August 21, 1863 Bushwacker

During the “Bleeding Kansas” period, pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” and anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” crossed one another’s borders with impunity, primarily to murder each other’s civilians and burn out one another’s towns.

Lawrence, 1863
Lawrence, Kansas 1863

In the early morning hours of August 21, 1863, 300 to 400 riders converged in the darkness outside the city of Lawrence, Kansas.

These were a loose collection of independent “bushwacker groups”, pro-slavery and nominally Confederate, though subject to no structure of command and control.

This was a civilian group operating outside of any structured chain of command, more a gang of criminal outlaws than any military operation. There was Cole Younger and Frank James, the soon-to-be-famous Jesse’s older brother. There was William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson, whose men were known for tying the scalps of slain Unionists to the saddles and bridles of their horses. Leading this assemblage of ruffians was a 27-year-old former schoolteacher from Ohio: William Clarke Quantrill.

Lawrence Kansas
Lawrence Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas was mostly asleep at that hour, as several columns of riders descended on the town. It was 5:00am and pitch dark, as most of the city of 3,000 awoke to the sound of pounding hooves.

Doors were smashed in amid the sounds of gunshots and screams. Quantrill’s band went through the town, systematically shooting most of the male population.

The shooting, the looting and the burning went on for four hours. Between 160 and 190 of the men and boys of Lawrence, ages 14 to 90, were murdered. Most of them had no means of defending themselves.

06quantrill0Intending to deprive Confederate sympathizers from their base of support, General Thomas Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 four days later, ordering that most of four counties along the Kansas-Missouri border be depopulated. Tens of thousands of civilians were forced out of their homes as Union troops came through, burning buildings, torching fields and shooting livestock.

The area was so thoroughly devastated, it would forever be known as the “Burnt District”.

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Following the raid on Lawrence, Quantrill fled to Texas and was later killed in a Union ambush, near Taylorsville Kentucky.

William Clarke Quantrill
William Clarke Quantrill

Quantrill’s band broke up into several smaller groups, with some joining the Confederate army. Others such as Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers, went on to apply the hit and run tactics they had learned from Quantrill’s “army” to a career of bank and train robberies.

Quantrill himself explained the incursion as retribution, for the 1861 “Jayhawker” raid of Colonel Charles “Doc” Jennison and Senator James H. Lane, that left 9 dead in Osceola, Missouri, resulting in acres of so-called “Jennison Monuments”, the two story brick chimneys which were all that remained of the burned out homes of Union and Confederate sympathizer, alike.

Others blamed the raid on the collapse of a makeshift jail in Kansas City, that killed several female relatives of the raiders. It seems more likely that it was just one more in a series of homicidal raids carried out by both sides, such raids usually resulting in the death of innocents.

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Quantrill’s Guerrillas Reunion, 1920

In 1907, newspaper articles appeared in Canada reporting that Quantrill was still alive, living on northwest Vancouver Island, under the name of John Sharp.  “Quantrill” claimed to have survived that Kentucky ambush after all, despite wounds from bullet and bayonet. Sharp/Quantrill made his way south to Chile, according to the story, before drifting up north and finally become a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The story was probably one of fiction on Mr. Sharp’s part, but the fib would prove to have unfortunate consequences. Weeks later, two men traveled north to Canada, with the apparent purpose of taking revenge.  The pair took a coastal steamer out of Quatsino Sound the following morning, the day in which Sharp was found, severely beaten.  John Sharp died several hours later, without identifying his attackers.  The crime has never been solved.

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 20, 1938 Lucky Man

Lou Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam on August 20 1938, a record which would stand until fellow “Bronx Bomber” Alex Rodriquez tied it, in 2012.

