Remembering History:Donner Party

Donner Lake Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
U.S Geological Survey, 1870’s
Public Domain/Wikimedia

The mania to head west and settle land was powerful. Many people, wanting to start new lives, packed up and headed west. Some headed to California, others further north into Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The route was long but if you followed a well known path and were well provisioned, you had a good chance of arriving safely. The obstacles were many from bad weather, food getting contaminated, people getting sick, and if you wandered into unfriendly Native American territory you might be attacked. Skilled guides were essential because if you simply headed west not knowing the right trails to take, you might end up in the wrong place.

Sadly, that is what happened to the Donner Party. It comprised of 89 people total of both the Donner and Reed families that set out in a wagon train that began in Springfield, Illinois but really did not depart until May 12 in Independence, Missouri. It is not known what delayed them but, in crossings of this kind, timing is important. It was always best to leave in early spring so that grass would be plentiful along the way for your horses and livestock you brought with you. And more importantly to cross the mountain passes before winter set in. Because of the late start, it meant that there was little margin for error. They were the last west bound wagon train of the season.

They arrived in Fort Bridger, Wyoming in July. Most wagon trains would follow the established route of heading into Idaho and then turning south into Nevada to get into California. However a new route was being promoted in 1846 called the Hastings Cutoff found by guidebook author Lansford Hastings. The proposed route was shorter and straighter through the Wasatch Mountains and to Salt Lake Desert. Except no one had confirmed this route actually worked. George Donner was elected the wagon train captain. Despite warnings from an experienced mountain man–James Clyman–the Donner Party decided to try the untested Hastings Cutoff when the left in July 1846.

It proved to be a disastrous decision. They found they had to cut down trees along the way to clear a path setting them back three weeks. The five-day crossing of the salt desert resulted in many nearly dying of thirst. The shortcut ended up costing them a month in travel time and they arrived at the slopes of the Sierra Nevada in early November 1846. At this point, the best course would have been to wait until spring to proceed or use a different path that avoided the mountains. Their provisions were already strained by this time but trying to cross the mountains as winter set in was another bad decision that would cost the party dearly. An early blizzard covered the mountain passes making them impassable. They set up ramshackle cabins and tents in the nearby Truckee Lake. With provisions now getting dire, starvation began to set in and people began to die. Of the 81 people who were stranded, half were children.

Fifteen of the strongest set out for Sutter’s Fort (called the Forlorn Hope) set out in December for Sutter’s Fort. But it was not easy for them and some died on the way. With hardly any supplies, they were forced to resort to cannibalism and had to eat the bodies of those who had died. Seven made it to a Native American village. Word was quickly sent to Sutter’s Fort and a rescue party set out on January 31. Arriving in what is now called Donner Lake on 19 February 1847, they found a completely snowbound survivors of the wagon train. They were fed and then began to head back (three other rescue parties would arrive as well). But the conditions heading back were harsh and although rescued, did not get back until April. And then the full harrowing story would be revealed. In the makeshift camp they slaughtered their pack animals and dogs, gnawed on bones, and even made boiled animal hides into a foul paste. Tree bark became a source of sustinenance, such as it was but many perished of malnutrition. Eating the corpses of those who had died also became necessary as well.

Only 45 survived, many of them children. News reports reached New York City by July 1847. It was a sensational story as one might imagine. The cannibalism was played up and exaggerated beyond what happened. Lansford Hastings, whose reputation as an author and trail leader the Donner Party relied on, was never held to account for the supposed route he had never fully traveled himself. He apparently expressed regret and life went on for him. In the 1850’s, he lived with his family in Yuma, Arizona where he was postmaster and a judge. When the American Civil War broke out, he sided with the South and was a Major in the Confederate Army. Many former confederates looked to emigrate to Brazil after the war, and he helped make arrangements with the Brazilian government. He died in 1870 on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands possibly of yellow fever.

Sources:

History.com
Wikipedia


For your Friday: Dean Martin sings Buona Sera

If you ever saw the movie Return to Me (2000) starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovny, you would have heard this song. The movie itself is pretty nice love story. David Duchovny’s character’s wife dies and her heart goes into Minnie Driver’s character. Later the two meet and fall in love. Then she learns that her new heart came from his late wife. That of course causes some issues. It is a good little movie. And it has some excellent character actors who add a lot to this movie: Carroll O’Connor, Eddie Jones, Robert Loggia, and Wally Jatczak. Jim Belushi also stars as the husband of Minnie Driver’s best friend (played by Bonnie Hunt).

Also the movie uses a great Sinatra song At Long Last Love as well.

