2, 1863: Today
marks the second day of the greatest battle ever
fought on American soil, the Battle of Gettysburg.
It will culminate tomorrow with Pickett’s
into this second day of battle is Union Major
General Daniel Sickles, whose military career was
colored more by political favor than battlefield
fact, as a friend of the hard-drinking General
Joseph Hooker, Sickles gained a rather notorious
was nothing new. In
1859 Sickles shot to death Philip Barton Key, the
son of the author of the Star Spangled Banner,
Francis Scott Key. Sickles
had discovered Philip Key was having an affair with
his young wife and killed him in
across from the White House.
He was acquitted of murder charges by the
first use in American legal history of an insanity
this second day of
, Sickle was ordered to position his III Corps at
the southern end of Cemetery Ridge.
However, he was unhappy with this position,
and without permission moved his corps forwards
almost a mile. This
spread the Union line too thin, and before the Union
commanding general, George Meade, could correct
Sickles’ insubordination, a Confederate attack by
General Longstreet virtually destroyed III Corps.
Sickles, however, avoided any formal blame
for the mistake – although unintentionally – by
being hit in the right leg by a 12-pound cannon
ball. In a
display of possibly belated bravado, he attempted to
maintain the moral of his men by calmly puffing on a
cigar and waving his hat while he was carried from
the field. Sickles
ordered his amputated leg preserved, and he
presented the shattered bones to the
during the years following the war, he would visit
his bones on the anniversary of the amputation.
It should also be noted that apparently
Sickles’ political clout continued, for 34 years
he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
General Sickles’ leg bones, or what’s
left of them, can still be seen today at the
National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver
7, 1879: Passing
away today is American artist George Caleb Bingham.
Although at his death his paintings were not
well-known, they were subsequently
“rediscovered” in the 1930’s, which resulted
in the raising of his status to “one of the
greatest American painters of the 19th
exemplifies the “Luminist” style, in that his
landscapes are tranquil scenes with calm, reflective
water, and hazy skies.
Many of his paintings depict frontier life
along the Missouri River and are therefore often
familiar to American history buffs.
Two of his most famous paintings, Fur
Traders Descending the Missouri; 1845, and Trappers’
Return; 1851, were discussed in Volume 47,
Number 3 of the Museum
of the Fur Trade Quarterly.
Both of these paintings, which are very
similar to each other, depict two trappers or
traders quietly paddling a dugout canoe on calm
water. In the
front of the canoe is a small animal; clearly a cat
in the 1851 painting, but a more difficult to
determine animal in the earlier painting.
Many have thought it to be a bear cub, but it
could also easily be a cat or a small dog.
Quarterly article adds credence to it being a
cat, a question that Bingham himself may have
intentionally cleared up in the second painting.
According to the article, cats were a welcome
and helpful addition to the early Missouri River
naturally lived in the American west, but rats –
the Norway or brown rat – entered the West
probably as stowaways on early craft plying the
became a terrible problem; one of the answers to
which, of course, was cats.
In 1812, when Manuel Lisa’s party was
working its way up the Missouri River, they
accidently left a cat at one of their overnight
following quote from Lisa’s clerk discusses her
Manuel sent a Men for the Cat, he returned in the
Evening with the Cat to our great satisfaction this
Remark may seem ridiculous, but an Animal of this
kind, is more valuable in this Country than a fine
are in great Abundance and the Company have lost for
want of Cats, several Thousand Dollars in
Merchandize, which were destroyed at the Bigbellies
“Fort Mandanne” among the Hidatsas), there
has not a night passed since our departure from
Bellefontaine where I got that Cat, that she has not
caught from 4 to 10 Mice and brought them to her
article further states that artist George Catlin
wrote about the destructive spread of rats from
river keelboats. They
infested forts and Indian villages to such a degree
that support posts for Mandan earthlodges and
palisade logs at Fort Clark were undermined to the
point of collapse by their burrows.
Prince Maximilian stated that at Fort Clark
during 1833 and 1834 rats ate “five bushels of the
fort’s corn supply every day.”
21, 1865: For
many a TV season between September 1955 and
September 1975, the western series Gunsmoke
started with two protagonists walking toward
each other down a dusty street.
