Jean Baptiste Charbonneau – Our Decisions Affect Our Children…

Today in History, December 23, 1829:

Prince Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg leaves St. Louis and heads up the Missouri River. This was actually the second exploration of the American wilderness by the scientifically inclined German prince.

But a side note is what I find fascinating… Several years earlier, in 1822, the Prince had undertaken his first expedition into the west. To do so he needed the permission of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, William Clark of “Lewis and Clark” fame, who had originally explored the West.

Clark had a foster son, the son of an Indian girl who had greatly assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Sacagawea. Her son, Clark’s foster son, was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Clark was so impressed with the Prince that when the Prince completed his first expedition in 1822, he allowed Jean (age 16) to accompany the Prince to Europe.

The young Jean was the Prince’s constant companion as they toured Europe and North Africa. Jean learned French, German and Spanish and became quite cosmopolitan. The trip back to the wild of America in 1829 was taken in order to bring Jean back to his home with Clark.

An interesting story, and what I take from it is the impact of decisions we make on our fate and the fate of those around us. Sacagawea could have led out her life quietly; but she made a decision that led her son on an odyssey she likely could never have imagined.

Raison D’être – Sam Finishes His Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885: Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

“Carrier Combat” by Lt. Frederick Mears

I wanted to read this book because Lt. Mears served in Torpedo 8 aboard the carrier Hornet at Midway. I have no indication at this point that we are directly related. The book is a first edition and has a note written by a relative. Boy does that appear to be a minimization.

Follow-up:

First, Lt. Mears’ account of his combat service covers not only Midway, but the USS Entrrprise and Guadalcanal. His matter of fact prose described the conditions there. He pays homage to his comrades who were shot down or went down with their ships, and writes about his buddies who got to go home with him on leave. That is where the book stops; not because he intended it to, but because those buddies would be attending HIS funeral. Read the last page of the book, which I have included.

The book does not describe it, but online research indicated he died in an aircraft accident while flying out of the San Diego Naval Air Station in June of 1943.

The book was published with an admonition to “Buy War Bonds.”

There is much more. I had difficulty reading the “relative’s” handwriting. However my online research put it together.

The note is written gifting the book to someone on the event of another person coming home from the war in September, 1945, in honor of Freddy, who won’t be coming back.

My research indicated Lt. Mears’ parents were Colonel Frederick Mears II and Jane Wainright Mears.

Colonel Mears served the Army on the frontier, in WWI, and was instrumental as an Army Engineer in the construction of the Alaska Railway. After retirement he continued on with the railroad. He died in 1939 of natural causes.

Mrs. Jane Mears was apparently a big deal in Anchorage, Alaska society during her husband’s career there. They have schools and/or streets named after them.

There’s more! If you’ve read about General Douglas MacArthur and the Philippines in WWII, you know that when he was ordered out of the Philippines, he left his second in command behind to face the surrender to the Japanese. General Jonathan M. Wainwright had to surrender and survived 3+ years as a prisoner under brutal conditions. He stood with MacArthur on the USS Missouri to accept the Japanese surrender.

The note in the book is by Jane Wainwright Mears…Lt. Mears’ mother, and General Wainwright’s sister. She is commemorating the return of her brother and the loss of her son.

If the note is authentic (more research ahead) then I do have an interesting find and some fascinating history!

Family May Fight, but the Love & Honor Remains…Grant & Buckner

Today in History, February 18, 1862:

“I know you are separated from your people, and perhaps you need funds. My purse is at your disposal.” Union General Ulysses Grant to Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner as Buckner prepared to board a river boat taking him north to a Yankee prison.

On February 16, 1862 after a hard-fought battle and investment, Confederate Fort Donelson in Tennessee had surrendered to Union forces. Tennessee was a strategic area in the Civil War, providing resources, people and a launching point to move against the rest of the South.

General U.S. Grant had been little known to the public before this battle, but the battle would change all that. He coordinated with the US Navy to bombard Ft. Donelson and surround the 12,000 men there. After assaults and counter assaults, the Confederate commanders came to the realization loss of the fort was a foregone conclusion, a tragedy for the South.

Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner was actually third in command. His superiors resigned their positions so they could sneak out and escape. Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest took some of his Cavalry and fled also, leaving Buckner to stay with his men and surrender.

Buckner sent a note through the lines asking Grant for terms.  And here is where Grant became famous.  He wrote out his response for delivery to Buckner,

No terms except unconditional and imme­diate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

In a time when furloughs and exchanges were common in battle, Buckner found the response to be “ungenerous and unchivalrous.” Yet he had no choice, his only option was surrender.

Having had little but bad news for some time, the Northern papers seized upon the victory. They used Grant’s initials to rename him “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” Turns out it wasn’t the first time others had changed his name for him, but that’s another story.

The public was finding out something those serving with Grant had learned…he was unpretentious, unceremonious and tenacious. He got results. President Lincoln would eventually say of him, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

If you want History to be more than dates on a page, watch out for the back stories…the facts that bring out the humanity in what you’re reading.

The story reads good already.  But lets dig further.

When Grant was younger, he wanted an education.  His father worked hard and secured him an appointment to West Point.  Initially, Grant didn’t want to go.  But once in, he liked it.  His uncanny horsemanship impressed fellow cadets and instructors.  And he made friends among the other cadets, including Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was attending at the same time.

Grant and Buckner, among many other officers in the US Army, served together and performed heroics in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

After that conflict Grant found himself assigned to the frontier in California, where he missed his family grievously and took to drink.  In July of 1854 he suddenly resigned his commission from the Army and sought transport home.

