaders of the so-called Quaker Peace Policy, decided to overrule the court & the punishment was changed to life imprisonment. Satanta was freed after 2 years of imprisonment at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas & paroled Satanta back to the reservation in 1873. The following summer, Satanta again led war parties off the reservations, this time to participate in the Red River War from 1874 to 1875. By Oct. 1875, Satanta & his allies were again forced to surrender.

Despite his vocal protests that he preferred execution to imprisonment, Satanta was returned to the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. He fell into a deep depression, refused to eat, & slowly began to starve to death. Transferred to the prison hospital in 1878, he died by suicide by leaping headfirst from a 2nd-story window.
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Satanta (White Bear), Kiowa chief, full-length, seated, holding bow & arrows & showing his presidential medal but not wearing his famous military jacket.
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May 19, 1836
During a raid, Comanche, Kiowa & Caddo Native Americans in Texas kidnap Cynthia Ann Parker (who was around 9 or 10 years old) & kill her family. Adopted into the Comanche tribe, she lived a happy life until Texas Rangers recaptured her and forced her to return to live again among Anglo-Americans.

Silas & Lucy Parker moved their young family from Illinois to Texas in 1832. To protect themselves, they erected a solidly constructed civilian stockade about 40 miles east of present-day Waco that came to be called Parker’s Fort. The tall wooden stockade was reportedly capable of holding off “a large enemy force” if properly defended. However, when no Native American attacks materialized for many months, the Parker family & the relatives who joined them in the fort became careless. Frequently they left the gates to the fort wide open for long periods.

On May 19, 1836, several hundred Comanche, Kiowa, and Caddo Native Americans staged a surprise attack. During the ensuing battle, the Native Americans killed 5 of the Parkers. In the chaos, the Native Americans abducted Cynthia Ann Parker & 4 other white women & children. The Comanche & Caddo bands later divided women & children between them. The Comanche took Parker, & she lived with them for the next 25 years. Like many Plains Indian tribes, the Comanche had long engaged in the practice of kidnapping their enemy’s women & children. Sometimes these captives were treated like slaves who provided useful work & could be traded for valuable goods. Often, though, captives eventually became full-fledged members of the tribe, particularly if they were kidnapped as young children. Such was the case with Parker.

Anglo-Texans first learned that the young girl might still be alive 4 years later. A trader named Williams reported seeing Parker with a band of Comanche near the Canadian River in northern Texas. He tried to purchase her release but failed. The Comanche Chief Pahauka allowed Williams to speak to the girl, but she stared at the ground & refused to answer his questions. After 4 years, Parker apparently had become accustomed to Comanche ways & did not want to leave. Parker was soon integrated into the tribe. She was adopted by a Tenowish Comanche couple, who raised her as their own daughter. She forgot her original ways & became Comanche in every sense. She married Peta Nocona, a chieftain. In 1845, 2 other white men saw Parker, who was by then 17 years old. A Comanche warrior told them he was now her husband, & the men reported “she is unwilling to leave” & “she would run off & hide herself to avoid those who went to ransom her.”

By all accounts, her husband, a rising young chieftain named Peta Nocona, treated her well, & the couple was happily married. She gave birth to 3 children, 2 boys & a girl, & Nocona was reportedly so pleased with her that he rejected the common practice of taking several wives & remained monogamous. One of her sons, Quanah, emerged as a dominant figure in the Red River War following the apprehension of several Kiowa chiefs by the US in 1871. Quanah Parker was never elected chief by his people but was appointed by the federal government as principal chief of the entire Comanche Nation, & became a primary emissary of southwest indigenous Americans to the US legislature. In civilian life, he gained wealth as a rancher, settling near Cache, OK.

Unfortunately, Nocona was also a warrior engaged in brutal war with the Anglo-American invaders, & he soon attracted the wrath of the Texas Rangers for leading several successful attacks on whites. In Dec. 1860, after years of searching at the behest of Parker's father & various scouts, Texas Rangers led by Lawrence Sullivan Ross discovered a band of Comanche, deep in the heart of Comancheria, that was rumored to hold American captives. In a surprise raid, the small band of Rangers attacked a group of Comanches in the Battle of Pease River. After limited fighting, the Comanche attempted to flee. Ranger Ross & several of his men pursued the man who had appeared as the leader, & who was fleeing alongside a woman rider. As Ross & his men neared, she held a child over her head. The men did not shoot, but instead surrounded & stopped her. Ross continued to follow the chief, eventually shooting him 3 times. Although he fell off his horse, he was still alive & refused to surrender. One of Ross' men, Antonio Martinez, identified the man as Nocona & killed him. The Rangers began questioning the woman fleeing with Nocona & other surviving Comanche. In broken English, she identified herself & her family name. Her information matched what Ross knew of the 1836 Fort Parker Massacre

Parker's return to her birth family captured the country's imagination. In 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land & an annual pension of $100 for the next 5 years, & made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker & Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians. Parker never adjusted to her new surroundings, & although white & physically integrated into the community, she was uncomfortable with the attention she received. Returned to Anglo society against her will, Parker was taken to her uncle’s farm in Birdville, TX, where she tried to run away several times. However, with her husband dead & her adopted people fighting a losing battle to survive, Parker apparently resigned herself to an unhappy life among a people she no longer understood. Prairie Flower, her one connection to her old life, died of influenza & pneumonia in 1863. Depressed & lonely, Parker struggled on for 7 more years. Weakened by self-imposed starvation, she died of influenza in 1870.
1589929446630.png Cynthia Ann Parker & her daughter, Topʉsana (Prairie Flower), in 1861.
 

