September 19, 1862 Douglas the Confederate Camel

In the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was convinced that camels were the military super weapon of the future.

Due west of the Mississippi capital of Jackson and across the river from New Orleans lies the city of Vicksburg, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. In 1863, Vicksburg was the last major stronghold of the Confederacy, along the Mississippi River.  Surrounded and vastly outnumbered, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” held out for forty days against a far larger Union army, surrendering on July 4, 1863. The city would not celebrate another Independence Day, for 81 years.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg contains some 5,000 stone markers in ‘the soldier’s rest‘, each placed in memory of one who died in defense of the city.  Even the one with the camel on it.

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This story begins with Jefferson Davis, in the 1840s. Today, we remember Davis as the one President of the Confederate States of America. Then, he was a United States Senator from Mississippi, with a pet project of introducing camels into the United States.

Re-introducing them might be more like it. Today, the distribution of these animals is almost the inverse of their area of origin. According to the fossil record, the earliest camelids first appeared on the North American continent, these even-toed ungulates ancestor to the Alpaca, Llama, Guanaco and Vicuña of today.

fdgfcxedgym2d7vkiryqJefferson Davis’ experiment was to be the first large-scale re-introduction of these animals on the North American continent, in geologic history.

Davis envisioned the day when every southern planter would have a stable full of camels. In the kind of pork barrel tit-for-tat spending deal beloved of Congressmen to this day, the Senator slid $30,000 into a highway appropriations bill, to get the support of a colleague from Illinois.

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The measure failed but, in the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Davis persuaded President Franklin Pierce that camels were the military super weapons of the future. Able to carry greater loads over longer distances than any other pack animal, Davis saw camels as the high tech weapon of the age. Hundreds of horses and mules were dying in the hot, dry conditions of Southwestern Cavalry outposts, when the government purchased 75 camels from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Several camel handlers came along in the bargain, one of them a Syrian named Haji Ali, who successfully implemented a camel breeding program. Haji Ali became quite the celebrity within the West Texas outpost. The soldiers called him “Hi Jolly”.

When Civil War broke out, Camp Verde Texas had about 60 camels. The King of Siam, (now Thailand), saw the military advantage to the Confederacy, and wrote to President Abraham Lincoln. “Here”, he wrote, “we use elephants”. The King went on to propose bringing elephants into the Northwest, to help the Union war effort. This “animal arms race” appears to have gotten no further than the King’s letter to the President, but the imagination runs wild at the idea of War Elephants at Gettysburg.

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The horse lobby did a lot to kill the camel project, and the animal’s unpleasant personality traits didn’t help. A camel will not passively accept a riding crop or a whip. They are vengeful, and can spit stinking wads of phlegm with great accuracy over considerable distances. If they’re close enough, they will rake the skin off your face with their front teeth. Camels have been known to trample people to death.

Cut loose, one of those Texas camels somehow made its way to Mississippi, where he was taken into service with the 43rd Infantry Regiment, who named him “Douglas”.

Vicksburg Post
“Two Civil War re-enactors discuss the use of camels by the U.S. Army and recall the story of ” Old Douglas,” the camel that was killed during the Siege of Vicksburg, during a visit by the Texas Camel Corps to the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2016″ H/T Vicksburg Post

Douglas wouldn’t permit himself to be tethered, but he always stuck around so he was allowed to graze on his own. Southern soldiers became accustomed to the sight of “Old Douglas”. The 43rd Mississippi became known as the “Camel Regiment,” but the horses never did get used to their new companion. On this day in 1862, Major General Sterling Price was preparing to face two Union armies at Iuka, when the sight of Old Douglas spooked the regimental horses. One horse’s panic turned into a stampede, injuring several of them and possibly killing one or two.

The 43rd Infantry was ordered to Vicksburg during General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of the city, when Douglas was shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Enraged by the murder of their prized camel, the 5th Missouri’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, who stalked the killer until one of them had his revenge. Bevier later said of Douglas’ killer, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”

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So it is that there is a camel at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He is not forgotten. Douglas and other camels of the era are remembered by the Texas Camel Corps, a cross between a zoo and a living history exhibit.