The Lane Tech High school baseball team was at home on June 26, 1920. 10,000 spectators assembled to watch the game at Cubs Park, now Wrigley Field. New York’s Commerce High was ahead 8–6 in the top of the 9th, when a left handed batter hit a grand slam out of the park. No 17-year-old had ever hit a baseball out of a major league park before, and I don’t believe it’s happened, since. It was the first time the country heard the name, Lou Gehrig.

lou-gehrig-columbiaGehrig was pitching for Columbia University against Williams College on April 18, 1923, the day that Babe Ruth hit the first home run out of the brand new Yankee Stadium. Though Columbia would lose the game, Gehrig struck out seventeen batters that day, to set a team record. The loss didn’t matter to Paul Krichell, the Yankee scout who had been following Gehrig. Krichell didn’t care about the arm either, as much as he did that powerful, left-handed bat. He had seen Gehrig hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on several Eastern campuses, including a 450′ home run at Columbia’s South Field that cleared the stands and landed at 116th Street and Broadway.

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Lou Gehrig played Fullback for Columbia during the 1922 season

New York Giants manager John McGraw persuaded a young Gehrig to play pro ball under a false name, Henry Lewis, despite the fact that it could jeopardize his collegiate sports eligibility. He played only a dozen games for the Hartford Senators before being found out, and suspended for a time from college ball. This period, and a couple of brief stints in the minor leagues in the ’23 and ’24 seasons, were the only times Gehrig didn’t play for a New York team.

Gehrig started as a pinch hitter with the New York Yankees on June 15, 1923. He came into his own in the ‘26 season, in 1927 he batted fourth on “Murderers’ Row”; the first six hitters in the Yankee’s batting order: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.

He had one of the greatest seasons of any batter in history that year, hitting .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 RBIs, with a .765 slugging percentage. Gehrig’s bat helped the 1927 Yankees to a 110–44 record, the American League pennant, and a four game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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“Gehrig with his parents, Christina and Heinrich, in 1938. The three lived together in the house until Gehrig got married in 1933”. Hat tip, New York Daily News

Gehrig was the “Iron Horse”, playing in more consecutive games than any player in history. It was an “unbreakable” record, standing for 56 years, until surpassed in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr.

Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam on August 20 1938, a record which would stand until fellow “Bronx Bomber” Alex Rodriquez tied it, in 2012.

Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 spring training, and went into an abrupt decline early in the season. Sports reporter James Kahn wrote: “I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing”.

lou-gehrigThe team was in Detroit on May 2 when he told manager Joe McCarthy “I’m benching myself, Joe”. It’s “for the good of the team”. McCarthy put Babe Dahlgren in at first and the Yankees won 22-2, but that was it. The Iron Horse’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games, had come to an end.

ny_50yankess_02Gehrig left the team in June, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on the 13th. The diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed six days later, on June 19. It was his 36th birthday. It was a cruel prognosis: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than three years.

Gehrig briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, D.C. He was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts at Union Station, happily waving and wishing him luck. Gehrig waved back, but leaned forward to a reporter. “They’re wishing me luck”, he said, “and I’m dying.”

Gehrig appeared at Yankee Stadium on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day”, July 4, 1939, his once mighty body now so weakened by the disease which would take his name, as to barely be able to stand.  Only two months earlier, manager Joe McCarthy had asked Babe Dahlgren to take the Iron Horse’s position.  Now he asked the 1st baseman, to look out for his dying teammate.  “If Lou starts to fall, catch him.”

Gehrig was awarded a series of trophies and other tokens of affection by the New York sports media, fellow players and groundskeepers. He would place each one on the ground, already too weak to hold them.

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As the ceremony drew to a close, Master of Ceremonies Sid Mercer asked for a few words.  Overwhelmed and struggling for control, Gehrig waved him off.  The New York Times later wrote, “He gulped and fought to keep back the tears as he kept his eyes fastened to the ground”.  62,000 fans would have none of it.  The chant went up.  “We want Lou!” We want Lou!”

Eleanor Gehrig, a “tower of strength” throughout her husband’s ordeal, watched from a box seat.  New York Daily News reporter Rosaleen Doherty wrote that she did not cry, “although all around us, women and quite a few men, were openly sobbing.”

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At last, Lou Gehrig shuffled to the microphone, and began to speak. “For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break.”  As if the neurodegenerative disease destroying his body, was merely a “bad break.” He looked down and paused, as if trying to remember what to say.  And then he delivered the most memorable line, of his life.

