Hello to one and all.  This is my first posting for what I hope will entertain some of you.  I have decided to call it “This week in Frontier History”, and what it will be is a mixture of trivia and historical reporting posted every Sunday.  I have an extensive library of frontier history so I should be able to keep this up for years.  I may even throw in a trivia contest now and then.   I hope this will keep everyone interested and possibly draw a few favorable comments.  We’ll see.  Anyway, here is the first week of Frontier History.


February 20, 1902

The famous western photographer Ansel Adams is born today, in 1902, in San Francisco. Adams' dramatic black and white images of Yosemite and the West are some of the most widely recognized and admired photographs of the 20th century.

Ansel Adams discovered his love of photography and the West during a family trip to Yosemite when he was 14 years old. He made his first photographs of the dramatic Yosemite Valley during that trip, and he returned to photograph the park every year thereafter for the rest of his life.

Adams soon developed a tremendous passion and talent for photography, though it remained only a hobby for many years. From childhood, Adams had studied piano, and as a young man he embarked on a promising career as a concert pianist. It was only when he was in his late 20s that Adams decided to abandon music and make a career out of photography instead, choosing to make the West the focus of his work. During the next 20 years, Adams' distinctive treatment of the western landscape won him a dedicated following, especially among the growing community of outdoor enthusiasts in California. Today his majestic portraits of the snow-covered Yosemite Valley and haunting images of Saguaro cacti under an Arizona moon are so familiar as to almost be visual clichés. It is hard to remember that when Adams first published them, the pictures had a crystalline purity that few other nature photographers had achieved.

A dedicated conservationist, Adams deliberately used his photos to inspire a semi-religious reverence for the natural world that he hoped would encourage more Americans to protect and preserve wilderness. A lifelong member of the Sierra Club, Adams provided images for many of the club's early publications in the 1960s.

Besides being a brilliant artist, Adams was also a technical innovator and a teacher. Along with several other photographers, Adams founded "Group f/64," which was dedicated to promoting deep-focus photography and the use of "straight" images free from darkroom trickery. He created a number of innovative photographic techniques that he introduced to the general public through a series of books and an annual workshop in Yosemite.

In recognition of his lifelong efforts supporting the national park system, Mt. Ansel Adams in Yosemite was named in his honor shortly after he died in 1984.


February 21, 1828

The first printing press designed to use the newly invented Cherokee alphabet arrives at New Echota, Georgia, today in 1828.   The General Council of the Cherokee Nation had purchased the press with the goal of producing a Cherokee-language newspaper. The press itself, however, would have been useless had it not been for the extraordinary work of a young Cherokee named Sequoyah, who in-vented a Cherokee alphabet.

As a young man, Sequoyah had joined the Cherokee volunteers who fought under Andrew Jackson against the British in the War of 1812. In dealing with the Anglo soldiers and settlers, he became intrigued by their "talking leaves"-printed books that he realized somehow recorded human speech. In a brilliant leap of logic, Sequoyah comprehended the basic nature of symbolic representation of sounds and in 1809 began working on a similar system for the Cherokee language.  Ridiculed and misunderstood by most of the Cherokee, Sequoyah made slow progress until he came up with the idea of representing each syllable in the language with a separate written character. By 1821, he had perfected his syllabary of 86 characters, a system that could be mastered in less than week. After obtaining the official endorsement of the Cherokee leadership, Sequoyah's invention was soon adopted throughout the Cherokee nation. When the Cherokee-language printing press arrived on this day in 1828, the lead type was based on Sequoyah's syllabary. Within months, the first Indian language newspaper in history appeared in New Echota, Georgia. It was called the Cherokee Phoenix.

One of the so-called "five civilized tribes" native to the American Southeast, the Cherokee had long embraced the United States' program of "civilizing" Indians in the years after the Revolutionary War. In the minds of Americans, Sequoyah's syllabary further demonstrated the Cherokee desire to modernize and fit into the dominant Anglo world. The Cherokee used their new press to print a bi-lingual version of republican constitution, and they took many other steps to assimilate Anglo culture and practice while still preserving some aspects of their traditional language and beliefs.

Sadly, despite the Cherokee's sincere efforts to cooperate and assimilate with the Anglo-Americans, their accomplishments did not protect them from the demands of land-hungry Americans. Repeatedly pushed westward in order to make room for Anglo settlers, the Cherokee lost more than 4,000 of their people (nearly a quarter of the nation) in the 1838-39 winter migration to Oklahoma that later became known as the Trail of Tears. Nonetheless, the Cherokee people survived as a nation in their new home, thanks in part to the presence of the unifying written language created by Sequoyah.  In recognition of his service, the Cherokee Nation voted Sequoyah an annual allowance in 1841. He died two years later on his farm in Oklahoma. Today, his memory is also preserved in the scientific name for the giant California redwood tree, Sequoia.


February 22, 1819

Spanish minister Do Luis de Onis and U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams sign the Florida Purchase Treaty, in which Spain agrees to cede the remainder of its old province of Florida to the United States today in 1819.

