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>The Buffalo Soldiers

>One of the most effective military units ever established in the United States Army was that of the famed “Buffalo Soldiers”. The 10th Cavalry was formed in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At the same time the 9th Cavalry was formed at Greenville, Louisiana. Forming the 10th Cavalry was Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a career army officer. The 9th was formed by Colonel Edward Hatch. Both regiments were comprised of African-Americans led by white officers.

It’s a well known fact that African-Americans fought alongside the Union Army during the Civil War. There are many records of their valiant service during that war but it was not until the Civil War ended that Congress, while reorganizing the peacetime army, officially acted to establish official African-American regiments.
When the Civil War ended there was a big need for added troops on the western frontier. Settlers were moving west in droves and the transcontinental railroad added even more. The need for a heavier army presence in the west was great and the new African-American regiments helped fill the need.

For over twenty years these regiments were involved in numerous campaigns in the west before, during and after the Indian Wars. They served all over the west, from Montana in the north to Arizona and new Mexico in the southwest. The picture at right is of a Buffalo Soldier circa 1890. The Buffalo Soldiers guarded stagecoach lines, railroads, telegraph lines and settlers. They engaged the Indians very shortly after they entered the plains and in some instances they were threatened by the very same white settlers they took an oath to protect. This plus the harsh elements of the northern plains made the duty of the Buffalo Soldier a particularly tough one. While the Buffalo Soldiers did not take part in such high profile battles as at the Little Bighorn, they were involved in many lesser, yet equally dangerous, campaigns. During the years 1870-1890 there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to Buffalo Soldiers. The Medal of Honor was the military’s highest award for bravery. When the 1890’s arrived the Buffalo Soldiers pretty much worked themselves out of a job. The Indian Wars were over with most tribes settled on their reservation land. Towns were growing rapidly and law enforcement was mostly relegated to local and state jurisdictions. The picture below is of the Buffalo Soldiers at the Red Cloud Indian Agency. There are a few different versions as to how these regiments were given the name Buffalo Soldiers. What is known is that the name originated during the Indian Wars, One story is that the name was given to these soldiers by the Cheyennes in 1867. The Indian name translated as “Wild Buffalo”. Another version is that the name was given during a Comanche campaign in 1871. The Comanche translation was “Fierce Fighter”. There are other versions but what is known is that the Indians respected the fighting ability of these troops.

The Buffalo Soldiers however went on to play a big part in other events. One in particular was during the Great Fires of 1910. This was the total devastation by several connected forest fires in a large area of Montana and northern Wyoming. Towns were being evacuated, people were being trapped by the flames, some while inside retreating rail cars,, and the Buffalo Soldiers were called from their encampment in Montana to help maintain order. They operated successfully in what was considered the largest forest fire in American history and obviously under very dangerous conditions. Prior to that the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves during the Spanish-American War. There appears to have been some disagreement at the time regarding their involvement in that war. Some thought that the African-American regiments should not be involved in conflicts off  American soil. Nevertheless, they were involved in the war and were sent to Cuba via Tampa, Florida. These soldiers put up with a lot of abuse from certain whites in their own country and it was certain that it would continue during their deployment in Cuba. It did continue but the Buffalo Soldiers performed exemplary. Even knowing what they were getting into, the soldiers looked at their participation as yet another opportunity to prove themselves. The picture below is a Buffalo Soldier regiment stationed in Cuba.

The 92nd Infantry Division was an African-American unit with soldiers from all states. The division was formed in 1917 and participated in both World Wars. Most action was seen in France during World War I and Italy during World War II. The picture below right is the 92nd Infantry Division marching through Italy in 1945.

Below left are the pictures of two Buffalo Soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997 for their bravery with the 92nd Infantry Division during World War II.

At top is John R. Fox who was killed after deliberately ordering artillery fire on his own position while being overrun by Germans. His actions stalled the enemy advance. The picture below it is of Vernon J. Baker, awarded the Medal of Honor for destroying six enemy machine gun nests, two observation posts and four dugouts.

Another interesting note about the Buffalo Soldiers is that aside from serving their country as military fighting men, parts of the 9th Cavalry and 24th Infantry Regiments served in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1899 as some of the very first national park rangers. The army was involved with our national parks as far back as 1891 but it was not until 1899 that African-American units were involved. The park ranger hat visitors are accustomed to seeing today dates back to photographs of the Buffalo Soldier Rangers from 1899.

The Buffalo Soldiers were an incredibly brave fighting force. Today there are several monuments across the country honoring their contributions. One is the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas. It’s a great weekend trip or a good educational stop during your extended vacation. There are also monuments located in Kansas City, MO, Junction City, KS. and at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.

The web sites below will give you more detailed information.




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>Bandelier National Monument / New Mexico

>Bandelier National Monument is a fascinating site. Named for Adolph Bandelier, a 19th century anthropologist, this is where native Pueblo Indians had permanent settlements as far back as 1150 AD. Humans are thought to have been in the area over 10,000 years ago. Located just a few miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the monument is an excellent example of old cliff dwellings. It’s believed that by about 1550 the cliff dwellers moved to pueblo settlements along the nearby Rio Grande.