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Henry Louis Gehrig died on June 2, 1941.  He was 37.

I drove by Yankee Stadium a while back, and I thought of Lou Gehrig. It was right after the Boston Marathon bombing, in 2013. The sign out front said “United we Stand”. With it was a giant Red Sox logo. That night, thousands of Yankees fans interrupted a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, to belt out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple of Red Sox home games, since 1997.

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I’ve always been a Boston guy myself, I think I’m required by Massachusetts state law to hate the Yankees. But seriously.  They’re a class act..

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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.

The Week that Was. August 12 – 18

Last Week in History. In Case you Missed It.

August 12, 1865 Wash your Hands – With young mothers dying at alarming rates of “Childbed Fever”, one doctor drew the link, to personal hygiene.  The Medical establishment yawned.

August 13, 1941 Henry Ford’s Soybean Car – For Henry Ford, it was the perfect marriage of industry and agriculture.  A car, made from soybeans.

August 14, 1945 Victory Kiss – A photographer shows up at the right time, and the right place.  The image would be as iconic, as the Flag raising on Suribachi.

August 15, 1942 Baby Vet – In 1942, Calvin Leon Graham lied about his age, and enlisted in the United States Navy.  He was twelve years old.

August 16, 1927 The Dole Air Race – The tale of the pineapple magnate, and the fatal Race across the Pacific, at the Dawn of Aviation

August 17, 1942 Makin Island Raid – One Butaritari elder would never forget the barbarity of the Japanese occupier.  Nor the United States Marines who gave their lives, attempting to throw them out.

August 18, 1587 The Lost Colony of Roanoke – Before Plymouth Colony, before the Jamestown settlement, 115 children, women and men Vanished, without a trace.

August 19, 1879 Last of the Bare Knuckle Boxers

Nineteenth century prizefighting rules were nothing like the modern “sweet science” of boxing.

In 1858, the overly crowded tenements of Roxbury Massachusetts teemed with newly arrived Irish immigrants, looked down upon as “unmannered bogtrotters” and given wide berth by the self-appointed elites, of Boston. 5-foot 2-inch Michael Sullivan, newly arrived from County Kerry, worked as “hod carrier” for bricklayers and masons, dug ditches, and did any other job, that was available.

Like many first-generation immigrants, Michael and Catherine Sullivan did whatever they had to do, always hoping for something better, for their children.

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John L. Sullivan

That was the year the couple’s first-born son came into the world. From the beginning, baby John Lawrence was something different. “Strong as a bear” even as an infant, one family legend described little “Sully” clocking a visiting aunt before the age of one, leaving the woman with a black eye.

Sully excelled in sports as a boy and got into plenty of fights, which he easily won. He left high school as a young teenager and made a few bucks in semi-professional baseball, while working as a tinsmith, plumber and mason.

Prize fighting was illegal in those days, looked down upon by the middle classes as “butchery for profit”. The working classes had no such qualms, reveling in the sport in the saloons and music halls of most American cities.

Nineteenth century prizefighting rules were nothing like the modern “sweet science” of boxing. The earliest recognizable form of the sport, as opposed to mere brawling, came about after a 1744 bout in which British boxer George Stevenson was fatally injured, following a fight with Jack Broughton.

Broughton’s “seven rules of boxing” were printed and framed, and posted that August at his London amphitheater.

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Jack Broughton

Frank Lewis Dowling wrote in Fistiana; or The Oracle of the Ring:…Results of prize battles from 1700 to December 1867, that Broughton’s rules brought about “that spirit of fair play which off ers so wide a contrast to the practices of barbarous ages…[when] It is to be lamented that, even in modern times, the inhuman practices of uncivilised periods have subsisted to a disgraceful extent, and hence we have heard of gouging, that is to say forcing out the eye of an antagonist with the thumb or finger…kicking a man with nailed shoes as he lies on the ground, striking him in vital parts below the waistband, seizing him when on his knees, and administering punishment till life be extinct…”

In 1838, William “Brighton Bill” Phelps died following a particularly savage match with the British bare-knuckle prize fighter, Owen Swift. Phelps, who had himself killed a man in the ring, died after an 85-round, ninety-five minute fight for which Swift was tried and convicted, of manslaughter. Robert Rodriguez, author of The Regulation of Boxing: A History and Comparative Analysis of Policies Among American States writes that the “London Prize Ring Rules” of that year and amended in 1853 “introduced measures that remain in effect for professional boxing to this day, such as outlawing butting, gouging, scratching, kicking, hitting a man while down, holding the ropes, and using resin, stones or hard objects in the hands, and biting.”