Spanish colonization of the Florida peninsula began at St. Augustine in 1565. The Spanish colonists enjoyed a brief period of relative stability before Florida came under attack from resentful Native Americans and ambitious English colonists to the north in the 17th century. Spain's last-minute entry into the French and Indian War on the side of France cost it Florida, which the British acquired through the first Treaty of Paris in 1763. After 20 years of British rule, however, Florida was returned to Spain as part of the second Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution in 1783.

Spain's hold on Florida was tenuous in the years after American independence, and numerous boundary disputes developed with the United States. In 1819, after years of negotiations, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams achieved a diplomatic coup with the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty, which officially put Florida into U.S. hands at no cost beyond the U.S. assumption of some $5 million of claims by U.S. citizens against Spain. Formal U.S. occupation began in 1821, and General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, was appointed military governor. Florida was organized as a U.S. territory in 1822 and was admitted into the Union as a slave state in 1845.


February 23, 1860

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives unexpectedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., amid secrecy and tight security, foiling a Baltimore plot against his life.  With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln's election, the threat of civil war hung in the air.

The president-elect had left his home in Springfield, Illinois, by train several days earlier and had planned to stop in Baltimore before continuing to the capital. Before leaving, he delivered a poignant farewell to his hometown and close friends, who observed that he seemed to realize he might never return to the town where, he said, my children have been born, and one is buried. Shortly after de-parting Springfield, his aides received reports of a planned assassination attempt in Baltimore and ordered the train to proceed immediately to Washington.

Allen Pinkerton, head of a private detective agency, had uncovered a plot to assassinate Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore on his way to the capital.  Working undercover, Pinkerton engaged in a conversation on February 15 with one Captain Ferdinanda and an associate who told him "that d—d abolitionist shall never set foot on Southern soil but to find a grave. One week from today the North shall want a new president, for Lincoln will be dead." Even when news of the plot reached Lincoln, he argued for keeping the Baltimore engagement, much to his aides' frustration.

Lincoln and his advisors disagreed about how to respond to the threat. Some, including Pinkerton, wanted Lincoln to slip secretly into Washington, which would mean skipping an address to the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg. Lincoln did not want to appear cowardly, but felt the threats were serious.

A stubborn Lincoln finally submitted to his wife's insistence that he abandon his plans and the attack was successfully avoided.  Lincoln agreed to the covert arrival. With Pinkerton and Ward Hill Lamon, his former law partner, Lincoln slipped out of the hotel in Harrisburg on the evening of February 22. He wore a soft felt hat instead of his customary stovepipe hat, and draped an overcoat over his shoulders and hunched slightly to disguise his height. The group boarded a sleeper car and arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the night. They slipped undetected from the Calvert Street station to Camden station across town. There, they boarded another train and arrived without incident in Washington at 6 a.m. On the platform, the party was surprised when a voice boomed, "Abe, you can't play that on me." It was Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, a friend of Lincoln's from Illinois. Washburne escorted Lincoln to the Willard Hotel.

Lincoln assumed the presidency on the eve of civil war. Following a contentious election during which slaveholding states threatened to secede from the Union, angry southern conspirators vowed to kill the man they perceived as an abolitionist president before he entered office. Chicago police detective Allan Pinkerton, a devout supporter of Lincoln, led the effort to infiltrate secessionist groups in order to thwart such assassination attempts.

Observers who heard of Lincoln's arrival at the Willard Hotel noticed the tall and awkward form of Lincoln. The president appeared nervous and quickly worked his way through the gathering throng toward his room. Shortly thereafter, his wife, Mary, and their sons joined him at the hotel, where the family stayed until his inauguration on March 4, 1861.

A myth arose that Lincoln had dressed as a woman to avoid detection, but this was not the case. He did draw considerable criticism in the press for his unceremonious arrival. Northern diarist George Templeton Strong commented that if convincing evidence of a plot did not surface, "the surreptitious nocturnal dodging...will be used to damage his moral position and throw ridicule on his Administration." Lincoln later regretted the caper and commented to a friend: "I did not then, nor do I now believe I should have been assassinated had I gone through Baltimore..." Regardless of how he had arrived, Lincoln was safely in Washington, ready to assume the difficult task ahead.


February 24, 1840

On this day in 1840, former President John Quincy Adams begins to argue the Amistad case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A practicing lawyer and member of the House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams was the son of America's second president, founding father and avowed abolitionist John Adams. Although John Quincy Adams publicly downplayed his abolitionist stance, he too viewed the practice as contrary to the nation's core principles of freedom and equality. After serving one term as president between 1825 and 1829, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, in which he served until his death in 1848. During his tenure, he succeeded in repealing a rule that prevented any debate about slavery on the House floor. 

In 1839, a Spanish slave ship named La Amistad appeared off the coast of New York. The "slaves" aboard it, who were free Africans kidnapped in Africa and originally bound for sale in Cuba, had rebelled, killing the Spanish ship's captain and cook. The African mutineers then promised to spare the lives of the ship's crew and their captors if they took them back to Africa. The crew agreed, but then duped the slaves by sailing up the coast to New York, where they were taken into custody by the U.S. Navy. 

