2nd QUARTER 2014

Jake Jacobson




April 2, 1792: During the American colonial period, the original thirteen colonies did not possess any unique currency of their own.  They relied primarily on trade, barter and the monetary systems of the European nations that founded them.  So, once the United States was established as a sovereign power, it was a stipulation of the Constitution that the nation mint its own money.  On this date, April 2, 1792, the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, proposed a system of coinage to Congress.  It provided for ten dollar and one dollar gold coins, supplemented with silver coins of one dollar denominations and ten cent denominations, as well as one cent and one half cent copper coins.  The first mint was established in Philadelphia, and the first coin struck was the copper one cent piece.  This first ever United States coin carried the date of 1793.  Two of these coins were recently offered for sale: a virtually perfect coin – that is worn but totally readable on both sides – and another that was damaged (bent) and almost unreadable on one side.  The prices were $13,995 and $2,200 respectfully.


April 14, 1865: On this night, while attending a play at Ford’s Theater, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was shot by John Wilkes Booth.  During that long night as Lincoln lay diagonally across a bed in the Peterson boarding house opposite the theater, doctors discovered the location of the .44 caliber bullet within the president’s head by using a metal probe.  It was lodged in his brain behind the left eye.  During an autopsy at the White House the next day, the bullet was removed.  Today, a visitor to Ford’s Theater enjoys an official National Historic Site that has been carefully renovated to its original 1865 appearance.  A basement museum holds memorabilia of that tragic night: Lincoln’s blood stained suit, the door of the theater box with its peephole, the hunting knife Booth used to stab Major Rathbone, the army officer who occupied the box with the Lincolns, the hoods and ropes used eventually at the conspirators’ execution, and the .44 Cal. Derringer Booth used to kill Lincoln.  But, there is no bullet.  After the assassination, many of the items associated with that tragic night were held in storage by the War department.  In 1940, the War Department offered these items, which included the knife, gun, and bullet, to the Department of the Interior.  However, although the gun and knife were placed on display in Ford’s Theater, the bullet was considered improper.  In 1956, the bullet was returned to the Department of the Army, where it was placed on display in the National Museum of Health and Medicine.  It can now be viewed there along with fragments of Lincoln ’s skull and strands of his hair.

April 15, 1865: At exactly 7:22 AM, in the Petersen’s Boarding House across the street from Ford’s Theater, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, draws his last mortal breath.  Secretary of War Stanton looks about the room and quietly says; “Now he belongs to the ages.”  Just after 10:15 the previous night, Henry Safford, a border at the Petersen House, heard a commotion in the street.  Stepping out the front door, he witnessed the wounded President being carried from Ford’s Theater.  The crowd seemed in doubt as to where to take him, so Safford directed them into the rear downstairs bedroom of the Petersen House.  Because of his height, Lincoln was laid diagonally across the bed, but it was clear little could be done save wait.  During those long, mournful hours, some 90 different people made their way to the house and its back bedroom to pay their respects. Guards were placed in the street and upon the roof tops.  Helping as they could, the Peterson family and some of their borders retired to the basement.  After his death, Lincoln’s remains were placed in a temporary flag-wrapped coffin and solemnly returned to the White House under cavalry escort.  Today, a ticket to tour Ford’s Theater also allows a visit to three 1st floor rooms of the Peterson Boarding House.  It is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm.  Furnished in an 1865 motif, none of the furnishings are actual to the house or incident.