The London prize ring rules specified the size and shape of the ring,  and that of the spikes in the fighter’s shoes, as well as the role for each fighter’s “second”.  Nothing is said of the length or number, of rounds.  Each round ended when a fighter was knocked (or thrown) to the ground.  There followed a thirty-second break when the umpire would cry “Time!”, and an eight-second interval when each combatant was to step up to the “scratch line”.  Failure to come “up to scratch” or incapacity put an end to the match, but 70+-round fights, were commonplace.

72086-004-DDFAAC8EThis was the world of bare knuckle boxing in the age of John L. Sullivan.  He thrived in that world. The urban prize ring was his “temple of manhood”.  He intended to be its Crown Prince.

In 1879, Sullivan trounced the veteran brawler Mike Donovan in an exhibition match. The older fighter was the more skilled and experienced, but the 21-year-old made up for it with speed and power. Afterward, Donovan knew that he had “just fought the coming champion of the prize ring.”

A month later, Sullivan challenged “any man breathing” to fight for prizes ranging between $1,000 to $10,000. Sometimes, matches were fought with bare knuckles, other times, with padded gloves and timed rounds.  Over 450 fights, Sullivan seemed unbeatable. “The Hercules of the Ring.”  Gamblers and other backers were making a fortune.

The media eagerly promoted the fighter as an “urban Paul Bunyan”. Stories were told and retold, each becoming more outlandish, as Sullivan “battled wild animals with his bare hands, drank rivers of liquor, had his way with regiments of women. . . .”

The epic drunkenness and domestic violence of the man’s real life at home, went largely unreported.

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Sullivan was a Rockstar, the “Boston Strongboy”, the first professional athlete to make a million dollars. He performed in vaudeville, and hung out with some of the most iconic figures of the ‘gilded age’, from Presidents and Kings to wild west gunslingers. Sullivan made countless public appearances and even considered a run for the United States Senate. A famous song of the era invited listeners to “shake the hand that shook the hand of John L. Sullivan.”

On this day in 1887, thousands of adoring fans crowded the ways to Nantasket Beach in Hull, to glimpse the Heavyweight Champion of the World with his diamond-studded, gold-plated belt.

Depending on who you read, Sullivan was first considered world heavyweight champion either in 1888 when he fought Charley Mitchell in France, or in 1889 when he knocked out Jake Kilrain in round 75 of a scheduled 80-round bout.

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Souvenir poster, 1888

The modern sport of Boxing was born in 1867, with the twelve rules drawn up by John Graham Chambers, member of the British Amateur Athletic Club under the sponsorship of John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.  Timed rounds and gloves remained optional until the night of July 8, 1889, a scheduled 80-round bare knuckle bout between the undefeated champion John L Sullivan, and Jake Kilrain, the last professional fight to be held under the old London Prize Ring rules.

Whiskey had taken its toll on Sullivan by this time.  It looked like he was done when he threw up in the 42nd round, but Sullivan got his second wind.  Kilrain’s second threw in the towel in round 75, afraid that his principle was about to be killed.

John-L.-Sullivan-vs.-Jake-KilrainSullivan’s unbeaten record over 44 professional fights came to an end on July 9, 1892, when “Gentleman Jim” Corbett  unloaded a smashing left in the 21st round that put the champion down, for good.  Sullivan would later say that his opponent only “gave the finishing touches to what whiskey had already done to me.”

Sullivan retired to his home in Abington Massachusetts. In his later years, the last bare knuckle champ in history became a sports reporter, celebrity baseball umpire and tavern owner. He gave up his life-long addiction to alcohol taking his last drink in 1905. Sullivan took to the temperance lecture circuit, but the prizefighting years and those “Rivers of Whiskey” had taken their toll.