The organization’s website begins with: “Texas Camel Corps was established to educate the public about the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century”. I just might have to check that out.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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August 31, 1959 Sgt. Reckless

Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up.  She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

A Recoilless Rifle is a type of lightweight tube artillery. Think of a portable cannon. Kind of a bazooka, really, only the Recoilless fires modified shells rather than rockets. The back blast of these shells compensates for the mule’s kick which would otherwise be expected from such a weapon, making the rifle “recoilless”.

While that reduces projectile range, reduced gas pressures permit a thinner-walled barrel, resulting in a weapon light enough to be served by a 2 to 3-man crew, and shoulder fired by a single infantryman.

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The “RCLR” weapon system has provided the punch of artillery to mobile troop formations since the early days of WWII, including Airborne, Special Forces and Mountain units.

The problem arises when combat operations consume ammunition faster than the supply chain can replace it. Mountainous terrain makes the situation worse. Even today in the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, there are times when the best solution for the problem, is horsepower.

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Ah Chim-hai was a chestnut mare of mixed Mongolian and Thoroughbred lineage, a race horse at the track in Seoul, South Korea. Her name translated as “Flame of the Morning”.
Lieutenant Eric Pedersen of the recoilless rifle platoon, anti-tank company of the 5th Marine Regiment, needed a pack animal to carry the weapon’s 24-lb shells up Korean mountain passes. In October 1952, Pederson received permission from regimental commander Colonel Eustace P. Smoak, to buy a horse for his platoon.

Lt. Pederson and stable boy Kim Huk-moon agreed on a price of $250, and Pederson paid with his own money. Kim cried on watching his “Flame” leave the stable, but the sale had a higher purpose.  The boy’s sister had stepped on a land mine, and badly needed a prosthetic leg.

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The Marines called the new recruit “Reckless” – a nod to the weapon system she was meant to serve, and to the fighting spirit of the 5th Marines.

Pederson wrote to his wife in California to send a pack saddle, while Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and Private First Class Monroe Coleman provided for her care and training.

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Navy Hospitalman First Class George “Doc” Mitchell provided most of Reckless’ medical care, Latham taught her battlefield skills: how to step over communication wires, when to lie down under fire, how to avoid becoming entangled in barbed wire. She learned to run for cover, at the cry “Incoming!”

The platoon built her a bunker and fenced off a pasture, but soon Reckless was allowed to roam freely throughout the camp. She’d enter tents at will, sometimes spending the night if it was cold.

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She’d eat anything: bacon, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat.  She loved scrambled eggs.  Just about anything else that a Marine wasn’t watching closely enough, as well. Reckless even ate her horse blanket once, and she loved a beer. Mitchell had to warn his fellow Marines against giving her more than two Cokes a day, which she’d drink out of a helmet. Once, she ate $30 worth of winning poker chips.

General Randolph McCall Pate, a veteran of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Korea, served as the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1956 – ’59.  Pate wrote: “I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”  Reckless was a Marine.

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Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up.  She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

Recoilless rifle tactics call for fire teams to fire four or five rounds, and then relocate before the enemy can shoot back. Reckless usually learned the route after one or two trips, often traveling alone to deliver supplies on the way up, and evacuate wounded on the way down.

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In February 1953, Captain Dick Kurth and his Fox Company were fighting for a hill called “Detroit”. Reckless made 24 trips by herself, carrying a total 3,500lbs of ammunition over 20 miles. She made 51 solo trips that March, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless carried 9,000lbs of ammunition in a single day, over 35 miles of open rice paddies and steep hills. At times, artillery exploded around her at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. She was wounded twice during the battle. That night, she was too exhausted to do anything but hang her head while they rubbed her down.

Reckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

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On August 31, 1959, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton. 1,900 of her 5th Marine comrades attended, as did two of her sons, “Fearless” and “Dauntless”. A third, “Chesty”, was unavailable to attend.

General Pate wrote: “In my career I have seen many animals that have been adopted by Marines, but never in all my experience have I seen one which won the hearts of so many as did. . .Reckless.”

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Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history. Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian horse. Sergeant Reckless.

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July 9, 1943 The Most Decorated K-9 of WW2

The machine gun episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

By the end of the “Great War”, France, Great Britain and Belgium had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, Imperial Germany as many as 30,000. Some sources report that over a million dogs served over the course of the war.

Dogs performed a variety of roles in WWI, from ratters in the trenches, to sentries, scouts and runners. “Mercy” dogs were trained to seek out the wounded on battlefields, carrying medical supplies with which the stricken could treat themselves. Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

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French propaganda postcard of WW1

The famous Rin Tin Tin canine movie star of the 1920s was rescued as a puppy, from the bombed out remains of a German Army kennel, in 1917.