The monument features kivas, petroglyphs and rock paintings as well as many fun hiking trails. The museum features native pottery, tools and other ancient artifacts. There is a great deal of wildlife at Bandelier. Deer and elk are abundant.  Black bears and mountain lions are also present but are rarely seen by visitors. During winter months there is also the opportunity to Nordic snow ski on several trails in the upper elevations of the monument. Bandelier offers over 70 miles of hiking trails within it’s 33,000 acres. Camping is also available at three different campgrounds.

The area was named a National Monument in 1916 during the Woodrow Wilson administration. The structures at the site are from the era of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the time of the Great Depression. You can also see several pastel artworks from Helmut Naumer Sr. and the Works Progress Administration, another New Deal Agency from the depression years. Bandelier is constructed in a rustic style which is an excellent example of the construction during the time of the Civilian Construction Corp years.

During the summer months there is a weekly evening ranger program that takes visitors on a magical walking tour past the cliff dwellings. The tour begins at sundown and the group has a chance to see the cliff dwellings as they would appear at night time, lit with fires and the sound of Pueblo Indian chants. It’s a fun and educational experience of which I have been on. There is only a limited amount of visitors allowed on each tour so it’s a good idea to phone the National Monument and make a reservation in advance.

Be sure to bring your camera because as you can see from the pictures here, Bandelier offers a great many picture taking opportunities. In addition to the numerous hiking trails and dwellings you will also have a chance to peruse their bookstore which offers many one of a kind books.

If you are in the Santa Fe, NM area, Bandelier National Monument makes a perfect day trip. Also, beginning in 2011, Bandelier has a new high tech theater where you can view a stunning 14 minute film about the monument and the scenic surrounding area. The film was shot during different seasons of the year and some were taken by helicopter. You would also want to stop at nearby Los Alamos and visit the Bradbury Science Museum. The museum has some amazing interactive exhibits that make it both a fun and educational experience.

The sites below will give you all the information you need to plan your visit to Bandelier National Monument. I would highly recommend you consider adding this to your summer trip agenda.



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>How To Send A Letter From New York To San Francisco In The 1850’s

>The good news was that at with the end of the Mexican/American War California became a state in 1850. The tough news was how to communicate with such a distant outpost. Our major settlement in California was San Francisco and after the 1849 Gold Rush began it and the surrounding areas grew rapidly.

Those heading out to join the Gold Rush had two ways to get to California. The first was overland and the other was by sea. Neither route was appealing. Overland could take three to four months over a rough landscape with the possibility of Indian attacks and even more likely the lack of water. The overland trip could be so difficult many of the gold seekers who tried this option reached their destinations minus their horses and wagons. The sea voyage could take more than six months sailing around the southern tip of South America. Weather was always an obstacle and the sheer amount of time on board the cramped vessel made the voyage incredibly difficult. There was also a way to travel by sea and land through the Isthmus of Panama shown below. You sailed from New York to Panama then a five day journey through the jungle to catch a ship heading north to San Francisco. None of these alternatives would be considered a vacation. Every one came with dangers.

Remember, this was the era before the Butterfield Overland Stage route and before the transcontinental railroad and it gives you an idea why San Francisco became such a busy and important seaport. In 1848 the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began to bring agricultural products east from California. The Gold Rush started a year later…a year later statehood and their original purpose changed from agriculture to passengers, general goods and mail. Also, the Panama Railroad began construction in 1850 with the route completed in 1855. This meant that the land portion of the Isthmus route was made much easier and faster. Prior to the railroad, mail was hauled by mule, steamboat or canoe. It was a rugged journey through the Central American rainforest. The new railroad provided plenty of reasons why not to sail around the southern tip of South America.

The SS California, the sidewheeler shown left, was the first ship of the Pacific Steamship Mail Company beginning service in 1850. Built in New York in 1848, the SS California steamed to San Francisco and then operated between Panama City and San Francisco until 1854 and for a few more years as a spare steamer in both ports. There was competition between Pacific Mail and the U.S. Mail Steamship Company out of New York but eventually the two companies merged into the Pacific Steamship Mail Company.

After the construction of the Panama Railroad, mail transit time was from 25-29 days from New York to San Francisco. Bags of mail per steamer were in the 275-350 range. The arrival of a mail steamer to San Francisco was a big event. Guns would be shot off to announce it’s arrival before entering the wharf. Crowds would gather at the wharf to learn if they had mail. Postage appears to have been anything from 2 cents to 15 cents per letter depending on where it was to go and whether there would be a special courier handling it. Postage could also be much higher depending on size and whether it had an isolated destination. The two stamps below are from the government’s initial issue in 1847.

A stagecoach line was not big competition to the mail steamers. For one thing they were not as fast. They were also less reliable due to breakdown, Indian attacks and wars and they couldn’t handle the volume of mail a steamer could. During the Civil War years Union stage routes were moved up into the central part of the country because the Confederacy controlled the southern ones. The 18 month long Pony Express in the early 1860’s was created primarily to get Union mail to California quickly during the Civil War.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had a good overall safety record in an era where steamer disasters and wrecks were reported almost daily in the newspapers. The Pacific Mail Steamer Golden Gate shown left was one of their best. The ship was averaging the San Francisco to Panama City leg in just a bit over eleven days which was fast. Unfortunately, on July 21st, 1862, the SS Golden Gate caught fire off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico and sank. It was carrying over 300 passengers, about $1.4 million in gold as well as mail. An estimated 238 people were lost.

