4th QUARTER 2015

Jake Jacobson



October 1, 1838: During October 1838, the United States government began the forced removal of 16,000 Cherokees from their native territories east of the Mississippi to the “Indian Territory” of today’s Oklahoma.  The Cherokee people were not the “wild-Indian” nomadic savages as envisioned by many whites.  They had in fact assimilated many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women, and suits by the men. They built roads, schools, and churches, had a system of representative government, and like their white neighbors were farmers and cattle ranchers.  A young Cherokee had invented an alphabet called the “Talking Leaves" allowing for their language to be written.  There had even been some acceptance of inter-racial marriage.   The Supreme Court of the United States ruled the removal policy unconstitutional, but President Andrew Jackson ordered it carried out anyway.  In direct challenge to the court, Jackson’s attitude was “How are they going to stop me?”   In an attempt to prevent it, Tennessee frontiersman David Crockett ruined his political career by opposing the powerful Jackson and as a result, left for Texas.  Thousands of Native Americans died on the march.  The Cherokees called it, “Nunna da ul-tsun-ji” (Trail where they cried.)  Today, this sad chapter in American history is remembered as the “Trail of Tears.”

October 3, 2009:  It is announced today that over the past summer a major archeological find has been unearthed just over a mile from Briton’s famous Stonehenge.  The discovery, called “Bluehenge,” is both similar and related to Stonehenge.  Bluehenge, a formation of rocks contemporary to Stonehenge, is a circle of some 30 stones that originally were six-feet high and weighed up to four tons each.  The Bluehenge name refers to the dolerite blue stone, which was brought to the location from the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire, Wales, approximately 200 miles west of Stonehenge.  Today these stones are no longer in their original location; what the archeologists actually found were their remains; chips of blue stone in holes on a ramped mount.  Once originally installed some 5000 years ago, “the stones would have been polished to a dark blue with silver flecks resembling the night sky.”  Approximately 500 years after the circle’s initial construction, the stones were apparently moved and added to Stonehenge.  The discovering archeologist, Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University, suggests that the circle of stones, like the much larger Stonehenge, were linked to rituals of life and death.  Bluehenge possibly was part of a ritual processional that involved the River Avon and ended at Stonehenge.  “Not many people know that Stonehenge was Britain’s largest burial ground … maybe the bluestone circle is where people were cremated before their ashes were buried at Stonehenge itself.”  Some 1.2 miles NE of Stonehenge is Woodhenge, a circle of timber posts also contemporary to Stonehenge.  Reasoning that all three circles being of close proximity are thus connected, the possibly exists that the dead were brought to Woodhenge; a symbol of “life,” transported down River Avon; a symbolic journey from “life” to “death,” brought ashore at Bluehenge, cremated, and given a final journey the 1.8 miles to their burial site at Stonehenge.  Although it may not be well-known that Stonehenge was a pre-historic burial site, it is well-known that for some ritualistic reason it was constructed in alignment with the summer solstice.    

October 21, 1797: Launched on this date in Boston harbor is the USS Constitution, one of six frigates authorized by Congress in 1794.  Never defeated in combat, she has remained a part of the United States Navy since that day, and is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.  Her nickname, "Old Ironsides," comes from a famous engagement during the War of 1812, when Constitution took on the HMS Guerriere some 600 miles east of Boston.  After an hour of maneuvering and inconclusive firing, the two ships pulled next to each other for a short-range duel.  Almost side-by-side the two ships blasted away.  Within 20 minutes, Guerriere's mizzenmast was shot away, and then her two remaining masts fell into the sea.  At some point during the battle, the Americans saw British cannonballs bounce off Constitution's oaken sides and splash harmlessly into the sea.  A cheer went up, "Hooray! Her sides are made of iron," and her nickname became part of history.  She was on the way to becoming to Americans that very special ship she is today.  In 1830, when it was misreported in a Boston newspaper that the Navy planned to scrap "Old Ironsides," the public outcry in support of her preservation led to a total refurbishing.  Today the USS Constitution can be visited by the public daily in Boston harbor.        