Leaders of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) discussed the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals, but the war was over before US forces put together any kind of a War Dog program.  America’s first war dog, “Sgt. Stubby”, went “over there” by accident, serving 18 months on the Western Front before coming home to a well-earned retirement.

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Sergeant Stubby

In March 1942, the US Army Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for an American “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy animals were encouraged to “loan” their dogs to the Quartermaster Corps, where they were trained for service with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Chips.jpgOne such dog was “Chips”, the German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who would become the most decorated K-9 of WWII.

Chips belonged to the Wren family of Pleasantville New York, who “enlisted” their dog in the “Dogs for Defense (DfD) program in 1942. He was trained at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division of Patton’s 7th Army, along with with his handler, Private John Rowell.

Tip of the hat to my son-in-law Nate who also served in the 3rd ID in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, partnered as handler and “battle buddy” with a four-year-old German Shepard and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) named “Zino”.

Back to WW2.  Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He served as a sentry dog for the Casablanca Conference of 1943, where he met the American President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Allied invasion of Sicily was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, beginning this day in 1943 and lasting through the 17th of August.  The Rowell/Chips team was part of the landings, beginning six weeks of land combat in an action code named “Operation Husky”.

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Chips

During the night landing phase on July 10, Private Rowell and Chips were pinned down in the darkness by an Italian machine gun team, operating out of a nearby hut. The dog broke free from his handler as the platoon dived for shelter, covering the beach in a flash and jumping into the building.

Private Rowell described the scene.  “There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then I saw one soldier come out of the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man.”

Three others were quick to follow, hands up.  Chips had grabbed the Italian’s machine gun by the barrel, knocking the gun off its mount before turning his attentions on the team. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns, demonstrating that someone had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  How many lives were spared by the actions of a single dog, is anyone’s guess.

That episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

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“Chips” goes to war, 1942

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, but those awards were later revoked. At that time the army didn’t permit commendations to be given to animals. His unit awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for the assault landing anyway, along with eight Battle stars. One for each of his campaigns.

Chips was discharged in December, 1945, and returned home to live out the rest of his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York.  In 1990, Disney produced a made-for-TV movie based on the life of the most highly decorated K-9 of WW2, calling it “Chips, the War Dog”.

Afterward

In 1917, the British animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), to “provide care for sick and injured animals of the poor”. Today, the PDSA is the largest veterinary charity in England, carrying out a million or more free veterinary visits every year and employing the largest number of veterinary surgeons and nurses in the United Kingdom.

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Dickin_Medal

The Dickin Medal was established in 1943, to recognize animals displaying “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units“.  Sometimes referred to as “the animals’ Victoria Cross”, the Dickin medal has been awarded only 75 times as of November 2017, plus an honorary Dickin Medal for all animals who served during WW1.

On January 15, 2018, seventy-five years to the day following the Casablanca Conference, Chips was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal.  John Wren, who was only four when Chips went to war, accepted the award in Chips’ honor.  United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop and Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer of the United States Air Force were also there, along with MWD Ayron, who stood in for Chips to wear his Dickin Medal.

The medal reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve.” Previous recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a ship’s cat.

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“John Wren (left), who was four years old when Chips the family pet returned from the war effort, with military working dog Ayron and his handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer (centre) and US Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop (right) in London today”  H/T Daily Mail

July 6, 1863 Sallie was a Lady…

There was barely a man in the regiment, who wouldn’t have walked over the proverbial “bad road & broken glass”, for that dog.   

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Irish Brigade Memorial sculpted by William R. O’Donovan, a former Confederate soldier who fought at Gettysburg  H/T Gettysburg.stonesentinels.com

Sallie was four weeks old in 1861, when she was given as a gift to 1st Lieutenant William Terry, of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  Terry made her the regimental mascot, a post she would hold for the duration of the Civil War.

Sallie was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or possibly a Pit Bull, brindle in color.  She would tag along on long marches, and kept the men of the regiment company in their camps.  She learned the drum roll announcing reveille, and loved to help wake the sleeping soldiers in the morning.

If you’ve ever had a dog in your life, you know how that goes.