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May 20, 1927

Charles Lindbergh takes off across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis

At 7:52 a.m., American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, on the world’s first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris.

Lindbergh, a daring young airmail pilot, was a dark horse when he entered a competition with a $25,000 payoff to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. He ordered a small monoplane, configured it to his own design and christened it the Spirit of St. Louis in tribute to his sponsor–the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.

He took off from Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1927 - which was a rainy morning. His monoplane was so loaded down with fuel that it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway. He flew northeast up the East Coast and as night fell left Newfoundland and headed across the North Atlantic. His greatest challenge was staying awake; he had to hold his eyelids open with his fingers and hallucinated ghosts passing through the cockpit.

The next afternoon, after flying 3,610 miles in 33 1/2 hours, Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget field in Paris, becoming the first pilot to accomplish the solo, nonstop transatlantic crossing. Lindbergh’s achievement made him an international celebrity and won widespread public acceptance of the airplane and commercial aviation.

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Grunk

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May 20, 1873
San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss & Reno, NV, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans.

In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name & worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric & other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California & other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners & other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters & was a well-known businessman & supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.

Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, NV, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers who often bought bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points–at the corners of the pockets & the base of the button fly–to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds & that the 2 men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, & the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” (US patent No. 139,121)–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.

Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the 1st manufacturing facility for “waist overalls,” as the original jeans were known. Prior to the Levi Strauss patented trousers, the term "blue jeans" had been long in use for various garments (including trousers, overalls, & coats), constructed from blue-colored denim. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes, but by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501 brand jean—known until 1890 as “XX”—was soon a bestseller, & the company grew quickly

Davis and Strauss experimented with different fabrics. An early attempt was brown cotton duck. Finding denim a more suitable material for work-pants, they began using it to manufacture their riveted pants. The denim used was produced by an American manufacturer. Popular legend incorrectly states that it was imported from Nimes, France. A popular myth is that Strauss initially sold brown canvas pants to miners, later dyed them blue, turned to using denim, & only after Davis wrote to him, added rivets.

Initially, Strauss's jeans were simply sturdy trousers worn by factory workers, miners, farmers, & cattlemen throughout the North American West. During this period, men's jeans had the fly down the front, whereas women's jeans had the fly down the left side. When Levi Strauss & Co. patented the modern, mass-produced prototype in the year 1873, there were 2 pockets in the front & 1 on the back right with copper rivets. The small riveted watch pocket was first added by Levi Strauss to their jeans in the late 1870s. In 1901 Levi Strauss added the back left pocket to their 501 model. This created the now familiar & industry standard 5 pocket configuration with 2 large pockets & small watch pocket in front with 2 pockets on the rear. By the 1920s, Levi’s denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pant in the US.
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Levi Strauss (L) & Jacob Davis (R).
 

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May 21, 1924
14-year-old Bobby Franks is abducted from a Chicago street & killed in what later proves to be one of the most fascinating murders in American history. The killers, Nathan Leopold & Richard Loeb, were wealthy & intelligent teenage students at the University of Chicago whose sole motive for killing Franks was the desire to commit the “perfect crime.”

Leopold, who graduated from the University of Chicago at age 18, spoke 9 languages & was said to have had an IQ of 200, but purportedly had perverse sexual desires. Loeb, also unusually gifted, graduated from college at 17 & was fascinated with criminal psychology. Though Leopold & Loeb knew each other casually while growing up, they began to see more of each other in mid-1920, & their relationship flourished at the University of Chicago, particularly after they discovered a mutual interest in crime. Leopold was particularly fascinated by Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of supermen (Übermenschen), interpreting them as transcendent individuals, possessing extraordinary & unusual capabilities, whose superior intellects allowed them to rise above the laws & rules that bound the unimportant, average populace. Leopold believed that he & especially Loeb were these individuals, & as such, by his interpretation of Nietzsche's doctrines, they were not bound by any of society's normal ethics or rules. The 2 made a highly unusual pact: Loeb, who was gay, agreed to participate in Leopold’s eccentric sexual practices in return for Leopold’s cooperation with his criminal endeavors.