The first serious competition to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was the transcontinental railroad completed in 1869. An express train could make the journey from New York to San Francisco in about 84 hours, a fraction of a steamers duration. Even non-express trains could make the coast to coast journey in a fraction of a steamers time. The train was also more reliable. A steamer was at the mercy of weather and unreliable and often dangerous maritime boilers. At the same time the transcontinental railroad act was passed by Congress, funds were provided for future construction of a telegraph line following the same route.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company began trans-Pacific mail service in 1867 with scheduled service from San Francisco to Hong Kong, Yokohama and Shanghai. This was a passenger, freight and mail service route. Commerce with Asian nations would continue to grow through the decades.

San Francisco Bay is the  west coast’s finest natural harbor and the area would have grown with or without the steamer mail service. Manifest Destiny meant sooner or later the west coast would grow and the fact that the Bay Area could handle an unlimited amount of shipping just made things happen sooner. With or without the Gold Rush the Bay Area’s geographic location and natural advantages guaranteed it’s long term importance. San Francisco today remains one of the busiest seaports in the world.

A must stop for anyone interested in the shipping history of the San Francisco Bay area will want to visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Located on the west side of Fisherman’s Wharf it is one of the most complete maritime museums in the country. Photos, documents, woodworking and boat building shops and at the Hyde Street Pier a large display of refurbished vessels including the old sidewheeler Eureka. Nearby there are also a retired Navy W.W. II submarine and a transport ship that took part in the D-Day landing. You’ll have a lot of fun while learning about San Francisco’s maritime history. Perfect visit for the whole family. The sites below will give you all the information you need.




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>The Day Of The Saluda Explosion And The Federal Government’s Response


During the first two-thirds of the 19th century, steam boating was the most popular mode of transportation. The first steamboat appeared in North America circa 1815 and the number of boats increased every year. The old images above show how steamboats lined up one after another in Memphis and below portrays the old Levee area of St. Louis which was always busy, night and day, with steamboat traffic. To understand how exciting this new mechanized way of river transportation was, one needs only to read the stories and quotes from Mark Twain himself a riverboat pilot.

Steamboats offered a fast mode of transportation. In fact, faster than anyone had ever experienced. A steamboats massive power came from it’s boilers. The steam engine was a spectacular invention, one in which came before much of the inherent science of it was understood.
Steam pressure inside a boiler turned the boat’s paddle wheels. More pressure meant more power and more power meant faster speed and faster speed seemed to be in demand.

When unregulated pressure continues to build in a steamboat’s boiler you can have a spectacular explosion like the image to the right. This is exactly what happened on Good Friday, April 9th, 1852 at the docks of Lexington, Missouri. The boat was chartered to bring Morman converts to Utah who had arrived from Europe. The immigrants sailed to New Orleans then up the Mississippi to St. Louis. From there a steamboat was to take them to Council Bluffs, Iowa where they would begin their overland journey to Utah. The boat exploded very near the dock after only about two revolutions of it’s paddle wheels. Records are a bit inaccurate but it appears about 175 passengers boarded the Saluda in St. Louis. The death toll of the explosion was over 100 people some of which were bystanders on the dock. So violent was the boiler explosion that parts of bodies were strewn everywhere including in the town itself. The body of the captain and part owner of the vessel was found on the far side of the dock warehouse. Other victims were found on top of nearby bluffs. To give you an idea of the hazards of steamboat travel in that era, there were a total of 34 steamboat accidents/disasters in North America during the two year span 1850-1851.

Out of that amount 12 of these mishaps were due to boiler explosions. The total death toll for for all mishaps those two years were an astounding 525 people. Out of that figure 199 died because of boiler explosions. During the year 1852 there were 6 other steamboat boiler explosions aside from the Saluda. To demonstrate how bad the boiler problem was, 13 years in the future the steamboat Sultana, image to the right, exploded it’s boilers on April 27th, 1865 near Memphis costing the lives of an estimated 1,300 to 1,900 people most of whom were returning Union soldiers who had been held in Confederate prisons. There were estimated to be about 750 survivors. The Sultana had been extremely overloaded with the returning troops. Another fact about steamboats during this era is that they had a life span of some 3-4 years.This was not only due to boiler explosions but also from collisions, snagging an object and sinking, catching fire and running aground. It’s almost unbelievable when you compare that to our modern transportation system.

Boiler explosions were not only confined to steamboats. The picture at left shows a train locomotive after an explosion. With the locomotive the explosion happens outdoors. You can imagine the total destruction when a boiler blows apart inside the structure of a steamboat. Many steamboats had more than one boiler.

The boiler problems were a result of new technology that wasn’t fully understood coupled with lax government oversight. The lax oversight was due to Congress not wanting to be accused of hampering national expansion by regulating the steamboat industry. Travel safety in that era was not a top priority. There was a lot to be learned about steam boilers. How much boiler plate thickness was required for a certain amount of pressure? Why were pressure relief valves not installed in many boilers? How can one accurately measure how much pressure is in the boiler? What should the boiler water levels be? These were just a few of the questions that were open to speculation. A steamboat boiler needed to be constantly monitored by an engineer or crewman. The boilers drew in large amounts of water usually from beneath the boat. Rivers have a lot of mud  and often the mud and pebbles would be sucked into the pipes. An explosion could occur if the water was blocked long enough causing the pressure to increase.