November 1, 1849:  On this approximate date, Alexander Todd joined the men scrounging for a fortune in the California gold fields.  He soon learned, however, that compared to the number of men and the hard work put in, few became rich.  There were other ways to make it, and he recognized something that was needed.  At Jacksonville he offered to fetch the mail, which had been piling up in San Francisco.  Leaving with a packet of signed letters of authorization, he returned with sacks of mail.  Here was an entrepreneur that was willing to fulfill a needed role and by so doing earned the miners’ trust.  They asked him not only to carry the mail, but to transport their gold dust and deposit it in the banks being established in San Francisco.  He agreed, and his first load amounted to an estimated $200,000 – some 15,000 ounces of gold.  He transported it down the San Joaquin River and across San Francisco Bay.  For his return trip, he fitted out a pack train with his own proceeds, and then carried the mail and the miners’ deposit slips back to the camps.  Aside from the rowboat water route, a pack train was the only real feasible choice, for most of the “roads” were no more than mere rough trails.  In today’s world with the influence of television and movie westerns, one would think that such a transportation system would be the ready target of any road agent or bandit that took a notion to get rich quick.  Yet in the early days of the California Gold Rush, that was not the case.  Todd explained of his express service;


An express man on the road was almost exempt from interference because everybody was interested, and if an express man had been attacked, and his assailant discovered, punishment would have been very speedy…An express man though carrying large sums of money, bore almost a charmed life in those days.

While in 1849, a number of formal express companies operated in the East and Midwest, there was only one such company operating along the Pacific Coast.  That was the Adams Express Company, and as time went along they absorbed the express routes of men like Alexander Todd.  By 1854 the Adams Express Company virtually monopolized the California and coastal express trade.  A year later, however, they in turn were absorbed by a new enterprise: Wells, Fargo and Company.


November 14, 1974: Dying on this date was a Hollywood actor who appeared in some 170 films, yet very few today likely remember his name.  It was Johnny Mack Brown, and his name was famous before he ever stepped upon the silver screen.  Johnny Mack Brown played football for the University of Alabama, and it was his play that led to victories in the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game two years in a row.  He caught a 65-yard pass to score the winning touchdown against Georgia Tech in 1926, and he intercepted a pass for a touchdown in the last seconds against the Washington Huskies in 1927.  Johnny Mack Brown was elected to the 1927 All-American Team, the All-American Hall of Fame, The College Football Hall of Fame, and The Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.  He was slated to coach for the University of Alabama after graduation, but he received an invitation to head west to Hollywood.  His good looks and athletic physique helped land parts and soon he graduated to stardom.  But the Hollywood dramas and romances he stared in were silent films, and when movies began to talk, his deep southern drawl simply didn’t fit with his characters’ sophistication.  MGM let his contract lapse.  But that setback didn’t stop Johnny Mack Brown.  Soon Hollywood executives realized that good looks, athletic ability, and a deep Southern drawl actually made for a perfect cowboy.  Monogram Studios alone stared Johnny Mack Brown in 47 western films.  True to the make-up of a Hollywood cowboy, no other Western star was his equal at twirling, flipping, and spinning his nickel-plated six-shooters.

November 28, 1942:  Today in places of public assembly, like theaters, there are lighted "Exit" signs – they are something the public takes for granted, but such was not always so.  During the early days of World War II, a major fire struck the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, Massachusetts.  The one-time speakeasy, multi-roomed restaurant / dance hall had a South-sea theme with fake palm trees, bamboo, rattan furniture, and tapestries that draped the walls and ceilings.  The owner, who boasted of links to organized crime, had hidden as well as intentionally blocked entrances / exits to eliminate the possibility of patrons entering without paying.  That fateful night "The Grove" had a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 1,000 patrons, many of whom were servicemen about to ship overseas for combat duty.  A busboy's lighted match accidentally ignited a fake palm tree and the extensive flammable decorations rapidly spread the fire throughout the building.  Almost half of the occupants were killed (497), and many more were seriously injured.  In total panic, people fought to get out of the building.  After the fire was brought under control, charred bodies were stacked four and five deep before the two revolving doors at the main entrance.  Authorities estimated that 300 of those killed could have been saved had the doors simply swung outward.  The Cocoanut Grove fire led to new laws for fire prevention and safety in places of public assembly.  Lighted "Exit" signs were a part of those new laws.     