May 1, 1865: A member of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Force and bodyguard to the President of the United States, John F. Parker, is charged with neglect of duty.  Part of the actual charge reads, “In this, that Said Parker was detailed to attend and protect the President Mr. Lincoln, that while the President was at Ford’s Theater on the night of the 14 of April last, Said Parker allowed a man to enter the President’s private box and Shoot the President.”  During that fatal evening, Parker left his post to find a better seat, and then went next door to have a drink in the saloon.  On May 3rd, Parker was tried, but there remain no transcripts of the case, and the newspapers did not cover the story.  However, there are existing records that the complaint against Parker was dismissed on June 2nd.  Amazingly, although Parker left his post at Ford’s Theater leaving open for Booth the path to the President’s box, he still worked White House security after the fact and was even assigned as Mary Todd Lincoln’s bodyguard.  Tradition holds that Mary Todd’s dressmaker overheard the following exchange between Mrs. Lincoln and Parker.  "So you are on guard tonight, on guard in the White House after helping to murder the President."  Parker defended himself by saying he, "could never stoop to murder much less to the murder of so good and great a man as the President. I did wrong, I admit, and have bitterly repented."  In response, Mary Todd reportedly ordered him away saying that she would forever hold him responsible for her husband’s death.


May 17, 1840: For many years, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, a Belgium-born Catholic priest who had migrated to Baltimore at age 20, provided strong influences to the Flathead Indians in the Bitterroot Valley of today's Montana.  Through his extensive travels, he was also well known to many of the other northwestern Native American people.  He began his life in the West when he joined the American Fur Company's supply caravan to the last Mountain Man rendezvous in 1840.  Near that site in today's Wyoming, he officiated at probably the first Catholic Mass in the West (outside of California and its Mission System).  On this date, May 17, 1840, Father DeSmet wrote:  "We traveled westward over immense plains, destitute of trees or shrubs, except along the streams, and broken by deep ravines, where our voyageurs lowered and raised the carts by means of ropes…often the thermometer would be as low as 27 in the morning, though it might rise to 90 by noon."  During the years that Father DeSmet brought the Gospel to the Native American people, he also introduced the farming of oats, wheat, and potatoes to Montana .

May 29, 1736: Today is the birthday of one of America’s great Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry.  He is remembered as a brilliant speaker (“…give me liberty or give me death”), an influential leader throughout the American Revolution, and in the establishment of our Constitution.  He believed in the doctrine of natural rights - that man is born with certain inalienable rights, and that personal liberty should “be the direct end of government.  Following that belief, Henry as governor of Virginia opposed Virginia ’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution because it inadequately protected the rights of the individual citizen.  After the adoption of the Constitution, he worked for the addition of the Bill of Rights to guarantee those personal freedoms.  He said, “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”  The quotes and



writings of Patrick Henry contain a timeless wisdom.  Should one wonder about the intentions of today’s politicians, here is a possible suggestion: Sit back and think, and then read from Patrick Henry.  Ask this question, “Are they as wise as he?”


Guard with jealous attention the public liberty.  Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.  Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force.  Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.    



June 2, 1899: One of the great Hollywood Westerns is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid staring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Modern America has always had a soft spot for Western bad men, and Newman and Redford played real characters that existed near the turn of the century.  Butch Cassidy and Harry Longbaugh (Sundance) were part of the so-called “Wild Bunch” that fed off banks and trains.  Eventually, when it got too hot for them, they fled the West to ply their trade in South America .  As was the Apache war leader Geronimo blamed for every Indian raid in the Southwest, so too was the Wild Bunch blamed for every train robbery.  The trademark of a Wild Bunch robbery was no loss of life for the train crew, no molestation of the passengers, and the tendency to use too much dynamite on the express car and/or safe.  The scene in the movie where the train’s express car is blown to bits is not the product of some screenwriter’s imagination.  On this date, just outside Wilcox , Wyoming , such an explosion turned an express car into junk and scattered literally thousands of bank notes across the prairie.  The deaths of Butch Cassidy and Harry Longbaugh in South America at the hands of the Bolivian Army are disputable.  Details are at best cloudy, and was the date really 1908, 1909 or 1911?  As with some other infamous Western bad men, the deaths of Butch and Sundance have been much disputed.  Butch’s sister claimed he visited her in 1925.  Sundance reportedly lived for a while in New Mexico , died in 1957, and rests today in Casper , Wyoming .