Safety Inspection of U.S. flagged merchant vessels powered by steam or partially by steam began in 1838. While the intention was to protect lives and property, the reality was that things didn’t improve much. The Steamboat Act of 1852 was the result of yearly increases in maritime disasters and carnage. The 1852 Act put more formality into the federal inspection effort. Although the new act started things in the right direction the inspection procedures still proved inadequate. The Sultana disaster in 1865 was an example. Another Congressional Act was instituted in 1871 which formally created the Steamboat Inspection Service. Any progress that was made since 1852 was kept and in addition a formal set of maritime safety codes were established. The 1871 Act pertained to all steam powered vessels including freighters, tugs and ferries. 

Lexington, Missouri is a short 35 mile drive east of Kansas City. I think you will find it interesting to stop and visit the memorial in Lexington’s Heritage Park created in 2002 for the victims of the Saluda disaster. Lexington has a very rich history including a famous Civil War battle site and a city park commemorating where Lewis and Clark made a stop during their historic journey west.
The sites below will give you plenty of information.




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>Galveston’s Strategic World War Two Defenses

>World War II is usually associated with events like Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge, the Italian battles and the African campaigns. These are what fill most text book pages but there was major war activity right here at our doorstep in the Gulf of Mexico. Our concern was the German U-Boat like the one pictured below. The U-Boats were in the Gulf for one reason and that reason was oil. Ports such as Galveston, Houston and New Orleans were our nations busiest oil exporting terminals. A war runs on oil and that made this area of the Gulf a prime target for the U-Boats.

The best estimates are that 24 different U-Boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico during 1942 and 1943. Cities such as Galveston had regular nightly blackouts. The blackouts had nothing to do with protection against air strikes. The blackouts were necessary because an unlit oil tanker passing a city’s lights at night would reveal it’s profile to an enemy submarine. If the city’s lights were off then there would be no profile. It’s no secret that German U-Boats were operating in many areas along our Atlantic coastline but the Gulf of Mexico presented a target rich environment of oil tankers. Sinking oil tankers was a prime war objective for any U-Boat. The first two U-Boats entered the Gulf through the Florida Straits in May 1942.

The picture to the right is an example of what happens when an oil tanker is attacked by a U-Boat. U.S. records show that 56 vessels were sunk and 14 damaged in the Gulf due to U-Boats. That’s quite a bit of activity when you consider how close this was to America’s shores. At the time there was concern not only with Gulf shipping but with the safety of residents along the coast. The political situation in Mexico was volatile, many German agents were stationed throughout Mexico and Germany received much of it’s oil from Mexico. To illustrate further just how close the action was to our mainland there were reports of people in the extreme southern reaches of Louisiana actually seeing the flashes of U-Boat attacks at night in the distance.

Probably the most talked about Gulf U-Boat attack was the sinking of the steamship Robert E. Lee on July 30th, 1942 just 25 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi. The ship pictured right
was steaming from Trinidad to New Orleans and was being escorted by naval vessels. One torpedo from U-166 sank the ship.
The escort vessel chased after the sub, dropped several depth charges and saw an oil slick. Nothing further was known about this U-Boat until 2001 when a major oil company was having the area surveyed for a proposed pipeline. The survey team not only located the Robert E. Lee but also the wreckage of U-166 a short distance away. The sinking of the steamship cost the lives of one officer, nine crewmen and fifteen passengers. Ironically, most of the survivors were survivors of previous U-Boat attacks on ships headed to the U.S.

Our coastal defenses consisted of protecting the ports themselves and also with hunting down and sinking U-Boats. One defense element was the shore battery pictured below. Shore batteries had been established before the war but were not protected. Eventually the military decided to put them in

cement casements for protection from  aerial assault. While the guns have been removed you can still see the cement casements today when you visit Galveston Island. Another way  harbors were protected was by laying down anti-submarine nets. The picture to the right shows a ship specially designed for laying out anti-submarine nets. Laying these nets were really standard operating procedure for all wartime ports. Along with the guns and the nets were the placing of mines outside the harbor. While Galveston’s entrance was heavily mined during the war there are no records of U-Boats actually hitting one.

Another defense element was searching the Gulf for U-Boats. Airfields in southern Louisiana and Texas launched regular Coast Guard patrol flights using planes such as the Grumman J 4 Widgeon. The old picture at right shows a Widgeon passing by New York City. The Navy also patrolled the Gulf often using PBY’s like the one pictured below right. The military built many airfields in Louisiana and Texas for both pilot training and the launching of Gulf patrol flights. Four of the busiest fields was the Lake Charles Army Airfield in Lake Charles, Louisiana which today is the Chennault International Airport. Also the New Orleans Army Airfield which today is Lakefront Airport, the Galveston Army Airfield and the Houma, Louisiana Naval Air Station.

These aircraft were capable of dropping depth charges and it was well known that U-Boat captains feared being sighted by any aircraft, large or small. Coast Guards cutters and Naval vessels were also regularly on patrol equipped with depth charges.The picture to the right shows the 1940’s construction of the Galveston Army Airfield which was one of several being quickly built during the very early war years.