The pair began asserting their perceived immunity from normal restrictions with acts of petty theft & vandalism. Breaking into a fraternity house at the university, they stole penknives, a camera, & a typewriter that they later used to type their ransom note. Emboldened, they progressed to a series of more serious crimes, including arson, but no one seemed to notice. Disappointed with the absence of media coverage of their crimes, they decided to plan & execute a sensational "perfect crime" that would garner public attention, & confirm their self-perceived status as "supermen."[ Both were convinced that their intelligence & social privilege exempted them from the laws that bound other people. In 1924, the pair began to put this maxim to the test by planning to commit a perfect murder. They each established false identities & began rehearsing the kidnapping & murder.

Loeb stabbed Bobby Franks (who was actually his distant cousin) several times in the backseat of a rented car as Leopold drove through Chicago’s heavy traffic. After Franks bled to death on the floor of the car, Leopold & Loeb threw his body in a previously scouted swamp & then disposed of the other evidence in various locations. In an attempt to throw police off their trail, they sent a ransom note demanding $10,000 to Franks’ wealthy father. But Leopold & Loeb had made a couple of key mistakes. 1st, the body, which was poorly hidden, was discovered the next day. This prompted an immediate search for the killers, which Loeb himself joined. The typewriter used to type the ransom note was recovered from a lake &, more important, a pair of glasses was found near Franks’ body.

When the glasses were traced to Loeb’s optometrist, police learned that the optometrist had only written 3 such prescriptions. 2 were immediately accounted for & the 3rd belonged to Nathan Leopold, who calmly told detectives that he must have dropped them while bird hunting earlier in the week. This explanation might have proved sufficient, but reporters covering the case soon discovered other letters from Leopold that matched the ransom note. When confronted with this evidence, Leopold & Loeb both confessed. Both Leopold & Loeb admitted that they were driven by their thrill-seeking, Übermensch delusions, & their aspiration to commit a "perfect crime". Neither claimed to have looked forward to the killing itself, although Leopold admitted interest in learning what it would feel like to be a murderer. He was disappointed to note that he felt the same as ever.

Loeb confessed 1st. He asserted that Leopold had planned everything, & had killed Franks in the back seat of the car while Loeb drove. Leopold's confession followed swiftly thereafter, but he insisted that he was the driver, & Loeb the murderer. Their confessions otherwise corroborated most of the evidence in the case. Leopold later claimed, in his book (long after Loeb was dead), that he pleaded in vain with Loeb to admit to killing Franks. "Mompsie feels less terrible than she might, thinking you did it", he quotes Loeb as saying, "and I'm not going to take that shred of comfort away from her." While most observers believed that Loeb did indeed strike the fatal blows, some circumstantial evidence, including testimony from eyewitness Carl Ulvigh, who said he saw Loeb driving & Leopold in the back seat minutes before the kidnapping, suggested that Leopold could have been the killer.

Clarence Darrow agreed to defend Leopold, & the trial soon became a national sensation. While it was generally assumed that the men's defense would be based on a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Darrow concluded that a jury trial would almost certainly end in conviction and the death penalty. Thus, he elected to enter a plea of guilty, hoping to convince Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly to impose sentences of life imprisonment. Darrow, who didn’t argue the boys’ innocence, directed one of his most famous orations against the death penalty itself. The judge was swayed by the 12 hour long summation & imposed life sentences. Apparently unsatisfied with the attorney’s work, Leopold’s father later reneged on his contract to pay Darrow.

In Jan. 1936, a fellow inmate killed Loeb in a bloody razor fight in the prison’s shower. Leopold was released on parole in 1958 with help from noted poet Carl Sandburg, who testified on his behalf. He lived out the rest of his life in Puerto Rico, where he died in 1971.

The Franks murder has been the inspiration for several dramatic works, including Patrick Hamilton's 1929 play Rope & Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name. Later works, such as Compulsion (1959), adapted from Meyer Levin's 1957 novel; Swoon (1992); & Murder by Numbers (2002) were also based on the crime.
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Leopold (top), Loeb (bottom) & Bobby Franks (right).
 

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May 22, 1781
Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene & 1,000 Patriots attempt an attack on the critical village of Ninety Six in the South Carolina backcountry. After failing to seize the fortified settlement, they began a siege of it, which lasted until their retreat on June 18, making it the longest of the Revolutionary War. The 28-day siege centered on an earthen fortification known as Star Fort.

The British Army's "southern strategy" for winning the American Revolutionary War, which had been successful in taking Charleston & winning submission of much of SC & Georgia, hit a stumbling block in March 1781, after Gen, Lord Cornwallis defeated Greene's Continental Army at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro, NC. Cornwallis had suffered significant casualties & subsequently moved his army to Wilmington, NC. (Many British soldiers were killed by friendly fire when Cornwallis directed his artillery to fire on the Continentals & the British alike. The Americans broke off & retreated from the field technically giving Cornwallis a victory but his forces were unable to follow up & pursue.) Greene, whose army was still largely intact after that battle, took advantage of Cornwallis' move to march into SC & begin operations to eliminate the British from that state.