December, 1849:  In today’s America, with a myopic and uneducated in history media, often it is believed that racism was an ever-present and overwhelming condition of our past – if not also today.  Yet, even in places and conditions where we might not expect it, often we can find the Christmas Spirit and the full cup of human kindness.  Benjamin Butler Harris, a Virginian living in East Texas decides to pull up stakes and head to the California gold fields.  For six grueling months he works his way across Texas, New Mexico, Mexico and Arizona to the Golden State.  When finally there, he finds the life of a prospector is much more difficult than expected.  One of the dangers is disease.  He makes the following entry into his journal:  “During the winter of 1849, scurvy raged among the miners, more extensively among the Mexicans, due probably to their diet or thinness of clothing, which is usually of cotton.  At its height, about seven hundred Mexican patients in my neighborhood were sheltered, doctored, nursed, and maintained by miners’ subscriptions alone.  In the absence of law and government institutions of benevolence, the whole-souled pioneers came liberally to the aid of those unfortunates, wreathing with beaming smile the face of sweet charity then walking abroad in the Sierras.”  

 December 12, 1941:  There are phrases uttered in American military history that when they are heard at home waves of pride wash through the nation.  Courageous examples include statements like “I have not yet begun to fight;” “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country;” “Damn the torpedoes.  Full speed ahead!” and “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.”  After the Japanese surprise attacks of December 7 – 8, 1941, the little American garrison at Wake Island became a target for Japanese invasion.  Located halfway between Hawaii and Japan, air forces stationed there could control a vast area of the Pacific.  Therefore, the taking of Wake was considered a strategic necessity.  On December 11, the Japanese attempted their invasion, but the tenacious Wake defenders repulsed the attack, and the Japanese invasion force embarrassingly had to return to their base for reinforcements.  For the American public, this successful defense of Wake Island became the only bright spot in a litany of December disasters.  Then there came a radio message from Major James Devereux, the commander of the US Marines on Wake Island.  When asked if the Wake defenders needed anything, Devereux grittily replied, “Send us more Japs.”  Instantly the message raced across the nation and newspapers splashed it across their front pages.  The little garrison of Wake Island was shaking its fist at the seemingly invincible steam rolling forces of the Japanese Empire.  America loved it!  So, how come when the slogan was heard by the defenders at Wake Island, one of the Marines retorted, “Who in the crap said that!  He’s out of his gourd!”  The Wake Island Marines knew full well that their successful defensive action on December 11 would embolden the Japanese to return with heavier forces.  They knew full well that without resupply and support from home their days were numbered.  In reality, the Wake defenders had already had enough.  So where did the phrase, “Send us more Japs” really originate?  It was common in radio transmissions for operators to add nonsense words to the front and rear of messages to confuse enemy translations.  On the message from Wake after the December 11 attack, the words “send us” were added to the front of the message and the words “more Japs” were added to the end of the message.  These words were removed and combined by someone at Pearl Harbor to create the “Send us more Japs,” and the message was attributed to Major Devereux.  The original message actually did not come from Devereux, but rather from Commander Winfield Cunningham, a Naval Academy graduate and the over-all commander of Wake Island.  It was not until after the war that the false origins of the “Send us more Japs” message became known.  Like the much earlier patriotic slogan, “Remember the Alamo,” the slogan – mistakenly or not - for the Pacific Theater in World War II was, “Remember Wake Island!”


Note: 1. When Devereux was liberated from a Japanese prison camp in 1945, he said, “The first thing I would like to get on record is that we did not send that radio message saying, ‘Send us more Japs.’  We had all and more than we could handle right then and there.”   2. This was not the only time the message system of adding words caused confusion in WW II.  In the later stages of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, such a message literally bit Admiral Halsey in the seat of his pants.    


December 19, 1777: General George Washington settles his continental army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania for the winter.  Earlier in the year the British had taken the American capital of Philadelphia.  After attempts to dislodge them, Washington realized that his inexperienced and ill-equipped men were in no shape to continue fighting.  He decided to camp his army at Valley Forge for the winter and renew the fight in the spring.  Of all the places associated with the American War for Independence, perhaps none has come to symbolize perseverance and sacrifice more than Valley Forge.  Although Washington cared deeply for his men, they were forced to endure a severe winter with almost no food, no winter clothes, and very little firewood.  Many of the men did not even have shoes and wrapped their feet in rags.  The hardships of the encampment claimed the lives of one in ten, nearly all from disease.  One of Washington’s soldiers probably said it best when he described his reasons for not abandoning the field despite the harsh conditions: "We had engaged in the defense of our wounded country and . . . we were determined to persevere."  Things began to improve when spring came, and in 1778 Washington's army re-captured Philadelphia.





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