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John Lawrence Sullivan earned over a million dollars over his career, and died with an estate valued at $3,675, and ten dollars in his pocket.  He was fifty-nine. Sullivan constantly warned young men to avoid the perils of alcohol. “John L. Sullivan, champion of the world, could not lick whiskey.  What gives any one of them the notion that he can?”

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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.

August 18, 1587 The Lost Colony of Roanoke

Within the next twenty or so years, English colonists would put down roots in a place called Jamestown, and again in Plymouth.  These roots would take hold and grow yet, what happened to that first such outpost, remains a mystery.

The 16th century was drawing to a close when Queen Elizabeth set out to establish a permanent English settlement in the New World. The charter went to Walter Raleigh, who sent explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to scout out locations for a settlement.

The pair landed on Roanoke Island on July 4, 1584, establishing friendly relations with local natives, the Secotans and Croatans. They returned a year later with glowing reports of what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two Native Croatans, Manteo and Wanchese, accompanied the pair back to England. All of London was abuzz with the wonders of the New World.

Queen Elizabeth was so pleased that she knighted Raleigh. The new land was called “Virginia” in honor of the Virgin Queen.

Raleigh sent a party of 100 soldiers, miners and scientists to Roanoke Island, under the leadership of Captain Ralph Lane. The attempt was doomed from the start. They arrived too late in the season for planting, and Lane alienated a neighboring indigenous tribe when a misunderstanding led to the murder of Chief Wingina. That’ll do it.

By 1586 they had had enough, and left the island on a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake. Ironically, their supply ship arrived about a week later. Finding the island deserted, that ship left 15 men behind to “hold the fort” before they too, departed.

The now knighted “Sir” Walter Raleigh was not deterred. Raleigh recruited 90 men, 17 women and 9 children for a more permanent “Cittie of Raleigh”, appointing expedition artist John White, governor. Among this first colonial expedition were White’s pregnant daughter, Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare, and the Croatans Wanchese and Manteo.

0813Raleigh believed that the Chesapeake afforded better opportunities for his new settlement, but Portuguese pilot Simon Fernandes, had other ideas. The caravan stopped at Roanoke Island in July, 1587, to check on the 15 men left behind a year earlier. Fernandes was a Privateer, impatient to resume his hunt for Spanish shipping.  He ordered the colonists ashore on Roanoke Island.

It could not have lifted the spirits of the small group to learn that the 15 left earlier, had disappeared.

Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter on August 18, 1587, and named her Virginia. Fernandez departed for England ten days later, taking along an anxious John White, who wanted to return to England for supplies. It was the last time that Governor White would see his family.

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White found himself trapped in England by the invasion of the Spanish Armada, and the Anglo-Spanish war. Three years would come and go before White was able to return, and the Hopewell anchored off Roanoke. John White and a party of sailors waded ashore on August 18, 1590, three years to the day from the birth of his granddaughter, Virginia.  There they found – nothing – save for footprints, and the letters “CRO”, carved into a nearby tree.

It was a prearranged signal.  In case the colonists had to leave the island, they were to carve their destination into a tree or fence post.  A cross would have been the sign that they left in an emergency, yet there was no cross.

Reaching the abandoned settlement, the party found the word CROATOAN, carved into a post.  Again there was no cross, but the post was part of a defensive palisade, a defense against hostile attack which hadn’t been there when White left for England.

The word CROATOAN signified both the home of Chief Manteo’s people, the barrier island to the south, (modern-day Hatteras Island), and the indigenous people themselves.

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White had hopes of finding his family but a hurricane came up, before he was able to explore much further.  Ships and supplies were damaged requiring return to England.  By this time, Raleigh was busy with a new venture in Ireland, and unwilling to support White’s return to the New World.  Without deep pockets of his own, John White was never able to raise the resources to return.