With the assistance of SC militia commanders Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, & Andrew Pickens, the Patriot forces took a number of British outposts in the backcountry of SC; others were abandoned to them. By mid-May, the only places in the state with significant British garrisons were Ninety Six, in the northwestern part of the state, & the port of Charleston, nearly 200 miles southeast on the Atlantic coast.

Ninety Six, on the Saluda River, was critical for the defense of the northwest portion of the state & the most strategically important position in South Carolina after Camden. It was manned by 550 Loyalists commanded by British Lt. Col. John Harris Cruger. The Patriots lay siege to the city beginning on May 22, using siege lines—trenches & structures built for the use of the besieging army & its artillery—which were designed by the Continental Army’s noted engineering talent Thaddeus Kosciusko & are considered the best example of their kind in the US.

When the Patriots learned that British Lt. Col. Francis Rawdon was on his way to reinforce the Loyalists, they began a preemptory assault led by Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene on June 18. Unable to breech the defenses at Ninety Six’s Star Fort, Greene's losses amounted to 150 men, while Cruger's casualties were under 100. Greene retreated toward Charlotte, NC on June 19, allowing Rawdon to join forces with Cruger. Rawdon sent a sizable force after Greene, but heat & the toll of the long forced marches slowed them. The force was recalled to Ninety Six, which Rawdon then abandoned on July 1, 1781. It was the last Loyalist fort in SC.

Although Greene failed to remove the British from Ninety Six, his continentals & the SC militia were largely successful at eliminating British & Loyalist operations in SC. When the British & their supporters left Ninety Six in July it was the last Loyalist fort in SC. After the war, the surviving Loyalists were relocated by the British Crown & granted land in Nova Scotia, where they named their township Rawdon to commemorate their rescuer. The area in SC is now protected as Ninety Six National Historic Site & was designated a National Historic Landmark.
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Siege of 96, SC (2).jpg
 

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Police kill famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde

On May 23, 1934, notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police while driving a stolen car near Sailes, Louisiana.

Bonnie Parker met the charismatic Clyde Barrow in Texas when she was 19 years old and her husband (she married when she was 16) was serving time in jail for murder. Shortly after they met, Barrow was imprisoned for robbery. Parker visited him every day, and smuggled a gun into prison to help him escape, but he was soon caught in Ohio and sent back to jail. When Barrow was paroled in 1932, he immediately hooked up with Parker, and the couple began a life of crime together.

After they stole a car and committed several robberies, Parker was caught by police and sent to jail for two months. Released in mid-1932, she rejoined Barrow. Over the next two years, the couple teamed with various accomplices to rob a string of banks and stores across five states–Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico and Louisiana. To law enforcement agents, the Barrow Gang–including Barrow’s childhood friend, Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin, Barrow’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche, among others–were cold-blooded criminals who didn’t hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, especially police or sheriff’s deputies. Among the public, however, Parker and Barrow’s reputation as dangerous outlaws was mixed with a romantic view of the couple as “Robin Hood”-like folk heroes.

Their fame was increased by the fact that Bonnie was a woman–an unlikely criminal–and by the fact that the couple posed for playful photographs together, which were later found by police and released to the media. Police almost captured the famous duo twice in the spring of 1933, with surprise raids on their hideouts in Joplin and Platte City, Missouri. Buck Barrow was killed in the second raid, and Blanche was arrested, but Bonnie and Clyde escaped once again. In January 1934, they attacked the Eastham Prison Farm in Texas to help Hamilton break out of jail, shooting several guards with machine guns and killing one.

Texan prison officials hired a retired Texas Ranger, Captain Frank Hamer, as a special investigator to track down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer traced the couple to Louisiana, where Henry Methvin’s family lived. Before dawn on May 23, Hamer and a group of Louisiana and Texas lawmen hid in the bushes along a country road outside Sailes. When Parker and Barrow appeared, the officers opened fire, killing the couple in a hail of bullets.

All told, the Barrow Gang was believed responsible for the deaths of 13 people, including nine police officers. Parker and Barrow are still seen by many as romantic figures, however, especially after the success of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

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May 26, 1960
A tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile travels across the Pacific Ocean and kills 61 people in Hilo, HI. The massive 9.5-magnitude quake had killed thousands in Chile the previous day.

The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11 pm on May 22, 1960. The resulting tsunami, traveling at speeds in excess of 400 mph affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, & the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. On the west coast of the US, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages, but were not deadly.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, established in 1948 in response to another deadly tsunami, worked properly & warnings were issued to Hawaiians 6 hours before the wave’s expected arrival. Some people ignored the warnings, however, & others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving only one minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay on the island of Hawaii. 35 foot waves bent parking meters to the ground & wiped away most buildings. A 10-ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20-ton boulders making up the sea wall were moved 500 feet. Hilo's position in the bay caused a cumulative bounce of tsunami waves far more destructive to Hilo than to other more exposed areas of Hawaii. (This tsunami caused little damage elsewhere in the Hawaiian Islands, where wave heights were in the 3-17 foot range.) The tsunami destroyed or damaged more than 500 homes & businesses downtown & killed 61 people. 282 people were badly hurt. The section of Hilo known as Waiakea was almost completely demolished & had to be cleared after the tsunami. Damage was estimated at $75 million (approx. $656 million in today's dollars).