There was barely a man in the regiment, who wouldn’t have walked over the proverbial “bad road & broken glass”, for that dog.   Sallie’s first battle came at Cedar Mountain, in 1862. No one thought of sending her to the rear before things got hot, so Sallie took up a position along with the colors, barking ferociously at the adversary.

There she remained throughout the entire engagement, as she would do at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

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Sallie, the smallest member of the 11th PA Infantry Regiment, is one of only two dogs so memorialized at Gettysburg, the only dog who was actually In the battle.

It was said that Sallie only hated three things:  Rebels, Democrats, and Women.

Sallie marched with “her” soldiers in review, in the spring of 1863.  Abraham Lincoln was reviewing the army at the time, when he spotted the dog from the center of the reviewing stand, and raised his famous top hat in salute.

At Gettysburg, Sallie was separated from her unit in the chaos of the first day’s fighting. They found her five days later, on July 6, parched with thirst and weakened by hunger.

She’d been standing guard over her dead and dying comrades, since July 1.

It’s been said that only a dog is capable of that kind of loyalty, yet virtue in one is capable of inspiring virtue in another. So it was on February 5, 1865. Sallie was struck in the head by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run. She was killed instantly.  Several men of the 11th PA laid down their arms and buried her, right then and there.  Even though they were still under fire from the Confederate side.

There is a tale about Sallie, I don’t know if it’s true.  Probably not but it’s a nice story.

After the battle in which Sallie was killed, the soldiers were moving out when a small whining was heard from within a hollowed-out tree.  Someone went to the tree and found several small puppies, believed to be Sallie’s.  They’d had no idea that she was pregnant, or how puppies came to be in that hollowed out tree.  The soldiers gave them to local civilians, so that Sallie’s bloodline might live on.

Sallie statueTwenty-seven years after Gettysburg, surviving veterans of the regiment returned to dedicate a memorial to those members of the 11th Pennsylvania, who lost their lives on that field of battle.

Today, 1,320 memorial statues, monuments and markers dot the landscape of the Gettysburg battlefield.  Among all of them there are only two, raised in the memory of a dog.  The first is a Celtic cross, erected in honor of New York’s Irish Brigade.  Ironically, it is sculpted by a Confederate veteran of the battle.  At the foot of the cross rests a life-sized likeness of an Irish wolfhound, symbolizing honor and fidelity..

66be53833fa8c6663ee4542b2d28d73cThe other includes a brindle colored Terrier, named Sallie.  The only one of the two to have actually participated in the battle.

The monument depicts an upright Union soldier, rifle at the ready.  By unanimous consent of the veterans themselves, Sallie’s likeness looks out from the foot of the statue, where she guards over the spirits of “her boys”, for all eternity.

“Sallie was a lady,
she was a soldier too.
She marched beside the colors,
our own red white and blue.
It was in the days of our civil war,
that she lived her life so true”.

Feature image, top of page:  Only known picture of Sallie, herself.  Photographer unknown.
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 1, 1916 Jersey Shore

Media response to the second incident was altogether different.  Newspapers from the Boston Herald to the San Francisco Chronicle ran the story front page, above the fold. The New York Times went all-in: “Shark Kills Bather Off Jersey Beach”

As Spring gives way to Summer, kids of all ages exchange school bags for beach bags. Sports practices and homework are over, for now. We grown-ups can enjoy the last hours of the weekday, under the warmth of the sun. Gone are the days when the warmth of summer brought with it, the horrors of polio.  We have no idea how lucky we are.

health-polio-1916-c-swscan02773In pre-1955 America and around much of the world, Summer was a time of dread. TIME Magazine offered what solace it could, in 1946: “for many a parent who had lived through the nightmare fear of polio, there was some statistical encouragement: in 1916, 25% of polio’s victims died. This year, thanks to early recognition of the disease and improved treatment (iron lungs, physical therapy, etc.) the death rate is down to 5%.”

Polio afflicted the nation for generations.  1916 was particularly severe. Nationally, some 6,000 died of the disease that summer. New York City alone suffered 9,000 cases of polio, forcing a city-wide quarantine.

Making matters worse, the epidemic took place during one of the hottest Summers in memory, the twin threats of heat and disease driving millions to seek relief at nearby lakes, streams and beaches.