Grant found himself in New York without even enough money to get a meal or pay for a room.  And then he happened upon an old classmate and friend, Simon Bolivar Buckner.  The two enjoyed a visit, talked old times and Buckner, who was doing much better financially, paid for his friend’s room and board.

In the intervening years until 1861 and the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was somewhat of a hard luck case.  He tried farming, he tried real estate, nothing worked.  When the war began he was working for his brothers and his father in a store as a clerk.

When Southern states began seceding many in the US Army that were from those states, resigned their commissions and joined the Confederate Army, including Buckner.

Thus the old friends found themselves on opposite sides. And Grant sought out Buckner before he went off to prison in an attempt to return an old favor.

Grant, of course, would become commander of all Union Armies and eventually President.

Buckner would eventually be exchanged for a Union general officer and continue to serve in the Confederate Army. He surrendered in New Orleans in 1865 for a second time. He would become Governor of Kentucky among other political successes.

In 1904 he visited the White House and asked President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint his son to West Point. TR quickly agreed. Ironically, TR served previously on the New York City Police Commission with Frederick Dent Grant…General Grant’s son.

Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr would be killed at Okinawa in WWII, the highest ranking officer killed by enemy fire in WWII.

Coal!

Today in History, February 11, 1808:

Judge Jesse Fell of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is the first to successfully burn anthracite coal, on a grate so it had a vent source underneath, in his fireplace to heat his home. Soon the coal industry in America would take off, heating homes and being used for commercial applications, fueling the Industrial Revolution.

The Dawes Severalty Act…”We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to Help…”

Today in History, February, 1887:

President Grover Cleveland signs the Dawes Severalty Act into law.

Massachusetts Senator Henry Laurens Dawes authored the bill with the intent of facilitating the integration of native Americans into the white society.

Dawes and others felt this was the only way to “protect” the Indians, by forcing them to cease their communal way of living. The law broke up the tribal holdings, giving individuals the land.

Married men were given 160 acres of land, single men 80 acres, boys 40 acres and women no land.

The thought was that by forcing the native American families into individual units, as whites lived, they would be assimilated.

As seems to have happened with all acts to “benefit” the Indians, hidden within the law was a land grab. The law provided that after the lands had been apportioned, any land that was left could be sold to non-Indians. The result was that by the 1930’s, when Congress reversed the act and gave the tribes back their rights as nations, the tribes had lost fully 3/4 of their previous land holdings on the reservations.

Initially the 5 Civilized Tribes in Indian and Oklahoma Territories were exempt, but eventually policies were initiated that effected them also. Much of the land that wasn’t sold outright to non-Indians was eventually sold by the Indian owners when they were down on their luck, reducing tribal holdings even more.

The act also had other negative effects on the Native American community, as it forced changes in the community dynamic; the traditional roles for men and women in the tribal leadership were changed.

The Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934 repealed the Dawes Act, but much of the damage was irreparable.

Today in History, February 6, 1952:

Treetops Hotel, Kenya.

While on a tour of colonial assets, Princess Elizabeth is notified that her father, King George VI, had passed, ascending her to the throne. She chose to keep her name, becoming Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, including England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Commonwealth. At that time the Empire included many other nations that have since become independent.

Queen Elizabeth, who had been the heir apparent since 1936, still reigns after 68 years, making her the longest reigning sovereign of the British Empire.

Joseph Hunt…Sports Star

Today in History, February 2, 1945:

Joe Hunt won the U.S. Boy’s Tennis Championship.

Joe Hunt won the U.S. Junior’s Tennis Championship.

Joe Hunt won the U.S. Collegiate Tennis Championship.

Joe Hunt won the U.S. Men’s Singles Tennis Championship.

Joe Hunt won the 21st Annual Bayview Park Tennis Championship.

He was the only person ever to achieve all of these titles.

Why have you not heard of Joe’s name alongside Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, John McEnroe, and Serena Williams?

Because at the height of his career in 1938, Joe Hunt transferred from the University of Southern California to another prestigious college…the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Joe wanted to serve his country. He continued to excel at Tennis, and at Football for the USNA.

When war broke out Lieutenant Hunt served in destroyers in the Pacific and the Atlantic.

He won the US Men’s Championship while home on leave.

But destroyer duty, escorting convoys in the Atlantic wasn’t enough for the aggressive athlete…after several requests he finally got the opportunity to earn his wings and take the fight to the enemy in the air…what he really wanted to do.

Joe won his last championship against other former champions serving in the military at a match held near the Pensacola Naval Air Station where he was training.

And on this date in 1945, Joe’s F6F Hellcat fighter crashed into the Atlantic during a training accident. He never got to take the fight to the enemy from a carrier. His meteoric rise in Tennis was cut short.

How much potential did we lost during our nation’s wars? How can we possibly repay such sacrifice? Of course we cannot.

But in 2019, the U.S. Tennis Association demonstrated THEY have not forgotten. They named their Military Appreciation Day in honor of Lieutenant Joseph Hunt, USN.

For as Long as the Rivers Run and the Grass Grows…I Wonder if our Native American Ancestors Rolled Their Eyes?

Today in History, January 27, 1825:

Congress designates a portion of the Louisiana Purchase as “Indian Territory” where Indian tribe could exist undisturbed, stretching from present day Texas to the Canadian border.

Over time the area would be reduced to the borders of current day Oklahoma. Which, in the end, would be taken as a state also.