The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific.10,000 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter, Japan, despite ample warning time, was not able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6 pm, more than a day after the earthquake, the tsunami struck the Japanese islands of Honshu & Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless & caused $400 million in damages (over $3 billion in today's dollars).
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Downtown Hilo, Hawaii, devastated by the tsunami - 1960 (L) & Damage to Waiakea Buddhist Temple after the 1960 tsunami (R).
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his photo shows damage to property at Waiakea after the tsunami - 1960 Hawaii.
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May 24, 1883
After 14 years, the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River opens, connecting cities of New York and Brooklyn for the 1st time in history. Thousands of residents of Brooklyn & Manhattan Island turned out to witness the dedication ceremony, which was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur & New York Governor Grover Cleveland. Designed by the late John A. Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge ever built to that date. (I mentioned this last year when I was doing less extensive write-ups of single events. We've become used to these types of engineering & construction feats, but should remember what audacious & ambitious undertakings they were at the time.)

John Roebling, born in Germany in 1806, was a great pioneer in the design of steel suspension bridges. He studied industrial engineering in Berlin & at the age of 25 immigrated to western Pennsylvania, where he attempted, unsuccessfully, to make his living as a farmer. He later moved to the state capital in Harrisburg, where he found work as a civil engineer. He promoted the use of wire cable & established a successful wire-cable factory.

Meanwhile, he earned a reputation as a designer of suspension bridges, which at the time were widely used but known to fail under strong winds or heavy loads. Roebling is credited with a major breakthrough in suspension-bridge technology: a web truss added to either side of the bridge roadway that greatly stabilized the structure. Using this model, Roebling successfully bridged the Niagara Gorge at Niagara Falls & the Ohio River at Cincinnati. On the basis of these achievements, New York State accepted Roebling’s design for a bridge connecting Brooklyn & Manhattan–with a span of 1,595 feet–& appointed him chief engineer. It was to be the world’s 1st steel suspension bridge.

William M. “Boss” Tweed, the infamously corrupt head of New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine, latched on to the Brooklyn Bridge project from the very beginning. According to sworn testimony he gave later, he facilitated up to $65,000 in bribes to New York’s aldermen in order to win their backing for a $1.5 million bond issue. He then became a major holder of bridge stock & joined a committee charged with managing the project’s finances. Tweed allegedly hoped to skim money from the city’s bridge contracts, much as he had done with other large public works. But he was arrested in 1871 before he could fully realize his plan.

Just before construction began in 1869, Roebling was fatally injured while taking a few final compass readings across the East River. A boat smashed the toes on one of his feet, & 3 weeks later he died of tetanus. He was the 1st of more than two dozen people who would die building his bridge. His 32-year-old son, Washington A. Roebling, took over as chief engineer. Roebling had worked with his father on several bridges & had helped design the Brooklyn Bridge.

No official figure exists for the number of men killed, but estimates range from 20 to over 30. Dozens more suffered debilitating injuries, including Roebling’s son Washington, who became bedridden with the bends after taking over as chief engineer from his father. The 2 granite foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge were built in timber caissons, or watertight chambers, sunk to depths of 44 feet on the Brooklyn side & 78 feet on the New York side. Compressed air pressurized the caissons, allowing underwater construction. At that time, little was known of the risks of working under such conditions, & more than a hundred workers suffered from cases of compression sickness. Compression sickness, or the “bends" (also known as "Caisson disease) is caused by the appearance of nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream that result from rapid decompression. Several died, & Washington Roebling himself became bedridden from the condition in 1872. Other workers died as a result of more conventional construction accidents, such as collapses & a fire.

Roebling continued to direct construction operations from his home, & his wife, Emily, carried his instructions to the workers. In 1877, Washington & Emily moved into a home with a view of the bridge. Roebling’s health gradually improved, but he remained partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. On May 24, 1883, Emily Roebling was given the 1st ride over the completed bridge, with a rooster, a symbol of victory, in her lap. The New York Times described the opening ceremonies, in reference to Brooklyn, as “the greatest gala day in the history of that moral suburb.” Celebratory cannon fire rang out when they reached the Manhattan-side tower. The festivities also included an hour-long fireworks display, receptions & a number of speeches. Just before midnight the bridge opened to the public, & more than 250,000 people streamed across over the next 24 hours using a broad promenade above the roadway that John Roebling designed solely for the enjoyment of pedestrians. Not everyone was happy, however. Many Irish boycotted the ceremony because it coincided with the birthday of British monarch Queen Victoria.

A week after the opening, on Memorial Day, an estimated 20,000 people were on the bridge when a panic started, allegedly over a rumor that it was about to collapse. 12 people were crushed to death on a narrow stairway, & others emerged bloodied & in some cases without clothes. One eyewitness described men & women “with their limbs contorted & their faces purpling in their agonized efforts to breathe.” No changes came about in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, except that more police were stationed on the pedestrian promenade.