Even with these amount of assets arrayed against the Gulf U-Boats, they were largely successful in disrupting our oil shipments particularly during the first half of the war. Records show that only two U-Boats were sunk in the Gulf during the entire period. U-166 near the mouth of the Mississippi and U-157 in the Florida Straits. The toll was much heavier for the U.S. than for the Germans. What really solved the problem was the building of an oil pipeline from Texas to New Jersey called the “Big Inch”. Completed in 1943 it had a 24 inch diameter from Longview, Texas to Phoenixville, PA at which point the line changed to a 20 inch diameter. 

Several of these old battery emplacements still exist today minus the guns. When you’re traveling in the Houston area you may find it interesting to head down to Galveston and see these concrete bunkers for yourself. The old artillery sites give you a pretty good idea of just how close World War Two was to our southern shores. They are located at Fort Crockett and Fort San Jacinto on the island of Galveston and also at Fort Travis on the tip of Boliver Island just across the channel from Galveston. Good picture taking and also a a nice trip to the beach. Good inexpensive side trip for the whole family and educational as well. Another great stop on the way to Galveston is the NASA Space Center just south of Houston.

Web sites below will give you information to plan your visit.





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>A City Grew From Horse Power To Electric Power


If a city was to grow and prosper it had to have a means of mass transportation. A good means of mass transportation even today is important to a cities growth but back in the 1800’s before the automobile it was even more critical. The “horsecar” pictured below left is how people got around the big city before the advent of powered streetcars. This draft horse mode of transportation is still with us today when you refer to your automobiles “horsepower”. Horsepower was coined in the 1800’s when the steam engine’s power was compared to the power provided from a comparable number of draft horses. Then in the 1900’s the piston engine’s power was compared similarly.

The very first urban mass transit vehicle was the omnibus. It was similar the the horsecar shown at left except it wasn’t on iron tracks. It was like a big carriage. In a way the omnibus was very similar to it’s cousin the stagecoach. The omnibus, pictured below right, picked up and discharged passengers along a scheduled route just like intra-city stagecoaches had done prior. Most even followed the old intra-urban stage routes. The main difference was that the omnibus could carry many more people than a stagecoach.

Placing horsecars on tracks was a big leap forward because the resistance between iron tracks and iron wheels was very low. Low resistance meant that the horse or horses could pull much more weight. In fact, the nations first railroad considered to be the Baltimore and Ohio was originally propelled by horses. This was before the steam locomotive. The first known North American rail horsecar was put into operation in New York City in 1832. The second in New Orleans in 1835.

There were some limitations and drawbacks to horsecars. One obvious problem was that the horses left excrement on the street although this was nothing really new since all cities and towns big and small had this to contend with since the earliest times. Another drawback however was that in a hilly area the horse could pull a car up a steep hill but because of gravity couldn’t safely lead it down. In this case, seen in the picture at left, the horse was put aboard the coach just like a passenger (we assume the horse rode free) and rode the car down the hill by the luxury of gravity. An interesting side note is that when these horses aged and were eventually sold to farmers, they would only know to pull a plow on level land or uphill but wouldn’t know how to pull it downhill.

Technology was advancing rapidly in the last half of the 1800’s and the first electric tram (streetcar) was put into service in Berlin in 1881. A second one was put into service in 1883 in Brighton, England. You might ask why steam power was not embraced before electricity. The reality was that steam powered locomotives were not only very noisy, but they spewed smoke and soot everywhere they ran which wasn’t conducive for the close confines of a city. Steam power was also costly to operate because of the constant need of fuel and water and the required infrastructure.

There were several immediate advantages of electric power over horse power. One was that it was obviously cleaner. Also, horses had to be fed and stabled and they had to be replaced and rested at set intervals. Electric power eliminated these burdens and enabled more weight to be pulled and it solved the problem of the horsecars on hills. Electric power was provided by overhead lines. The electric streetcar at right drew it’s power from a extension pole on the roof of the car. This type of electric streetcar survives today in cities such as San Francisco and New Orleans.

In the U.S., the first electric streetcar system was built in 1888 by Frank J. Sprague in Richmond, VA. Sprague had invented the overhead power wire system using a spring loaded trolley pole with a wheel attachment. Sprague had been  connected with Edison’s Menlo Park, NJ laboratory and also had patents for elevator mechanisms. Richmond was chosen as a test site by Sprague because of it’s many steep grades. The Richmond test went very well and within one year the electric streetcar replaced many of the horsecars. The electric streetcar allowed cities to expand their lines dramatically such as is shown in the map to the right of the Los Angeles electric rail system.

Another advantage of the electric system was that streetcar rail lines could be expanded much further making them an inter-urban system. This enabled suburbs to spring up in places such as Los Angeles. The picture on the left shows an old inter-urban station with the Los Angeles Red Car. The picture below it is another example of an inter-urban streetcar. An inter-urban line was simply an extension of a streetcar line to a neighboring community. At the turn of the century it usually connected a large urban area with a smaller adjacent town. The electric railway filled a city’s transportation needs before the automobile. Even after the automobile first came on the scene, many workers simply couldn’t afford to buy one. The road infrastructure was also poor. The need for low cost mass transportation remained in place.

Inter-urban lines flourished in the Midwest, especially in states like Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Here you had several large urban areas like Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland with nearby smaller but still good sized communities. The map below left illustrates some of the inter-urban lines running out from the Detroit area. Incorporated in 1900 by a group of Cleveland investors, the Detroit Urban Railway extended from Detroit to points all over southeastern Michigan and continued to expand into the early 1920’s.

