The North American Frontiersmen Association

A communication link to this organization.


1st Quarter 2013






January 9, 1887: The cattle ranchers of the American West had seen rough winters before, but because the cattle had entered the winter in good condition they had always survived. But, in the mid-1880's, the situation changed. Speculators had overstocked the northern ranges in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. A series of mild winters had led managers to carelessly stop laying-up winter-feed. In 1886 disaster struck. The summer of 1886 was abnormally dry and by November the usually well-grassed plains were barren. January saw record snowfall followed by a short warming. As the snow began to melt, brutal arctic cold suddenly swept over the land. In some places the temperature dropped to 63 degrees below zero. The melting snow was instantly transformed into a hard icy shell encasing the land. On January 9, 1887, snow again started to fall, and for 16 hours it piled up at a rate of an inch an hour. It was impossible for weakened cattle to move about and break through the snow-covered ice crust for forage. Without stored feed, the ranchers could only watch their cattle die. Thousands staggered through towns dying in yards looking for feed. They ate the bare branches of bushes and the skins from trees. When the snow finally melted, dead cattle dotted the land as far as the eye could see. Carcasses clogged watercourses rendering water supplies unfit to drink. It was the winter of "The Great Die Up."

January 20, 2002: An article entitled “The Power of One; A Hidden and Solitary Soldier,” appears in the Los Angeles Times. The subject of the story is an 81-year-old grandmother named Marion Pritchard – a woman of courage and a hero of World War II. At the time of WW II, Marion’s name was Van Binsbergen, and she lived in German-occupied Holland. As in all the occupied countries, the German policy toward Jewish citizens was one of rounding them up for forced labor, concentration camps and eventual death. Marion Van Binsbergen worked with the Dutch resistance and assisted scores of Jews, especially children, to escape the Nazis. One day while she was hiding a father and three children under the floorboards of her home, four German SS officers and a Dutch Nazi policeman pounded on the door. They searched the house but found nothing. Then, after the danger was believed passed and the family had emerged from their hiding place, the Dutch policeman returned to the house. He caught Marion and the Jewish family red-handed. As he was about to lead them away to the unspeakable horrors of German death camps, Marion pulled out a hidden pistol and shot him dead. A local undertaker, who was also a member of the Dutch resistance, removed the body and disposed of it by placing it in a coffin with another body. One can only assume that the coffin’s first occupant was also a patriot and would have approved. At any rate, eternity keeps quiet company.

January 29, 1774: On this date, in a building in London called the “Cockpit,” occurs an incident that possibly more than any other assures the American Revolution and the birth of the United States. During the reign of Henry VIII, this location served as his cock-fighting arena. Now, although no longer a location for that bloody sport, the building continues with the name and dark atmosphere through its use by the government for the questioning of prisoners. Often, when the victims leave the Cockpit, their reputation is in tatters, their fortune forfeited, and their life in jeopardy. Today the intended victim is an American. He is one of the most respected men in the entire world, Benjamin Franklin. The Privy Council, the House of Commons, and many an angry Englishman, expect the Solicitor General, Alexander Wedderburn, to totally humiliate Franklin. They are not disappointed. Wedderburn’s attack on Franklin is so venomous that no London paper will even print the text. Why? Why would the lords of English government attack such a highly respected statesman and scientist? Franklin even lived in London and proudly referred to himself as a “Briton.” The answer is the “Boston Tea Party.” In protest of unfair taxation, Americans disguised as Indians tossed forty-five tons of tea into Boston Harbor. It littered the beaches for miles and depressed the profits of the East India Company for years. The English considered it treason, and Wedderburn held Franklin partly responsible. Franklin tolerated the tirade in the Cockpit in stoic silence. He answered no questions. He made no statement. When it was over, Franklin turned his back on England, his adopted home, and returned to America. England had made an enemy of a friend, and Franklin knew America must become independent. To that end he devoted himself, and America benefited from that devotion; truly he was a Founding Father.


February 3, 1837: Hollywood movies of the American West depict virtually every man carrying a weapon. Is this just Hollywood, or is it the reality of a developed habit? On this date, the Little Rock Arkansas Advocate noted the growing popularity of Bowie knives by saying, “…all the steel in the country was immediately converted into bowie-knives.” Such deadly weapons were not merely worn as additional dress to some men, but were considered required equipment for living and traveling on the frontier. A visitor to America, Colonel Edward Stiff wrote an 1840 guidebook entitled The Texan Emigrant. The following quote found in chapter 2 describes early Houston: Perhaps about 3,000 people are to be found at Houston…among them are not exceeding forty females. Here may be daily seen parties of traders arriving and departing, composed of every variety of colour from snowy white to sooty, and dressed in every variety of fashion, excepting the savage Bowie-knife, which, as if by common consent, was a necessary appendage to all… These items clearly refer to knives, but it must be understood that prior to the development of revolving percussion firearms, the easily carried and concealable handgun was relatively unreliable. Considering then that old habits are hard to break, there is credence gained in the popular saying that grew with the 1835 invention of the revolving pistol: “God made men equal; Sam Colt keeps them that way.”

Author’s Note: The disparity in numbers between males and females on the frontier can also be seen in Stiff’s comment.

February 14, 1884: On February 3, 1880, future President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt writes in his diary:

Snowing heavily, but I drove over in my sleigh to Chestnut Hill, the horse plunging to his belly in the great drifts, and the wind cutting my face like a knife. My sweet life was just as lovable and pretty as ever; it seems hardly possible that I can kiss her and hold her in my arms; she is so pure and so innocent, and so very, very pretty. I have never done anything to deserve such good fortune.

