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.

We Are Going “Over There!”

TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 6, 1917:

President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress for a Declaration of War.

“It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it.

The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation.

We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.”

Quarantine & War

Random History thought.

Quarantine and interesting intersections in history that we rarely think about.

In January, 1805, the USS Nautilus (not the submarine, but her ancestor), had just fought major battles with Barbary pirates along with the USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise (not the aircraft carriers of course) on orders from President Jefferson.

They had to lay up for repairs; the Nautilus sailed to Messina in search of timber for ship repair. There she found the USS Matilda, who had an American author aboard.

Washington Irving was decades away from “Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”…the young man was on a European adventure. He really wanted to meet the now famous officers and crew of the Nautilus.

But Yellow Fever was raging through the area, which meant that the Matilda…and Irving, were under a 21 day quarantine. It was not that unusual in those days.

Irving was bored out of his mind, and eluded authorities to row a boat around the harbor and converse with the Nautilus sailors.

Eventually he was released. But now one of the officers had been accused of murder (eventually found innocent).

When the Nautilus set sail on a mission in the still hot Barbary War, they were awed to come across the Royal Navy fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson…only a few months away from the historic victory at Trafalgar which would take Nelson’s life.

So much history packed into such a small time!

We Are The World

TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 5, 1985:

We are the World.

“Check your ego at the door.” This was the sign that Quincy Jones placed on the door to the studio in Los Angeles on January 28, 1985 as a warning to the 46 celebrity vocalists who arrived to record “We are the World.” The single was produced to benefit starving people experiencing famine in Africa.

The album was a run away success, and on April 5, 1985, approximately 6,000 radio stations around the world coordinated to play the single at the same time, 11:50 A.M.

President Reagan, who had not heard the song prior, had it piped through Air Force One and was duly impressed.

I know we aren’t to April 5 yet, but I felt we could use this right now.

I noticed in 1985 they were not afraid to invoke God’s name. May he bless us in the coming times.

Honor and Dishonor

Today in History, March 27, 1836:

The Goliad Massacre.

In the preceding days, several battles had been fought between the Mexican Army and Texians fighting for their independence.

Among others, James W. Fannin had to surrender his forces faced with overwhelming Mexican force and artillery. He and his men had been promised surrender terms that included good treatment and “parole” back to the United States.

They were not aware that in December of the previous year Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had asked for and received from the Mexican Congress a law declaring that any Texian or American soldiers that were captured would be treated as pirates and executed. In spite of pleas from one of his generals, Santa Anna ordered the men executed. Deprived of the ability to fight to the end by false promises of parole (parole was a common military practice – those that surrendered simply promised not to take up arms again), 303 men that were ambulatory were marched out of Fort Defiance in Goliad along three separate roads.

They were told that they were to gather wood, or that they were being taken to a port to shipped to New Orleans. Many of the men joined in a chorus of “home sweet home” the night before. After marching about 3/4 of a mile, they were halted. Their Mexican guards turned and, on a prearranged signal, shot the unarmed men down. Only 28 managed to play dead and survive. 40 more, including Fannin, were too injured to join the march and were executed within the fort.

The Mexicans saved Fannin for last, setting him on a chair in the courtyard due to his injuries. He asked only that his property be returned to his family, that he be shot in the heart, not the face, and that he be given a Christian burial.

The Mexicans shot him in the face, shared his effects, and burned his body where it lay. The other murdered soldiers were piled up and set afire, their remains left for the vultures.

After the Battle of San Jacinto and Santa Anna’s surrender, they returned and attempted to destroy the evidence. The Massacre did a great deal to gain support for the Texian cause for independence from the United States.

NYC Rapid Transit Railroad

Today in History, March 24, 1900:

New York City Mayor Robert Anthony Van Wyck uses a silver spade to turn the first shovel-full of dirt on a new project: The first underground “Rapid Transit Railroad” in NYC. The first leg would run from Manhattan to Brooklyn. What is now known as the subway would get someone from downtown to Harlem in 13 minutes.

“When Mayor Van Wyck, silver spade in hand, lifted the first shovel of dirt from a small excavation in the flagging in front of the City Hall yesterday, the rapid transit tunnel was officially begun. Around New York’s Chief Magistrate were grouped the men whose persevering work of years had at last made rapid transit a certainty in New York, city officials who have aided them more-or-less in their efforts, financiers who came to the rescue when their aid was most needed, citizens whose names are a power in the professional and commercial world. and beyond all these, banked in almost solid phalanx from the sidewalks of Broadway across the park to the tall buildings in Park Row, were thousands of citizens of all degrees of life, who fought and struggled for position to witness one of the most important events in the history of the city.” –The New York Times, March 25, 1900

A Hero Lost

Today in History, March 22, 1820:

Stephen Decatur, Naval hero of the first and second Barbary Pirate wars, and of the War of 1812, hero and example to many of the U.S. Navy, is killed in a senseless duel.

In 1807 Commodore James Barron refused to defend his ship, Chesapeake, against British attack and was court-marshaled; Decatur, an old friend had to sit on the court-marshal board.

Suspended from the Navy for 5 years, Barron chose to wait until after the War of 1812 to be recommissioned. His cowardice was called, and he challenged Decatur, former comrade, to a duel.

Decatur, U. S. Navy hero, was mortally wounded. Such a shame. Decatur was a swashbuckler, a fierce fighter for his country.

Only 41-years-old, Decatur had untold potential remaining in his life. Such a waste.

New Orleans Burns

Today in History, March 21, 1788:

Have you ever visited the French Quarter in New Orleans? Did you know that the vast majority of those buildings in the “French” Quarter are actually…Spanish?

On this date in 1788 the Army Treasurer in New Orleans, Don Vincente Jose Nunez, and his family were celebrating Good Friday in their home less than a block from the Plaza de Armas (later Jackson Square).

They apparently lit a few too many candles while immersed in prayer and caught their home on fire. Before the day was over, 856 of the 1,100 buildings in the city were destroyed, most of the city. Spain had control of Louisiana at that time, and during a subsequent fire in 1794 that took 212 buildings. So the structures that replaced those of wood that were lost were made of stucco or brick, and of Spanish architecture.

Louisiana Governor Miro’s report: If the imagination could describe what our senses enable us to feel from sight and touch, reason itself would recoil in horror, and it is no easy matter to say whether the sight of an entire city in flames was more horrible to behold than the suffering and pitiable condition in which everyone was involved. Mothers, in search of a sanctuary or refuge for their little ones, and abandoning – their earthly goods to the greed of the relentless enemy, would retire to out-of-the-way places rather than be witnesses of their utter ruin. Fathers and husbands were busy in saving whatever objects the rapidly spreading flames would permit them to bear off, while the general bewilderment was such as to prevent them from finding even for these a place of security. The obscurity of the night coming on threw its mantle for a while over the saddening spectacle; but more horrible still was the sight, when day began to dawn, of entire families pouring forth into the public highways, yielding to their lamentations and despair, who, but a few hours before, had been basking in the enjoyment of more than the ordinary comforts of life. The tears, the heartbreaking sobs and the pallid faces of the wretched people mirrored the dire fatality that had overcome a city, now in ruins, transformed within the space of five hours into an arid and fearful, desert. Such was the sad ending of a work of death, the result of seventy years of industry.