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On July 1, 1916, twenty-five-year-old Charles Epting Vansant of Philadelphia was vacationing with family, at the Engleside Hotel on the Jersey shore. Just before dinner, Vansant took a swim with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, who was playing on the beach. Vansant began to shout and bathers thought he was calling to the dog, but shouts soon turned to screams. As lifeguard Alexander Ott and bystander Sheridan Taylor pulled the man to shore, they could see the shark, following.

5017802db4ff6102b80da58beb964440Charles Vansant’s left thigh was stripped to the bone. He was brought to the Engleside hotel, where he bled to death on the front desk.

Despite the incident, beaches remained open all along the Jersey Shore. Sea captains entering the ports of Newark and New York reported numbers of large sharks swarming off the Jersey shore, but such reports received little attention.

The next major shark attack occurred five days later, on July 6. Forty-five miles north of Engleside, Essex & Sussex Hotel bell captain Charles Bruder was swimming near the resort town of Spring Lake. Hearing screams, one woman notified lifeguards that a red canoe had capsized, and lay just below the surface.  Lifeguards Chris Anderson and George White rowed out to the spot to discover Bruder, legless, with a shark bite to his abdomen. The twenty-seven year old Swiss army veteran bled to death before ever regaining the shore.

NjsharkattackmapLike some earlier, real-life “Jaws”, authorities and the press downplayed the incident. The New York Times reported that Vansant “was badly bitten in the surf … by a fish, presumably a shark.” Pennsylvania State Fish Commissioner and former director of the Philadelphia Aquarium James M. Meehan opined that “Vansant was in the surf playing with a dog and it may be that a small shark had drifted in at high water, and was marooned by the tide. Being unable to move quickly and without food, he had come in to bite the dog and snapped at the man in passing“.

Response to the second incident was altogether different.  Newspapers from the Boston Herald to the San Francisco Chronicle ran the story front page, above the fold. The New York Times went all-in: “Shark Kills Bather Off Jersey Beach“.

A trio of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History held a press conference on July 8, declaring a third such incident unlikely. Be that as it may, John Treadwell Nichols, the only ichthyologist among the three, warned swimmers to stay close to shore, and take advantage of netted bathing areas.

Rumors went into high gear, as an armed motorboat claimed to have chased a shark off Spring Creek Beach.  Asbury Park Beach was closed after lifeguard Benjamin Everingham claimed to have beaten a 12-footer back, with an oar.

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New Jersey resort owners suffered a blizzard of cancellations and a loss of revenue estimated at $5.6 million in 2017 dollars.  In some areas, bathing declined by as much as 75%.

Even so, scores of people died in the oppressive heat.  Newspapers reported twenty-six fatalities, in Chicago alone.  Air conditioning, invented in 1902, would not be widely available until the 1920s.  Rural areas had yet to be electrified.

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Today, some sharks are known to be capable of living for a time, in fresh water. Bull sharks have been known to travel as much as sixty miles up the Mississippi River. Researchers report that the Neuse River in North Carolina has been home to bull sharks, possibly arrived in pursuit of young dolphins.

That information wasn’t available in 1916.

As the heat wave dragged on, lakes and rivers crowded with bathers from Gary, Indiana to Manchester, New Hampshire.  In New Jersey, ocean beaches remained closed with the exception of the 4th Ave. Beach at Asbury Park, enclosed with a steel-wire-mesh fence and patrolled by armed motorboats.

Locals sought relief from the heat in Matawan Creek, a brackish water estuary in the Marlboro Township of Monmouth County.  With fresh waters flowing from Baker’s Brook through a salinity gradient to the full-salt waters of Keyport Harbor, Matawan Creek seemed more at risk for snapping turtles and snakes, than shark attack.

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“Photo showing the Matawan Creek near its mouth in Keyport and Aberdeen Township, New Jersey. Photo taken from the Front Street / Amoby Road (County Route 6) bridge looking north”. H/T Wikipedia

On July 12, several boys including eleven-year-old epileptic Lester Stilwell were swimming near Wykoff Dock when the boys spotted an “old black weather-beaten board or a weathered log.” The boys scattered when that old log grew a dorsal fin, but Lester Stilwell wasn’t fast enough.

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Many dismissed the rantings of five naked, hysterical boys, believing that no shark could be this far inland.  Twenty-four year old tailor Stanley Fisher came running, knowing that the boy suffered from epilepsy.  Arthur Smith and George Burlew joined in the effort, by now clearly a recovery and no longer a rescue. The trio got in a boat and probed with an oar and some poles, but…nothing. They were about to give up the search when Fisher dove in the water.  He actually found the boy’s body, and began to swim to shore.