The Brooklyn Bridge, with its unprecedented length & 2 stately towers, was dubbed the “8th wonder of the world.” The bridge has always attracted daredevils & showmen. Circus entertainer P.T. Barnum took 21 elephants over the bridge in May 1884 to show that it was safe. The following year, Robert E. Odlum, a swimming instructor from Washington, DC, became the 1st to leap into the East River below. He died, but a number of later jumpers survived, including one man allegedly trying to impress his girlfriend & another who wore large canvas wings. Other stuntmen have flown planes under the bridge & bungee jumped from or climbed its towers.

The Brooklyn Bridge has arguably inspired more art than any other manmade structure in the US. Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol& dozens of other well-known painters have incorporated it into their works, as have photographers (Walker Evans); documentarians (Ken Burns); playwrights (Arthur Miller); novelists (Henry Miller); newspaper columnists (Jimmy Breslin); urban historians (Lewis Mumford); poets (Jack Kerouac); & musicians (Wyclef Jean). It likewise has had a slew of TV shows & movie cameos, including “The Docks of New York,” “It Happened in Brooklyn,” “Moonstruck,” “Godzilla” & “Spider-Man.” Meanwhile, advertisers have used the bridge to sell everything from Vaseline to Absolut Vodka, & it is even the symbol of an Italian chewing gum.

The connection it provided between the massive population centers of Brooklyn & Manhattan changed the course of New York City forever. In 1898, the city of Brooklyn formally merged with New York City, Staten Island, & a few farm towns, forming Greater New York.
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Convoy

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John Hancock becomes president of Congress

On May 24, 1775, John Hancock is elected president of the Second Continental Congress.

John Hancock is best known for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence, which he jested the British could read without spectacles. He was serving as president of Congress upon the declaration’s adoption on July 4, 1776, and, as such, was the first member of the Congress to sign the historic document.

John Hancock graduated from Harvard University in 1754 at age 17 and, with the help of a large inherited fortune, established himself as Boston’s leading merchant. The British customs raid on one of Hancock’s ships, the sloop Liberty, in 1768 incited riots so severe that the British army fled the city of Boston to its barracks in Boston Harbor. Boston merchants promptly agreed to a non-importation agreement to protest the British action. Two years later, it was a scuffle between Patriot protestors and British soldiers on Hancock’s wharf that set the stage for the Boston Massacre.

Hancock’s involvement with Samuel Adams and his radical group, the Sons of Liberty, won the wealthy merchant the dubious distinction of being one of only two Patriots—the other being Sam Adams—that the Redcoats marching to Lexington in April 1775 to confiscate Patriot arms were ordered to arrest. When British General Thomas Gage offered amnesty to the colonists holding Boston under siege, he excluded the same two men from his offer.

While Hancock served as president of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Samuel Adams’ cousin John Adams convinced Congress to place Virginian George Washington in command of the rebel army. In 1776, the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. The next year, John Hancock returned home to Massachusetts, where he served as a major general in the militia and sat in the Massachusetts constitutional convention that adopted the world’s first and most enduring constitution in 1780. Having helped to create the new state government, Hancock proceeded to serve as the state’s first governor, a position he held on and off until his death in 1793.

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Grunk

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The most important history to remember today is the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for this country.

Last year of Memorial Day (May 27, 2019) I did a short write-up on the 1st official government Memorial Day, formalizing a tradition individuals all over the country had been practicing for some time:

For the May 25 entry last year, I highlighted the opening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the beginning of this long, wondrous experiment in government of & by the People. This year, May 25 marks a dark day in government violating that Constitution.

May 25, 1861
John Merryman, a state legislator from Maryland, is arrested for attempting to hinder Union troops from moving from Baltimore to Washington during the Civil War & is held at Fort McHenry by Union military officials. His attorney immediately sought a writ of habeas corpus so that a federal court could examine the charges. However, President Abraham Lincoln decided to suspend the right of habeas corpus, & the general in command of Fort McHenry refused to turn Merryman over to the authorities.

Lincoln argued that this action was necessary to keep Maryland, & important train routes between Washington, DC & the North, from falling to Confederate sympathizers. He cited Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which says that ‘The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.’ The decision was controversial, as it meant those suspected of being associated with the Confederacy could be imprisoned without trial.

Federal judge Roger Taney, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, issued a ruling that President Lincoln did not have the authority to suspend habeas corpus, that only Congress did. Lincoln didn’t respond, appeal, or order the release of Merryman. But during a July 4 speech, Lincoln was defiant, insisting that he needed to suspend the rules in order to put down the rebellion in the South. 5 years later, a new Supreme Court essentially backed Justice Taney’s ruling: In an unrelated case, the court held that only Congress could suspend habeas corpus & that civilians were not subject to military courts, even in times of war.