A complicated series of trials ensued regarding the ownership and outcome of the ship and its human cargo. The capture of the Amistad occurred in an era in which debate over the institution of slavery, its legality within the United States and its role in the American economy became more intense. Although the federal government had ruled the slave trade between the U.S. and other countries illegal in 1808, the "peculiar institution" persisted in the South and some northeastern states.

The Navy captains who commandeered the Amistad off the coast of New York turned the ship in to authorities in Connecticut. In Connecticut at this time, slavery was still technically legal, a fact that further complicated the case. Abolitionists filed a suit on behalf of the Africans against the slave captors for assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment. Spain, backed by a 1795 anti-piracy treaty with the U.S., also claimed rights to the Amistad and her cargo. President Martin Van Buren, person-ally neutral on the issue of slavery and concerned about his popularity in southern states, supported Spain's claim.

After two district courts ruled in favor of the abolitionists, President Van Buren immediately instruct-ed the U.S. attorney general to appeal. Abolitionists hired Adams, who some referred to as "Old Man Eloquent," to argue for the Africans' freedom in the Supreme Court.

In a seven-hour argument that lasted two days, Adams attacked Van Buren's abuse of executive power. His case deflated the U.S. attorney's argument that the treaty with Spain should override U.S. principles of individual rights. In appeasing a foreign nation, Adams argued that the president committed the "utter injustice [of interfering] in a suit between parties for their individual rights." In a dramatic moment, Adams faced the judges, pointed to a copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging on the courtroom wall, and said "[I know] no law, statute or constitution, no code, no treaty, except that law...which [is] forever before the eyes of your Honors."

Adams' skillful arguments convinced the court to rule in favor of returning the Africans to their native country, but later, President Tyler refused to allocate federal funds to send the Africans back to Africa. Instead, the abolitionists had to raise money to pay for the expense.


February 25, 1848

Edward Harriman, the controversial savior of the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, is born today in 1848, in Hempstead, New York.

The son of an Episcopal minister, Harriman disliked school and dropped out to become a broker's boy when he was 14. To the amazement of the stockbrokers on Wall Street, the young Harriman demonstrated an uncanny ability to pick winning stocks, and he had his own seat on the stock exchange by the age of 21.

Harriman's involvement with railroads began when he attempted to rehabilitate some tired old lines owned by his wife's relatives. He soon developed a passion for every aspect of railroads, from steam technology to traffic flow problems, and he particularly enjoyed reviving once great lines that had fallen on hard times.

In 1897, Harriman took on his most ambitious railroad project ever: the salvation of the bankrupt Union Pacific Railroad. The first transcontinental line to link East and West, the Union Pacific had once been the queen of railroads but had become an outdated and inefficient money pit. Over 10 years, Harriman restored the Union Pacific to its glory days, transforming it into one of the best-built and -managed lines in the nation.  In pursuit of efficiency and predictable profits, Harriman gradually gained control over many of the central western and southwestern lines in the United States. Alarmed by this concentration of control over a technology that was essential to the American economy, President Theodore Roosevelt sued Harriman for violation of federal antitrust regulations. In 1904, the Supreme Court directed that much of Harriman's system be dissolved.

As a result of the antitrust litigation, Harriman became a favorite target for turn-of-the-century resentment of big business, and he was often accused of having built his railroad monopolies simply to increase his own profits. The truth was more complicated. Harriman certainly sought good profits, but his brilliant transformation of the Union Pacific and other decrepit lines was motivated as much by a desire to maximize efficiency as profits. Frank to the point of bluntness, Harriman rarely deigned to explain and defend his complex ideas about railroads to the public, guaranteeing that he would be largely remembered as little more than a greedy robber baron.


February 26, 1862 

On this day in 1862, Union soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes visits Washington, D.C., during a typical week in winter quarters. Although combat was the main job of a soldier, most men serving in the Civil War spent very few days each year in actual combat. Rhodes kept a diary during his four years in the Union Army, and his notes reveal the monotony of the winter months for the Army of the Potomac. A member of the 2nd Rhode Island, Rhodes fought in every campaign from First Bull Run to Appomattox, and rose from private to colonel in four years.

The winter months were usually quiet for the soldiers. The wet, cold weather made movement difficult, and there were few major battles fought during this time. Days were spent drilling, and Rhodes wrote that other days were spent sleeping and smoking. Many troops gambled among themselves, and others drank or visited the prostitutes that plied their trade near the camps. Picket duty could be a welcome respite to the boredom, and Rhodes' unit built a road during one winter encampment. On another winter occasion, he wrote: "One day is much like another at headquarters."

Rhodes spent most of his winter months in or near Washington, and the capital city provided many more diversions than those available to soldiers in more remote locations. On February 26, 1862, Rhodes went to hear Senator Henry Wilson from Massachusetts speak on expelling disloyal members of Congress. After listening to the speech, Rhodes and his friend Isaac Cooper attended a fair at a Methodist church and met two young women, who the soldiers escorted home.

Like other soldiers, Rhodes welcomed the departure from winter quarters and an end to the monotony. "Our turn has come," he wrote when his unit began moving south to Richmond, Virginia, in 1864.

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