Eventually they stop, draw their six-guns,
and shoot. Although
there is little evidence that such shootouts
occurred in the real Wild West, it did happen at
least once. In
all likelihood that incident provided
with the idea. Historically
it was that incident, which happened on this date in
that gave birth to the real-life reputation of one
of the West’s greatest Shootists, Wild Bill Hickok.
Bill’s victim that day was Dave Tutt, and
there was little love lost between the two men.
In the recent Civil War, Bill had fought for
the North, while Tutt had fought for the South.
The two men had exchanged hot words over
cards, and were reportedly interested in the same
– probably by theft - Tutt managed to obtain
Hickok’s pocket watch during a poker game.
He then bragged that he was going to show it
off by wearing it in the town square.
Entering the square himself at the announced
time, Bill warned Tutt not to try it.
Tutt ignored the warning, and boldly walked
across the square toward Hickok.
When they were about 50 yards apart, Tutt
went for his gun. He
missed, which was not any great surprise at fifty
yards with a percussion pistol, but Hickok did not
dropped with a bullet in his heart.
27, 1798: The
modern warships of today are equipped with
evaporators to manufacturer fresh water for extended
the “old days” this was not the case.
Constitution (Old Ironsides) for example, was
served by a crew of 475 officers and men for which
she carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water.
This was sufficient for six months at sea.
But, besides the fresh water, some of the
other supplies Constitution
carried might come as a surprise.
On this date, she sailed from Boston carrying
her full complement of men on a mission to
“destroy and harass English shipping.”
That she carried those 48,600 gallons of
water, 7,400 cannon shot, and 11,600 pounds of black
powder should not come as any surprise.
But, what of the 79, 400 gallons of rum she
also carried? In
Jamaica on November 6 she took on 826 pounds of
flour and 68,300 gallons of rum.
Arriving in the Azores on November 12, she
loaded on 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of
she arrived in English waters, she defeated five
British men-of-war and captured, then scuttled, 12
English merchant ships.
From each she salvaged only the rum supplies.
As by January these actions had exhausted her
supplies of powder and shot, one wonders why she
didn’t salvage some of that.
Anyway, while thus unarmed, she carried out a
night raid up the Firth of Clyde where her landing
party captured a distillery and transferred aboard
some 40,000 gallons of Scotch whiskey.
On February 20, 1799 USS
Constitution sailed back into Boston harbor.
On board there were no cannon shot, no black
powder, no rum, no wine, no whiskey, but some 38,600
gallons of not-so-fresh water.
1, 1953: Opening
in theaters on this date, was Paramount Pictures
crowning western success, Shane,
staring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflen, Jack
Palance, Brandon De Wilde and Ben Johnson.
The names involved in the production are
virtually a “who’s who” of the
times: produced and directed by George Stevens,
screenplay by A.B. Guthrie, music by Victor Young,
and costumes by Edith Head.
The beautiful cinematography of the Jackson
Hole area of
won an Oscar, and the film netted five other Oscar
nominations plus various other awards.
Jack Palance and Brandon De Wilde were
nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Yet interestingly, Alan Ladd, for whom the
film proved to be his greatest role, was not
story set a timeless American Western precedent for
good versus evil, with the now familiar
psychological twist of a gunfighter who wants to
quit but can’t due to uncontrolled circumstances.
Scenes in the film are classic: the working
together to uproot a stubborn stump, the
cold-blooded murder of Torrey in the town’s muddy
street, his lonely funeral on the hill, the fight
over who will go to avenge Torrey, and the final
film was the most successful western of the
1950’s, and as imitation is the most perfect form
of flattery, Clint Eastwood paid Shane
the ultimate compliment by paralleling the storyline
in his 1985 film, Pale
no other role or no other actor personified the
character of the evil hired-gun better than Shane’s
,” played by Jack Palance.
In one of the film’s wonderful subtleties,
(Palance) entered the bar, the sleeping dog got up
and left. How
bad can that guy be?
10, 1846: Today,
’s wonderful national museum, the Smithsonian
Institution, houses some 19 museums and galleries,
nine research facilities, and a national zoo.