 

Titanic News: Idaho Exhibition Opens; MASH Actor has Titanic Connection, and Archives Help with Sunken Ship

 

Titanic Memorial in Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Ireland.
Photo:Travelpod

Discovery Center Of Idaho Opens Titanic Artifact Exhibit
Idaho News 6, 15 Feb 2021

Titanic is one of those stories that’s timeless but also ageless,” said Emily Mahone, Education Director at the Discovery Center. “So we have children here that have already been obsessed with it since first or second grade to those elderly and middle-aged people who have been obsessed with Titanic since it came out in 1997.” You are asked to reserve your admission up to seven days in advance by visiting the Discovery Center of Idaho’s website. Masks are required for your entire visit. Discovery Center: https://www.dcidaho.org/

M*A*S*H’s Jamie Farr Revealed His Mother Almost Bought a Ticket on the ‘Titanic’ Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 14 Feb 2021

Was he going to wait for the cousin or was he going to get back on the ship and go to America? The mother of the cousin pleaded with my grandfather, ‘please you have to take my son to America.’ So my grandfather acquiesced. The ship that my mother, grandmother, and grandfather were supposed to be on was the Titanic. It went from Southampton to Marseille and then Marseille supposedly on to New York,” Farr explained.

Belfast Archive Being Used In Bid To Stem Leaking Shipwreck Off Canadian Coast Hereford Times, 14 Feb 2021

More than 50 years later, an oil leak has been traced back to the wreck (MV Schiedyk). National Museums NI is helping the Canadian coastguard’s operation by supplying plans and images from the building of the 483ft cargo ship in Belfast in 1949. Originally a steamship, it was rebuilt in the 1960s to its oil-fuelled form. These plans will help to build a clear picture of the type of oil used and the location and capacity of its fuel tanks.

Charles H. Lightoller, second officer of the RMS Titanic.
Circa 1920-1930
Public Domain (from Wikimedia)

Mariner, Titanic Survivor, Cowboy, War Hero: The Epic of Charles Lightoller War is Boring, 12 Feb 2021

Those who do endure and come out as hardier men are often forever marred to some degree- but just as a diamond must be cut and a block of ore must be hammered and shaped into a usable tool, so must a man make many sacrifices to reach his destiny. Charles Lightoller was such a man


Today is Washington’s Birthday (President’s Day-US)

 George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart
Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Although today is referred to as “President’s Day” it is not a federal holiday by that name. It is officially designated as Washington’s Birthday under federal law. There was a movement to combine both Washington and Lincoln’s birthday (since they occur days apart) or honor the office of president. That never came to be. Instead in 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was past and came into force in 1971. That shifted most federal holidays to a Monday if it fell during the week. Washington’s Birthday name was not changed and so under federal law it is still Washington’s Birthday. However many states issue their own proclamations celebrating not only Washington but Lincoln and others from their own state. Advertisers have caught on as well. So today many call it President’s Day but who it commemorates beyond George Washington is up to the state governors.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.
President George Washington,Farewell Address, 19 September 1799.

For more information:

Britannica.com
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
History.com

 


Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).

Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.

Video of Ship Breaking in Two

Cargo ship Arkin, 2018
Photo: Ersen Aktan, vesselfinder

It is not often you see something this dramatic. This freighter was in heavy seas off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. As the video shows, you can see the ship bend that indicates it is going to break up (which it does). They do send an SOS and get off the ship. The incident took place on 17 Jan 2021.

Caught on Cam: Ship Actually Breaks in Two (Weather.com, 9 Feb 2020)

Here are two  news reports on this sinking:

Ukrainian freighter sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea coast (MSN, 17 Jan 21)

Three bodies found after ARVIN ship sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea (UNIAN, 18 Jan 2021)

 

Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Titanic News-Update on SS. Keewatin; Iceberg Question

 

S.S. Keewatin 2007
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

Heritage Groups Advocate To Keep Titanic-Era Boat In Port McNicoll (Global News, 3 Feb 2021 -Video)

This is a follow up on SS Keewatin, and in video only format.

 

Photograph of iceberg taken by chief steward of Prinz Adalbert on morning of 15 April 1912 near where Titanic sank. At the time he had not learned of the Titanic disaster. Smears of red paint along the base caught his attention. The photo and accompanying statement were sent to Titanic’s lawyers, which hung in their boardroom until the firm dissolved in 2002. Public Domain

What Happened To The Giant Iceberg That Sank The Titanic?
Explica, 4 Feb 202

What is certain is that it must have remained in the same place for a long time: those huge mountains of ice float adrift until over time, they become part of the liquid water of the ocean.

It was reported today that veteran actor Christopher Plummer passed away at age 91. He was a terrific actor who elevated even ordinary movies. He shot to fame playing Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He did not like how his character was drawn. Nor did the real Trapp family children. Aside from the usual liberties taken with the story (and changing the gender of the two oldest from boys to girls!) they were empathetic that their father was nothing like the stage or the movie presentation. And he certainly did not make them wear sailor’s outfits as well. At any rate, Christopher Plummer will be long remembered for the many roles he played on stage, film, and even on the small screen. RIP Christopher Plummer.