Beginning in late 1922, the Detroit Urban Railway started to divest itself of routes such as with the lines inside the city of Detroit which were then turned over to the city. By 1928, after having sold most of it’s lines, the company was taken over and renamed the Eastern Michigan Railway. As the population continued to grow, what was once considered a line to a distant community ended up being a route to one of Detroit’s suburbs.

In the case of Cleveland, the Cleveland City Railway Co. had 901 electric cars and 236 miles of track. To give you an idea of it’s popularity, ridership grew from 228 million in 1910 to 450 million in 1920. As with many other urban systems, ridership started to decrease during the Great Depression years and after that more people were owning automobiles. A busy Ohio inter-urban was the Lakeshore Electric Railway which ran between Cleveland and Toledo through Sandusky and Fremont. At it’s peak, the Lakeshore ran several multi-unit trains along this route.

Now in the 21st century we not only rely on electric powered mass transit to connect parts of growing metropolitan areas, but we’re still in an expansion stage. Modern day traffic gridlock and environmental issues are two big reasons why clean electric powered mass transit remains popular. As suburbs continue to grow in many metropolitan areas, plans for route expansion have already been put in motion.

Passenger comfort has also come a long way. The picture to the right shows the interior of a Bay Area Rapid Transit car in the San Francisco area. Things have changed considerably since the days of the horse drawn omnibus. The BART system is electric powered using a three rail system of delivering electricity. This is how most of the modern electric rail systems now operate. The three rail system where one of the rails is electrified is not only less costly  to build than new overhead wire lines but they also don’t create an eyesore.

The picture to the left shows how the shoe of the electric train makes contact with an electrified third rail. Because the system has proved efficient and environmentally friendly, urban electric transit systems are virtually everywhere throughout the world. High speed rail systems in places like Japan and the European continent can reach speeds of over 200 miles an hour making them competitive with certain airline routes.

The picture below left shows the high speed Eurostar which connects London to Paris and Brussels via the English Channel Tunnel. Compare these high speed trains to the early transit pictures at the top of this page and you can appreciate just how much technology has advanced over a relatively short time.

There are several exhibits around the country where you can see  vintage electric railway cars. At several you’ll have the opportunity to take a ride and experience what to our ancestors was their primary means of going shopping and getting to their jobs. This was the time before the freeways and before car ownership was widespread.

The Orange Empire Railway Museum is a fun stop for the family located in Perris, CA, just a short ride south of Riverside on Interstate-215. All the information to plan your trip is on their web site below.


Another good museum is in Yakima, WA. The web site for the Yakima Valley Trolleys Museum is:


Located in the Bay Areas Solano County California, just 12 miles east of Interstate-80 on Hwy 12 is the Western Railroad Museum.


Here’s a good site explaining horsepower rating methods.


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>The Ghost Dance From The West And An 1890 Massacre

>By the year 1889, Native Americans were largely living on reservations all over the American West. The Indian Wars were over and the military might of the U.S. prevailed. Regardless of the fact that the fighting was over there lingered a subtle and not so subtle discontent among the tribes, most evident among the Lakota Sioux.

Much had happened during the 1880’s. Several treaties were signed with the U.S. Government which allocated specific areas for reservations that included annuities for food and supplies. The  problem was that settlers were heading west in record numbers since the railroad appeared. The covered wagon was losing out to the speed and relative comfort of the railroad. 

Land is finite and the Indians, in this case, specifically the Lakota’s were initially awarded a massive area which comprised present day South Dakota west of the Missouri River. Much of this was the Pine Ridge Reservation (it’s flag pictured left). Settlers coming into the area eventually looked upon the Lakota land with envy. Even with the land given to them many Lakota’s were generally unhappy since this was a tribe of hunters, not agrarians which is what the government wanted them to become. To make a bad situation worse, Congress being pressured by farmers and merchants, passed a series of acts in the late 1880’s which carved up the reservation acreage.  After allotting a predetermined amount of acreage to the Indians the U.S. Government went about selling the remaining reservation land to white farmers. In addition, promised supplies were arriving late and allotments were being reduced. Some Indians were living on half rations. There was speculation of theft by corrupt Indian agents. In other words, the provisions of the treaties were not being honored. While unhappy there was little the Lakota’s could do about it other than complain. Decades of warfare against the whites proved futile.

What happened in 1889 is what oppressed people many times turn to when all else fails. In this case it was a new religion which was celebrated with the “Ghost Dance”(pictured below left). The participants in this dance supposedly worked themselves up into a trance where they claimed to see the afterlife and communicate with deceased relatives. The Lakota’s learned about this religion through neighboring tribes to the west. It’s founder was a prophet named Wovoka and also known by the name Jack Wilson. Pictured to the right, Wovoka was a highly esteemed Paiute from Nevada whose father was also a spiritual leader. Wovoka was thought to have magical powers. Among other things, he was thought to be able to make water appear in an empty container during a drought.  His teachings spread rapidly among the western tribes.

Wovoka’s teachings were that the Great Spirit told him in dreams that if the Indians would refuse to accept the white man’s material ways, the white men would eventually disappear from the land and the game animals would be in abundance as they were decades before. Wovoka stressed that all this should be carried out peacefully. While he wanted his brothers to go back to the old ways in all things Indian, he wanted them to do it without fighting and bloodshed.