Matawan Creek
Matawan Creek

Townspeople lining the creek must have looked on in horror, as Fisher was attacked.

Stanley Fisher made it to shore though his right thigh was severely injured, an eighteen-inch-wide piece of his thigh gone, and an artery severed. Fisher would bleed to death at Monmouth Hospital, before the day was done.

The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 claimed a fifth and final victim thirty minutes later, when Joseph Dunn of New York city was bitten a half-mile from the Stilwell and Fisher attacks. A savage tug-of war ensued between Dunn’s brother Michael and sixteen-year-old Jeremiah Hourihan, and local attorney Jacob Lefferts, who jumped in the water to help. 12-year old Joseph Dunn would survive but the damage to his left leg was severe.  The boy would not be discharged from hospital, until September 15.

shark-attackBased on the style of the attacks and glimpses of the shark(s) themselves, the attacks may have been those of Bull sharks, or juvenile Great Whites.  Massive shark hunts were carried out all over the east coast, resulting in the death of hundreds of animals.  Whether all five attacks were carried out by a single animal or many, remains unknown.

635930279184222386-shark-2At the time, the story resulted in international hysteria.  Now, the tale is all but unknown, but for the people of Matawan.  Stanley’s grave sits on a promontory at the Rose Hill Cemetery, overlooking Lester’s grave, below.  People still stop from time to time, leaving flowers, toys and other objects.  Perhaps they’re paying tribute.  Homage to the courage of those who would jump into the water, in the face of our most primordial fear.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 1 (hypothesized) 10,000BC Domesticated Animals

There are stone engravings depicting teams of hogs hauling war chariots. I wonder what that sounded like.

The first dog may have approached a campfire looking for a morsel, or someone could have taken in a sick or wounded pup.  A wolf pack may have learned to shadow human hunting parties, the two groups learning to work together for their mutual benefit.  Two social, hierarchically organized species such as humans and wolves, would have found themselves on familiar ground.

The earliest known evidence of a domesticated dog comes to us from a cave in Iraq and dates to about 12,000 years ago. The specimen differs from that of a wolf, in that it was bred to have smaller jaws and teeth

1417509_origIt may be hard to imagine but, Canis lupus, the wolf, is the ancestor of the modern dog, Canis familiaris.  Every one of them, from Newfoundlands to Chihuahuas.

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Ovis aries, sheep, were the next to be domesticated, probably in the Middle East. They provided milk, meat and the warmth of wool from around 8000BC.

Pig Drawn CarriageSus scrofa (the pig) was domesticated around 6000 BC throughout the Middle East and China. Pigs were originally used as draft animals.  There are stone engravings depicting teams of hogs hauling war chariots. I wonder what that sounded like.

Bossie made her debut at a couple of points in history, females providing milk and meat and castrated males providing the massive strength and capacity for work, of the ox.  Over time, different branches of Bos primigenius came into domestication. The branch which came to be known as Bos taurus, the domestic cattle seen in the US today, began about 8,000 years ago in the Middle East. Bos indicus, the familiar humped cattle seen throughout modern day India and Pakistan, came around about 2,000 years later.

The animal making the greatest impact on Mankind entered the picture around 4000-3500BC on the Eurasian steppes near Dereivka, in central Ukraine. Equus caballus, the horse, provided milk, meat, shelter and transportation, as well as an endless capacity for work. From farm carts to war chariots, the horse could haul a load faster and over a greater distance, than any animal of its time.

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Heck Horse

The first domesticated horse was called a Tarpan, a steppe sub-species which is now extinct, at least in the wild. The “Heck Horse” is a breed claimed to resemble the extinct wild Tarpan or Equus ferus ferus, created by the German zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck. The first Heck horse, a stallion named Duke, was exported to the United States in 1954, followed by two mares in 1955 and a third in 1962.

Today most camels are domesticated, except for a few of the Bactrian (two humps) variety surviving in the Gobi Desert. Wild camels originated in North America, and were wiped out during the spread of Native Americans from Asia into North America between 8000 and 10000BC.