June 15, 1904:  New York City’s East River flows between Manhattan and New York City with Long Island Sound to the north and Upper New York Bay to the south.  Approximately even with Central Park, the river makes a hook-shaped curve, which for years of the city’s early existence was a dangerous place.  It was laced with islands, rocks, confusing currents, and was given the well-earned name; Hell Gate.  A New York history says, “In the gloom of cloudy weather, moving toward late summer dusk and twilight, the passage was filled with dark memories and forebodings. Hell Gate is a graveyard for ships and sailors and passengers, its islands the refuge of the wayward and unwanted.”  Today the Triborough Bridge crosses the river near here.  On this date it was the scene of one of New York City’s worst disasters, but this time Hell Gate itself was not responsible.  The recently overhauled excursion ferry, General Slocum, which had a passenger capacity of 3000, was skippered by 68-year old William van Schaick who had an unblemished safety record for ferrying literally millions of passengers.  This day the General Slocum had been chartered by St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to transport members of the “Little Germany” immigrant community – mostly women and children - to an annual picnic at Locust Point on Long Island’s North Shore.  (Located near Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Oyster Bay.)  As the General Slocum navigated through Hell Gate, fire suddenly broke out below the bow section and in seconds involved the entire forward part of the ferry.  Passengers rushed to the rear of the ferry while winds fanned the flames aft.  Fire eaten decks began to collapse upon helpless women and children as Captain van Schaick, heroically staying on station in his flaming wheelhouse, tried to run the doomed ferry aground.  With his hat and uniform in flames, van Schaick did succeed in running the ferry aground, but it was precious little help or hope for 1,021 of the 1,358 passengers.  Many died in the flames while others were swept away by currents.  As with any such disaster, there were examples of both courage and cruelty.  The General Slocum had run aground near a hospital, and while a nurse who “always wished she could swim” suddenly did learn to swim and rescued several, a man on a white motor yacht safely stayed away, watched, and “did not lift a finger.”      

June 25, 1876:  At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, George Custer divided his forces.  One of the sections was led by Major Marcus Reno, who was ordered to take three companies into the river valley and attack the south end of the Indian village.  In this effort, Company G was commanded by 1st Lieutenant Donald McIntosh.  Initially meeting light resistance, Reno ordered his men to dismount and form a skirmish line, but as warriors rallied to meet the threat, he retreated into timber along the river to form a defensive perimeter.  The situation quickly unraveled, and when the brains of his scout, Bloody Knife, were blown into his face, Reno lost control.  They retreated back across the river with the troopers of Company G being some of the last to leave the timber.  McIntosh never made it.  He was pulled from his horse, killed and mutilated.  Two days later when the relief column came upon the scene, the bodies in the valley, on Custer’s battle site, and where Reno made his stand on the hill above the river, were quickly – and not very completely – “buried where they fell.”  In May 1877, Lt. General Philip Sheridan ordered his brother, Lt. Col. Michael Sheridan to recover the bodies of the officers.  He was escorted by Company I of the 7th Cavalry, and in early July the detachment arrived on the battlefield.  Bones scattered around the original individual burial sites were gathered, reinterred, and marked with cedar stakes.  The bones of officers were placed in coffins: those on Custer Hill on July 3rd, and those in the valley and on Reno Hill on July 4th.  Only Lt. John J. Crittenden remained “buried where he fell” as directed by his father.  The remains of McIntosh were re-interred at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, but in 1909 they were again disinterred and moved to Section I at Arlington National Cemetery.  On May 12, 1910, his widow, Mary, joined him there.  Buried nearby is Francis M. Gibson; McIntosh’s brother-in-law, who as a member of the defensive position on Reno Hill survived the Little Big Horn.  In June 1995, a finger bone with a ring was discovered in the Reno valley fight area near McIntosh’s memorial stone.  The ring, which was inscribed with McIntosh’s initials, those of his wife, and the date of their marriage was thus identified as McIntosh’s wedding band.  Of course, the finger bone was also his.     




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