This was not the last time that the US federal government willfully ignored its own laws during times of strife. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor & America’s entry into World War II. Some forty years later, a US congressional commission determined that those held in the camps had been victims of discrimination. Each camp survivor was awarded $20,000 in compensation from the US government. (I personally am angry at this decision by Congress. The internment of US citizens without due process was not discrimination; it was a blatant violation of their fundamental rights. Making the decision based on racial discrimination completely ignores the insidious nature of this governmental power grab.) In 2008, the Supreme Court ruling, found the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which President Bush signed into allowing for the detention of “unlawful enemy combatants” against the US at Guantánamo Bay without charge, unconstitutional despite the fact that it was an Act of Congress. Thus, even the power of Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is not without limits.
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Convoy

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Ford Model T production ends on May 26, 1927.

On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford and his son Edsel drive the 15 millionth Ford Model T out of their factory, marking the famous automobile’s official last day of production.

More than any other vehicle, the relatively affordable and efficient Model T was responsible for accelerating the automobile’s introduction into American society during the first quarter of the 20th century. Introduced in October 1908, the Model T—also known as the “Tin Lizzie”—weighed some 1,200 pounds, with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. It got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and could travel up to 45 mph. Initially selling for around $850 (around $20,000 in today’s dollars), the Model T would later sell for as little as $260 (around $6,000 today) for the basic no-extras model.

Largely due to the Model T’s incredible popularity, the U.S. government made construction of new roads one of its top priorities by 1920. By 1926, however, the Lizzie had become outdated in a rapidly expanding market for cheaper cars. While Henry Ford had hoped to keep up production of the Model T while retooling his factories for its replacement, the Model A, lack of demand forced his hand.

On May 25, 1927, he made headlines around the world with the announcement that he was discontinuing the Model T. As recorded by Douglas Brinkley in “Wheels for the World,” his biography of Ford, the legendary carmaker delivered a eulogy for his most memorable creation: “It had stamina and power. It was the car that ran before there were good roads to run on. It broke down the barriers of distance in rural sections, brought people of these sections closer together and placed education within the reach of everyone.”

I will note you drive on the right side of the road largely largely due to the success of the Model T. Ford put the sterring wheel on the left and due to the Model T's huge popularity other manufacturers followed the layout and it became the standard. Prior to the T, Ford had put the steering wheel on the right side as there wasn't a standard side.

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Here is a 1908 Model S with the wheel on the right.
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Always been a Ford guy......
 
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Grunk

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May 26, 1637
During the Pequot War, an allied Puritan & Mohegan force under English Captain John Mason attacks a Pequot village in Connecticut, burning or massacring some 500 Indian women, men, & children. The Pequot War was an armed conflict that took place between 1636 & 1638 in New England between the Pequot tribe and an alliance of the colonists of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, & Saybrook colonies & their allies from the Narragansett & Mohegan tribes.

In the 1630s, the Connecticut River Valley was in turmoil. The Pequots aggressively extended their area of control at the expense of the Wampanoags to the north, the Narragansetts to the east, the Connecticut River Valley Algonquians & Mohegans to the west, & the Lenape Algonquian people of Long Island to the south. The tribes were contending for political dominance & control of the European fur trade. A series of epidemics over the course of the previous 3 decades had severely reduced the Indian populations, & there was a power vacuum in the area as a result.

The Dutch & the English were also striving to extend the reach of their trade into the North American interior to achieve dominance in the lush, fertile region. The colonies were new at the time, the original settlements having been founded in the 1620s. By 1636, the Dutch had fortified their trading post, & the English had built a trading fort at Saybrook. English Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay & Plymouth colonies settled at the 4 recently established river towns of Windsor (1632), Wethersfield (1633), Hartford (1635), and Springfield (1636). As the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay spread further into Connecticut, they came into increasing conflict with the Pequots, a tribe centered on the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut.

Efforts to control fur trade access resulted in a series of escalating incidents & attacks that increased tensions on both sides. Political divisions widened between the Pequots & Mohegans as they aligned with different trade sources, the Mohegans with the English colonists & the Pequots with the Dutch colonists. The peace ended between the Dutch & Pequots when the Pequots assaulted a tribe of Indians who had tried to trade in the area of Hartford. Tensions grew as the Massachusetts Bay Colony became a stronghold for wampum (A traditional shell bead of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of Native Americans. It includes white shell beads hand fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell & white & purple beads made from the quahog or Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clam.) production, which the Narragansetts & Pequots had controlled up until the mid-1630s.

Adding to the tensions, John Stone & about 7 of his crew were murdered in 1634 by the Niantics, Western tributary clients of the Pequots. According to the Pequots' later explanations, they murdered him in reprisal for the Dutch murdering the principal Pequot sachem Tatobem, & they claimed to be unaware that Stone was English &. not Dutch. A more proximate cause of the war was the killing of a trader named John Oldham who was attacked on a voyage to Block Island on July 20, 1636. He & several of his crew were killed & his ship was looted by Narragansett-allied Indians who sought to discourage settlers from trading with their Pequot rivals.