The Lakota’s had two factions. The progressives who accepted the white man’s ways and took to farming. The others were the traditionalists who resented the fact that their lives were radically changed and yearned for it’s return. There were leaders of both groups and among the traditionalists one of their more outspoken leaders was a chief named Kicking Bear (pictured left).

With what had happened to the Lakota’s… first being put on a reservation and then having much of their treaty land sold to white settlers, you can see how they were ready, willing and able to adopt this new religion from Wovoka even though this type of practice was strictly against military orders. While Wovoka placed major emphasis on peace with the white men, there were traditionalists such as Kicking Bear who put more of a militant flavor to it. One example was the introduction of Ghost Shirts which would render the army’s bullets useless. So many of the traditional Lakota’s were involved in Ghost Dance worship that they left their small farms untended. It didn’t take long for the white settlers to see what was happening on the reservations and you could say a panic ensued fed by local politicians and the newspapers. Papers were fanning the flames referring to the Ghost Dance as being a war dance. The politicians then pressured the army to do something before another Indian war broke out. The army’s response was to flood the Pine Ridge Reservation with troops. The deployment was the largest since the Civil War being about one-half the total of all infantry and cavalry.

You had the confluence of several forces during November and  December 1890. There were the discontented Lakota’s practicing the “Ghost Dance” religion on the Pine Ridge Reservation and elsewhere which was technically against military orders. Then you had an excited local population and sensationalist press forecasting big trouble. Add to this a massive U.S. military presence. And if that wasn’t enough, you had the killing of Sitting Bull (1877 image from Harper’s Weekly at right) on December 15th at the Standing Rock Agency  while being arrested by Indian police and soldiers because of his alleged Ghost dance involvement.

What happened next has been a subject of debate for over 100 years. The military was rounding up bands of armed Lakota’s both on and off the reservation. After Sitting Bull’s death and the massive army buildup, many of the traditional Lakota’s armed themselves and encamped in the Badlands just to the north of Pine Ridge. One of the Lakota bands out in the Badlands led by Spotted Elk (pictured right) had the ill fortune of being captured by troops of the Seventh Cavalry (Custers old command) led by major Samuel M. Whiteside, pictured below right. 

There are a few versions of what happened next but the prevailing story is that the group of Lakota’s were marched about five miles south where they camped for the night at Wounded Knee Creek. The next morning, after Hotchkiss guns were put on nearby hillsides, army troops entered the Lakota’s camp and demanded that all firearms be turned over. The story is that one deaf Lakota warrior refused to hand over his rifle because he had paid for it himself. There was a small scuffle and then a rifle shot was heard and the soldiers within the camp as well as the artillery placed on the hills opened fire. After all these years nobody really knows who fired the first shot. The result however was a bloodbath with perhaps 200-300 Lakota’s killed..men, women and children. The troops inside the camp had the Lakota’s in a crossfire and no doubt some soldiers ended up shooting their own men. 

This December 29th, 1890 encounter was to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre. Many historians consider this the final battle of the Indian Wars, although it doesn’t seem quite accurate referring to it as a battle. When the army reviewed the evidence it was apparent that a massacre occurred. It was a one sided fight. The U.S. Government conducted an investigation and eventually reparations were paid to the relatives of the victims. Some factions demanded that the officers present at Wounded Knee be punished but that never really happened. There were a few small skirmishes during January and February 1891, mostly due to the Lakota reaction caused by the Wounded Knee Massacre and Sitting Bull’s killing, but after that a genuine peace prevailed .

There are two museums available for the traveler who would like to explore the Lakota culture in more detail. They are the  Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain, SD and the St. Francis Mission/Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum in St. Francis, SD. Directions are available on their web sites below.



Here are a few good sites for more information about the Wounded Knee Massacre.




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>Hollywood On Route 66


Western movies were at their highpoint during the 1940’s and 50’s and there probably wasn’t a busier area for filming than in the Gallup, New Mexico area. 

There were a few reasons for this. The rugged scenery all around the Gallup/ Western New Mexico area offered ideal natural settings. Desert, mountains, red rocks, canyons, cliffs…they were all there. Secondly, Gallup was easy to reach being on the Southern Pacific rail line as well as directly on Route 66.

Discussing western film making during the 40’s and 50’s, a reference to John Ford (pictured at right) must be made. Ford directed about 140 movies over a 50 year career spanning all the way back to silent films and was a pioneer of “on  location” shooting.
While having directed many diverse movie genres he is best known for his “westerns”.
John Ford has been referred as the premier American director and found Gallup to be an excellent location for movie making. 

In addition to the scenery, the Gallup area offered a good supply of livestock, needed for making westerns, and a good supply of people to serve as movie extras including Native Americans. Because movie production requires a lot of people apart from the actors, the film industry was a boon to the local economy. Tourism also picked up when word spread of a new production in town and it’s accompanying stars.

The list of stars who appeared in movies shot around Gallup seems almost endless. Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracey, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Joan Crawford, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, Lucille Ball and many more. The list is a who’s who of Hollywood during the mid 1900’s. A partial list of films shot there include, Billy The Kid, Four Faces West, The Sea of Grass, A Distant Trumpet, Escape From Fort Bravo, Only The Valiant, Ace In The Hole, Cheyenne Autumn. Also, a part of John Ford directed The Grapes of Wrath was filmed near Gallup.