Of course today is Valentine's Day - a day set-aside for all lovers like Theodore and his "Sweet Life." But, Valentine's Day 1884, is filed with less than blissful happiness for Theodore. On that day, Theodore's young wife, his "Sweet Life," dies after giving birth to their first child. As if this grief is not enough, Theodore's mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, dies earlier that same day in the same house. Torn by grief, Theodore writes: "For joy or for sorrow my life has now been lived out." After the double funeral, Theodore seeks to renew his spirit by working his isolated North Dakota ranch. Calling upon the personal determination that is his historic trademark he bounces back, and historically, all of his wonderful activities and great accomplishments come after this time of terrible sorrow.

February 23, 1540: On this date, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado leads an army northward out of western Mexico in search of the rumored riches of the "Seven Cities of Cíbola.” His army consists of 225 mounted cavaliers, 62 foot soldiers, 800 American Indian allies and 1,000 African and American Indian slaves. Herds of livestock are driven along for food, as well as somewhere between 550 and 1500 horses as extra mounts (sources vary). Traditionally it has been both believed and taught that strays and/or captured horses from Coronado’s herd provided the initial source of horses for North America’s native people. This is untrue; it is one of the great myths of the American West. By Spanish law, conquistadores were required to ride stallions, therefore, only two of Coronado’s horses were mares, and these two never disappeared. The actual sources of early horses for the Indians were the Spanish ranches of New Mexico. Santa Fe, the Spanish capital of New Mexico, was established in 1610, and from that time on, rancheros dotted the Mew Mexican landscape. According to historians, a typical ranchero ran some 150,000 cattle, comparable numbers of sheep, and 20,000 horses. Pueblo Indians, who were often enslaved by the Spanish, farmed for their masters and cared for these herds. They would trade stolen horses to neighboring tribes, and thus, horses - the “sacred dogs,” as they were sometimes called by the Plains Indians - were disseminated. Other tribes also raided the horse herds. A typical group was the Apaches, who moved into the area from the East. At first, they raided the horse herds for food. Then, as they learned of domestication, they raided the horse herds for personal wealth and potential trade. The Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish from New Mexico, and during the following 12 years the Indians “traded in a floodtide of horseflesh.”


March 11, 1717: The following entry was made in an Exeter, Rhode Island, marriage registration book by Justice William Hall; On March 11th, 1717, did Philip Shearman Take the Widow Hannah Clarke in her shift, without any other Apparel, and led her across the Highway, as the Law directs in such Cases and was then married according to the law by me. One of the many customs common to colonial America that seem very strange to us today were “shift-marriages” or “smock-marriages.” Throughout New England, a second husband became responsible for the debts incurred by a first husband when he married a widow UNLESS the good lady went through the marriage ceremony “clad only in her shift.” (A shift or a smock is today’s chemise or slip, a one-piece dress length undergarment.) The requirements as to worn garments, where the marriage should take place, and the degree of the financial exemption, varied slightly from colony to colony. In some cases, as noted in the above quote, the groom was required to escort the bride across the local main road. In some locations the ceremony was required to actually be in the middle of the road. And, in some locations, the bride was required to be naked, which was a risky affair considering the strict morals of the time. A Vermont shift-marriage in 1789 noted that Major Moses Joy married Widow Hanna Ward while she “stood with no clothing on, within a closet, and held her hand out to the major through a diamond-shaped hole in the door.”

March 19, 1945: As part of Task Force 58, the American aircraft carrier, USS Franklin, is preparing to launch an early morning strike against Japan's home islands. She is less than 100 miles from the Japanese coast – closer than any other American carrier has ever been. Suddenly a lone Japanese bomber swoops in over the deck and drops two 500-pound bombs. One explodes in the hanger deck among the armed and fueled planes. Like a huge string of firecrackers, the planes begin to explode. The other bomb slams aft through the flight deck, and second deck, to explode amidst vast stores of ammunition, bombs and wing rockets. Not only do the storage lockers of bombs and rockets detonate, but 40,000 gallons of flaming high-octane aviation fuel pours through passageways and compartments. Fire in a ship at sea is one of the worst of catastrophes, for there is no escape, and the Franklin is turned into an inferno. She lies dead in the water, lists 13 degrees to starboard, and loses all communications. She is almost totally enveloped in fire. Many of the Men and chunks of flaming carrier are blown into the sea. Out of this floating hell emerge heroes who fight to save their stricken ship. One is Father Joseph T. O'Callahan, the ship's Catholic chaplain. He is everywhere at once -- helping with fire hoses, giving aide to the wounded, administering last rights to the dying, leading damage control parties. His quiet courage inspires the men, and the large white cross on his helmet becomes a beacon of hope. When Father O'Callahan fails to duck as a Japanese fighter strafes the deck, the Captain of the Franklin yells, "Why don't you duck?" Grinning, Father O'Callahan shouts back, "God won't let me go until He's ready." Because of his unselfish courage, Father O'Callahan is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Author’s Note: The amazingly courageous action by the survivors saved the ship. The USS Franklin suffered 724 killed, 256 wounded, and was the most heavily damaged aircraft carrier (that stayed afloat) in WW II.

March 23, 1775: There is a saying that “the disarmed citizen becomes a servant,” and while British troops busy themselves to that end by confiscating stores of gunpowder and weapons belonging to the American people, the Second Virginia Convention (the colony’s legislature) is in session at St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia. Patrick Henry, who at age 39 is one of the wealthiest landowners in Virginia, rises to urge his fellow citizens to arm themselves for self-defense. The final words of his speech still ring today of freedom’s call;

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery! Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

Today, “Red Hill,” Patrick Henry’s plantation home and last resting-place is a National Memorial open for visitation almost every day of the year.



Published Quarterly to keep our membership informed of association status and upcoming events.

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