Yearly millions of visitors view exhibits of
one-of-a-kind artifacts such as the original
Star-Spangled Banner and George Washington’s
uniform to marvels of science and history like the
Wright Brother’s Flyer and Lindbergh’s Spirit of
St. Louis. In
fact, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space
Museum holds the record of being the most visited
museum in the entire world.
So, where did the Smithsonian get its start?
On this date, President James K. Polk signed
into law the Smithsonian Institution Act, which
turned a most unusual gift into one of the world’s
great treasure-houses of knowledge and human
James Smithson, an English scientist and fellow of
the Royal Society of London, died in 1829 his will
contained the following direction; that should his
only living nephew die childless, his entire estate
would be given to “the United States of America,
to found at Washington, under the name of the
Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the
increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
Six years later his nephew did die childless,
and in 1836 Smithson’s estate, which totaled more
than $500,000 was transferred to the
considering several worthy alternatives, Congress
agreed the gift would initiate the creation of a
museum, a library, and an on-going program of
research and collection in the sciences, art, and
odd thing about it all was that James Smithson had
never set foot on American soil.
He is here now, however, for his tomb is also
housed in the Smithsonian Institution.
15, 1961: At
the end of World War II Europe was divided between
those countries that were essentially free and those
under the influence of the
the term was not invented by him, during a speech in
, Sir Winston Churchill referred to this line of
European division as The Iron Curtain.
He was correct in that the Iron Curtain did
take the actual physical form of border defenses.
Some of these areas were the most heavily
militarized areas in the world, and in rural
“East” and “West” were divided by double
rows of steel mesh fences.
Although the city of
was totally within the Soviet dominated zone, it too
was divided into East and West.
In 1948 the Soviets attempted to force the
by blocking off the land supply routes; an attempt
that was foiled by the Berlin Air Lift.
posed a special problem, for it provided one of the
few gateways for the dissatisfied to flee Soviet
2.5 million East Germans fled to
between 1949 and 1961.
To stop this exodus, through the night of
August 12–13, 1961, East German soldiers strung 30
miles of barbed wire separating East from
. Then, on
this date, construction of the Berlin Wall began as
concrete replaced barbed wire.
Over time the Berlin Wall grew to a system of
walls 15 feet high, topped with barbed wire, and
studded with machine gun towers.
The Communist authorities stated that the
wall was necessary to protect their citizens from
the decadent influence of capitalism.
But, as the desire to be free burns eternally
in the heart of man, escapes did not totally stop.
They did, however, become profoundly more
difficult and 191 people died in their attempt.
Happily today the Berlin Wall no longer
One of the last pages in the sad story of relations
between Euro-Americans and Native Americans is
turned today when “Ishi,” the so-called last
surviving Stone Age Indian, is discovered near
. By this
date, most Native Americans had been to some degree
assimilated (willingly and/or unwillingly) into
Anglo or “modern” society.
Ishi was an exception, and for his own
protection was taken into custody by a local
the date, he was quite obviously not out of danger.
Thomas Waterman, a
anthropologist, met with Ishi, and by trying words
in several Northern California Native American
dialects, determined Ishi was a Yahi Indian – the
Yahi being an isolated branch of the
later study of Ishi’s arrowheads suggested he may
have only been half Yahi.)
In 1840 there were reportedly some 400
members of the Yahi tribe, but the tribe was
decimated by a series of massacres during the
1860’s and early 1870’s.
The survivors fled into hiding, and slowly
the remaining members succumbed to disease, accident
and murder to eventually leave approximately 50-year
old Ishi alone and starving near Oroville.
Ishi was taken to
, and as a more-or-less living exhibit shared his
tribal customs and his all-but-extinct wilderness
he apparently adjusted to his life in the White
world, it was short, for he died from tuberculosis
on March 25, 1916. His
estimated age was 56.
Many books and several films were generated
from his life: one being the 1992
film The Last
of His Tribe staring Graham Greene.
If there is a final footnote to this story it
may be that Ishi was not really the man’s name.
The word “Ishi” actually means “man”
in Yahi dialect, and was thus given him as a name.
Since it was taboo in Yahi society to say
one’s own name, and since there were no other
living members of the tribe to say his name, his
real name was forever lost with his death.
“Cougar Heart” Jacobson