The stars traveling to Gallup needed a place to stay and the El Rancho (pictured left), built in 1937 by the brother of director D.W.Griffith, was the residence of choice for many of them. This is an old image taken before Route 66 was widened but the hotel is still there today and in business. If you’re a movie fan and traveling through Gallup on Interstate-40, a stop at the El Rancho is a must. The lobby area still has it’s old west theme and rooms are named after the celebrities who stayed there. Also a lot of great pictures and autographs on display.

While the western genre films are not being churned out the same way they were in the 50’s, New Mexico continues to be a top state for movie production and post production. The scenery throughout the state lends itself to unique photography and many locales are seen on movie credits, such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Santa Rosa, Socorro, Taos and others. Most recently, 3:10 To Yuma was shot almost entirely in the Santa Fe area.

Web site for the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup is: www.elranchohotel.com

There are two interesting movie ranches near Santa Fe, NM that have served as sets for dozens of western films. Bonanza Creek Ranch and the Eaves Movie Ranch. The web sites below will give good information on these.



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>Words That Helped Win A War

>They would call a battleship a “whale”. They would call a fighter plane a “hummingbird”. A bomber plane was a “buzzard” and a destroyer would be a “shark”.

One of the biggest difficulties for any nation at war is to have safe secure communication. Battles have been lost because of compromised information.

At the onset of World War II, the United States made a concerted effort to further encode military communications. The use of Native American languages was given serious consideration. The first known use of Native American language in a battle situation was with Cherokees at the Second Battle of the Somme during World War I. The picture left is of a group of Choctow code talkers from World War I. In fact, the story is that Hitler, being well aware of the Allies use of Native American code talkers during World War I, sent his agents prior to World War II on an unsuccessful mission to North America to learn and master the Native American languages. The problem the U.S. encountered in working with native languages was that often a word that wasn’t indigenous was simply given the other languages word. In other words, a computer would be called a “computer” and an aircraft carrier would be called an “aircraft carrier”. Obviously this wouldn’t work and it had to be overcome.

This all changed with an idea from the Kansas born son of a Protestant minister who had spent much of his earlier life on the Navajo reservation. Philip Johnston, pictured left, happened to be reading about the Marine Corps effort to utilize Native American languages and he had an answer to their problem. He went to visit the Marines.

Having learned the Navajo language as a child on the reservation (Navajo Nation flag shown left), Johnston suggested that the Navajo language would be ideal for the military by substituting Navajo words for English letter and word equivalents. Using these substituted words and letters the Navajo’s would be given a message in English, substitute the key words by agreed upon Navajo words, then transmit the message. The message would be received by Navajo’s aware of the key words and letters and then translated back into English. Below is a small sample of substituted words  used.

English               Navajo  Language                Navajo Term

Platoon                  Has-Clish-Nih                           Mud

Patrol Plane            Ga-Gih                                     Crow

Cruiser                   Lo-Tso-Yazzie                        Small Whale

After Johnston met with a somewhat skeptical military he did convince them to witness a demonstration in the presence of Marine Major General Clayton B. Vogel, pictured below . Johnston assembled a small group of Navajo volunteers. They met and agreed on certain substitution letters and words and were readied for their demonstration for the top brass. During the demonstration they were divided into two groups and separated. Using the substitution method one group then successfully transmitted an English message to the other group in Navajo. The General was very satisfied and the Navajo code talker program expanded from there.

Being thoroughly impressed, Major General Vogel recommended the Marines recruit 200 Navajo’s for the program. Initially, 29 were recruited, went through boot camp and then created the code talkers dictionary of terms. When a Navajo completed his code training he was assigned to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific. The code talker’s sole function was to transmit and receive military dispatches between the various units and their commands. Philip Johnston was a civilian when he first approached the Marine Corp. After the successful demonstration he asked for and was granted the rank of Staff Sergeant to work as an instructor with the Navajo’s.

The first battle employing the Navajo code talkers was at Guadacanal in the Solomon Islands, one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in the Pacific theater. The code talkers also served on Iwo Jima and in every offensive operation by the Marines in the Pacific.

It’s estimated that 540 Navajo’s served in the Marines during World War II. Out of that number about 400 served as code talkers. The Japanese were unable to crack the Navajo code. After the war the Japanese military admitted that while they were able to crack the codes for the Army and Air Corp, they never had success with the Marines and their Navajo code.
It’s impossible to put a number of how many lives might have been saved because of the Navajo’s success. I think everyone in the military would conclude that many lives were saved and that the code talkers made a significant contribution in helping win the war.

The original 29 Navajo code talkers received Congressional medals from the government in the year 2000. 
A permanent exhibit of Navajo code talking has been established in the Pentagon.

There are two interesting sites to visit in regards to the Navajo Code Talkers. One is a bronze monument located in Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation capitol. Window Rock is easy to reach located just 27 scenic driving miles northwest of Gallup, NM just over the Arizona state line.

Another is the Navajo Code Talkers Museum located in the Gallup Chamber of Commerce building, 106 W. Hwy 66 in Gallup.

Below are web sites with additional information.




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