Welcome to February

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry-February
Limbourg Brothers (1385 – 1416)
Public Domain US/Wikimedia

February is the second month on the current Gregorian calendar (and the same on the old Julian). It is the shortest month of the year with 28 days except in leap years when it is 29. The name is derived from Februarius, a purification ritual that was held around 15 February on the old Roman lunar calendar. Until the calendar was reformed under the Julian, January and February were the last two months of the year (although originally there were no months after December as the Romans considered the time a month less period until spring). For the southern hemisphere, the seasons are switched so they are heading towards Autumn so it is the equivalent of August for them.

With shorter number of days, it is the one month that can pass without a full moon (it happened in 2018). There are many fascinating names used during the month such as Snow Moon to indicate snow is on the ground. Some Native American tribes call it the Hunger Moon due to limited food sources during winter.

Viola (Violet) is the birth flower for February
Image:Andrew Bossi(Wikimedia Commons)

The February flowers are violet and primrose with amethyst being the birth stone.

Sources:
Britannica.com: February
Timeanddate.com: February


Remembering History: : Congress Approves 13th Amendment (31 Jan 1865)

Celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Harpers Weekly/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

On 31 Jan 1865, the U.S. Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude for the entire country. The wording was simple:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, it did not apply to the entire country. To do that required federal law but merely enacting a statute, which could be rescinded or altered by Congress or a court, meant that the Constitution itself had to be amended. In April 1864 the amendment was passed in the U.S. Senate but faced difficulties in House of Representatives as many Democrats (due it being an election year) did not support it. And President Lincoln’s reelection did not look assured either. However with more Union military victories taking place and Lincoln soundly defeating General George McClellan in the November election, it emboldened Republicans to pass the amendment in the House in December 1864.

Lincoln got personally involved in the process by inviting individual representatives to meet with him. And he put pressure on representatives from border-states to change their votes to pass it. He authorized his supporters in the House to offer plum positions and other inducements to get their vote (a time-honored tradition in Washington politics). He left it up to his allies on how to do it. Some drama ensued when word of a Confederate peace commission having been dispatched to Washington, but it turned out to be false. And the vote for the amendment took place on 31 January 1865. It passed by 119-56 receiving the required two-thirds required by the Constitution. Then with a joint resolution of Congress the following day, the 13th Amendment was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

Ratification

The ratification process began immediately but sadly President Lincoln, who was assassinated on 14 April 1865, did not see it ratified in December. Here is a list of the states that ratified, which does include former Confederate states who ratified after rejoining the Union.

 

1           Illinois                                                Feb 1, 1865

2          Rhode Island                                   Feb 2, 1865

3          Michigan                                            Feb 3, 1865

4          Maryland                                           Feb 3, 1865

5          New York                                           Feb 3, 1865

6          Pennsylvania                                   Feb 3, 1865

7          West Virginia                                  Feb 3, 1865

8          Missouri                                             Feb 6, 1865

9          Maine                                                   Feb 7, 1865

10         Kansas                                               Feb 7, 1865

11         Massachusetts                             Feb 7, 1865

12         Virginia                                             Feb 9, 1865

13         Ohio                                                    Feb 10, 1865

14         Indiana                                               Feb 13, 1865

15         Nevada                                               Feb 16, 1865

16         Louisiana                                           Feb 17, 1865

17         Minnesota                                         Feb 23, 1865

18         Wisconsin                                          Feb 24, 1865

19         Vermont                                             Mar 8, 1865

20        Tennessee                                           Apr 7, 1865

21         Arkansas                                             Apr 14, 1865

22        Connecticut                                        May 4, 1865

23         New Hampshire                              Jul 1, 1865

24        South Carolina                                 Nov 13, 1865

25         Alabama                                             Dec 2, 1865

26        North Carolina                                Dec 4, 1865

27        Georgia                                               Dec 6, 1865      *

28        Oregon                                               Dec 8, 1865

29        California                                          Dec 19, 1865

30        Florida                                                Dec 28, 1865

31         Iowa                                                    Jan 15, 1866

32         New Jersey                                    Jan 23, 1866

33         Texas                                                  Feb 18, 1870

34        Delaware                                          Feb 12, 1901

35         Kentucky                                         Mar 18, 1976

36        Mississippi                                      Mar 16, 1995 *

The amendment was ratified in 309 days with Georgia giving it the required number of votes to formally amend the Constitution. Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi initially rejected it (but approved it later). However, Mississippi did approve it on 16 Mar 1995 but failed to notify the U.S. Archivist. It became official in 2012.

Sources:

Britannica.com: Thirteenth Amendment
History.com: 13th Amendment
Constitution Annotated: Thirteenth Amendment
Ratification of Constitutional Amendments

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