Camelid_origin_and_migrationEarly camelids spread across the Bering land bridge, moving the opposite direction from the Asian immigration to America, surviving in the Old World and eventually becoming domesticated and spreading globally by humans. The first “camelids” became domesticated about 4,500 years ago in Peru: The “New World Camels” the Llama and the Alpaca, and the “South American Camels”, the Guanaco and the Vicuña.

Of the only two surviving true camels, Dromedaries may have first been domesticated by humans in southern Arabia, around 3000 BC, and the Bactrian in central Asia, about five hundred years later.

Cats-in-History-2

Genetic analysis of the modern house cat, Felis silvestris catus, suggests that every one of them descends from one of five wild feline ancestors: the Sardinian, European, Central Asian, Subsaharan African, or the Chinese desert cat.

The first depiction of a cat wearing a collar appears on a tomb in the ancient Egyptian burial ground of Saqqara, dated 2500-2350 BC, however there is archaeological evidence of domesticated cats on the Greek island of Cyprus, as early as 7500BC.

 

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March 18, 2011 No Ordinary Donkey

For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

Al Taqaddum Airbase, “TQ” in military parlance, is a military airbase, 45 miles west of Baghdad, on the Habbaniyah Plateau of Iraq. In 2008, Al Taqaddum was home to the 1st Marine Logistics Group, under the command of Colonel John D. Folsom.

wwfs-colonel-folsom-smallEarly one August morning, Colonel Folsom awoke to a new sound. The thwap-thwap-thwap of the helicopters, the endless hum of the generators, those were the sounds of everyday life. This sound was different – the sound of braying donkey.

Folsom emerged from his quarters to find the small, emaciated animal, tied to a eucalyptus tree.  Standing all of 3′ tall, a sergeant had spotted the donkey roaming outside Camp Taqaddum, and thought it would be amusing to catch him.  Folsom thought it might be fun to have one around. Time would tell they were both right.

Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest
Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest

The website for a UK donkey sanctuary recommends a diet of highly fibrous plant material, eaten in small quantities throughout the day. I read the list twice and nowhere will you find bagels yet, for this little Iraqi donkey, there was nothing better.  Preferably frozen.  He’d hold them in his mouth and walk along, scraping the bagel in the dirt before eating it.  He liked to play the same game, with a deflated rubber ball.

You won’t find cigarettes on the list either, but he stole one once, and gobbled it down.  It didn’t seem to matter that the thing was lit.  For that reason and because of the color of his coat, the Marines called him “Smoke”.

Smoke-the-donkey-MattShelatoBefore long,  Smoke was a familiar sight around Camp Taqaddum.  After long walks around the wire, Smoke learned to open doors and wander around.  If you ever left that candy dish out on your desk, you were on your own.

SmokeRegulations prohibit the keeping of pets in a war zone.  A Navy Captain helped get Smoke designated as a therapy animal, and he was home to stay.  As it turned out, there was more than a little truth to the label.  For young women and men thousands of miles from home in a war zone, the little animal was a welcome reminder of home.

The humor of the situation was hard to resist, and the “ass jokes” all but told themselves.  (Sorry, but we’re talking about Marines, here).  Dozens of Marines laughed uproariously in that mess hall in 2009, belting out a mangled version of an old Kenny Rogers song: “Yes, he’s once, twice, three times a donkey…. I loooooovvvvvveeeeee youuuuuuuuu.”

That was the year when Folsom’s unit cycled out of Camp Taqaddum, to be replaced by another contingent of Marines.  These promised to look after the 1st MLG’s mascot, but things didn’t work out that way.  A Major gave the donkey away to a Sheikh who in turn dumped him off on an Iraqi family, and that was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.

Smoke-Home-LowerColonel Folsom couldn’t get the little animal out of his head and, learning of his plight in 2010, determined to get him back.  There were plenty of kids who had survived trauma of all kinds in his home state of Nebraska.  Folsom believed that the animal could do them some good, as well.

There ensued a months-long wrangle with American and Iraqi authorities, who couldn’t understand why all the fuss over a donkey.  For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

900 donors pitched in and, despite seemingly endless obstacles and miles of red tape, Smoke the Donkey slowly made his way from al-Anbar to Kuwait and on to Turkey and finally, to his new home in Nebraska.

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Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, at his new home in Omaha

ABCNews.com broadcast this announcement on May 18, 2011. Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, “mascot, ambassador, and battle buddy”, was now, an American.  Semper Fi.