By the spring of 1637, 13 English colonists & traders had been killed by the Pequot, & Massachusetts Bay Governor John Endecott organized a large military force to punish the Indians. On April 23, 200 Pequot warriors responded defiantly to the colonial mobilization by attacking a Connecticut settlement, killing 6 men & three women & taking 2 girls away.

On May 26, 1637, 2 hours before dawn, the Puritans & their Indian allies marched on the Pequot village at Mystic, slaughtering all but a handful of its inhabitants. On June 5, Captain Mason attacked another Pequot village, this one near present-day Stonington, & again the Indian inhabitants were defeated & massacred. On July 28, a 3rd attack & massacre occurred near present-day Fairfield, & the Pequot War came to an end.

At the end, about 700 Pequots had been killed or taken into captivity. Hundreds of prisoners were sold into slavery to the West Indies; other survivors were dispersed as captives to the victorious tribes. The result was the elimination of the Pequot tribe as a viable polity in Southern New England, & the colonial authorities classified them as extinct. Survivors remained in the area but were absorbed into other local tribes.
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Grunk

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May 27, 1831
Jedediah Smith, one of the nation’s most important trapper-explorers, is killed by Comanche Indians on the Santa Fe Trail.

Smith’s role in opening up the Far West was not fully appreciated until modern scholars examined the records of his far-ranging journeys. As with all of the mountain men, Smith ventured west as a practical businessman working for eastern fur companies. His goal was to find new territories to trap beaver & otter and make trading contacts with Native Americans.

Nonetheless, beginning in 1822 when he made his 1st expedition with the fur trader William Ashley, Smith’s travels provided information on western geography & potential trails that were invaluable to later pioneers. Smith led the 1st documented exploration from the Salt Lake frontier to the Colorado River. From there, Smith's party became the 1st US citizens to cross the Mojave Desert into what is now the state of California but which at that time was part of Mexico. On the return journey, Smith & his companions were likewise the first US citizens to explore & cross the Sierra Nevada & the treacherous Great Basin Desert. In the following year, Smith & his companions were the first US explorers to travel north from California to reach the Oregon Country by crossing overland.

Smith’s most important accomplishment was his rediscovery in 1824 of the South Pass, an easy route across the Rocky Mountains in modern-day western Wyoming. The 1st Anglo-Americans to cross the pass were fur traders returning east from a Pacific Coast trading post in 1812, yet the news of their discovery was never publicized. Smith, by contrast, established the South Pass as a well-known & heavily traveled route for fur trappers. A few decades later, it became a part of the Oregon Trail & greatly reduced the obstacles faced by wagon trains heading to Oregon & California.

During the next 7 years, Smith filled in many other blank spots on the map of the Far West. Despite having opened many new territories for future pioneers, Smith had little to show for his years of dangerous efforts. In 1830, he returned to St. Louis, determined to go into the mercantile business & draft detailed maps of the country he had explored. Before he could get started, however, an associate convinced him to take a supply of goods to Santa Fe, NM.

With a party of 83 men, Smith left St. Louis in early 1831 & headed south along the Cimarron River, a region known to be nearly devoid of potable water. Despite his years of wilderness experience, Smith was apparently overconfident in his ability to find water & did not take adequate supplies from St. Louis. By mid-May, the party’s water supplies were almost exhausted, & the men started separating each day to search for waterholes.

On May 27, 1831, Smith was riding alone when a hunting party of Comanche Indians attacked him. When Smith never returned, the remainder of the party proceeded on to Santa Fe hoping Smith would meet up with them, but he never did. They arrived in Santa Fe on July 4, 1831, & shortly thereafter members of the party discovered a comanchero with some of Smith's personal belongings. It was relayed that Smith had encountered & communicated with a group of comancheros just prior to his approaching a group of Comanche. Smith tried to negotiate with the Comanche, but they surrounded him in preparation for attack. Dazed & weakened by lack of water, Smith nonetheless managed to shoot one of the Comanche before he was overwhelmed & killed.

Surviving 3 Native American massacres & a grizzly bear mauling, Jedediah Smith's explorations & documented travels were important resources to later American westward expansion. Nevertheless, after his death, Smith's memory & his accomplishments were mostly forgotten by Americans. The federally funded overland exploration of the West that Smith had requested before his death in 1831 finally took place starting in 1842 commanded by Lt. John C. Frémont. It was Frémont's documented & published exploration of the West during the 1840s that opened the West to American expansion. Frémont was popularly known as the Pathfinder up until the late 1800s, while Smith's life & reputation were nearly forgotten by his countrymen, but it was Smith's map of the West in 1831that Frémont used during the 1842 expedition.

At the beginning of the 20th century, scholars & historians made efforts to recognize & study his achievements. In 1918, a book by Harrison Clifford Dale was published covering Ashley-Smith western explorations.
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Jedediah Smith, life portrait, said to have been drawn by a friend, from memory, after the 1831 death of Smith.