Within the next twenty or so years, English colonists would put down roots in a place called Jamestown, and again in Plymouth.  These roots would take hold and grow yet, what happened to that first such outpost, remains a mystery.  Those 115 children, women and men, pioneers all, may have died of disease or starvation.  They may have been killed by hostile natives. Perhaps they went to live with Chief Manteo’s people, after all.

One of the wilder legends has Virginia Dare, now a beautiful young maiden and example to European and Indian peoples alike, transformed into a snow white doe by a spurned and would-be suitor, the evil medicine man Chico.

The fate of the first English child born on American soil may never be known.

“An Indian girl shows off an English doll in one of many scenes painted by John White, the Lost Colony’s artist governor. White’s realistic portraits of Native American life—including ritual dances (shown here)—became one of the earliest lenses through which Europeans saw the New World”. H/T National Geographic

A personal anecdote involves a conversation I had with a woman in High Point, NC, a few years back. She described herself as having Croatoan ancestry, her family going back many generations on the outer banks of North Carolina. She described her Great Grandmother, a full blooded Croatoan. The woman looked like it, too, except for her crystal blue eyes. She used to smile at the idea of the lost colony of Roanoke. “They’re not lost“, she would say. “They are us“.

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Afterward

Four hundred and twenty-eight years ago, the English colony at Roanoke Island vanished, along with the 115 men, women and children who lived there. Since that time, efforts to solve the mystery have concentrated on the island itself, with precious little to show for it.

Approximately fifty “Dare Stones” have been discovered containing carved inscriptions, purporting to describe what happened to the lost colonists.  Almost all have been debunked as hoaxes, yet research continues on at least one.lost-colony-dare-stone.adapt.1900.1

Photo credit to Mark Theissen with permission of Brenau University

In 1993, a hurricane exposed large quantities of pottery and other remnants of a native American village, mixed with seemingly European artifacts. In the 1580s, Hatteras Island would have been an ideal spot, blessed with fertile soil for growing corn, beans and squash, and a bountiful coastline filled with scallops, oysters and fish.

Since then, two independent teams have found archaeological evidence, suggesting that the lost colonists may have split up and made their homes with native Americans. There are a number of European artifacts unlikely to be objects of trade, including a sword hilt, broken English bowls and the fragment of a writing slate, with one letter still visible. In 1998, Archaeologists discovered a 10-carat gold signet ring, a well worn Elizabethan-era object, almost certainly owned by an English nobleman.

Fifty miles to the northwest, the second team believes that they have unearthed pottery used by the lost colonists on the Albemarle Sound, near Edenton, North Carolina.

NC-VA.adapt.1900.1Research concluded at “Site X” in 2017, the cloak & dagger moniker given to deter thieves and looters.  The mystery of the lost Colony of Roanoke, remains unsolved.  “We don’t know exactly what we’ve got here,” admitted one archaeologist. “It remains a bit of an enigma.”

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Hat Tip to NationalGeographic.com, for this image
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.

August 17, 1942 Makin Island Raid

The war in the Pacific continued for another three years, but the Butaritari people never forgot the barbarity of the Japanese occupier, nor the Marines who had given their lives in the attempt to throw them out.

Military forces of the Japanese Empire appeared unstoppable in the early months of WWII, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as well as American military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.

The United States was grotesquely unprepared to fight a World War in 1942, and dedicated itself to beating Adolf Hitler, first. General Douglas MacArthur abandoned the “Alamo of the Pacific” on March 11 saying “I shall return”, leaving 90,000 American and Filipino troops without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the Japanese offensive.

That April, 75,000 surrendered the Bataan peninsula, beginning a 65-mile, five-day slog into captivity through the heat of the Philippine jungle. Japanese guards were sadistic,  beating marchers at random and bayoneting those too weak to walk. Japanese tanks would swerve out of their way to run over anyone who had fallen and was too slow in getting up. Some were burned alive. Already crippled from tropical disease and starving from the long siege of Luzon, thousands perished in what came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

The Imperial Japanese Navy asserted control over much of the region in 1941, installing troop garrisons in the Marshall Island chain and across the ‘biogeographical region’ known as Oceana.

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WWF Map of the biogeographic region ‘Oceana

The “Island hopping strategy” used to wrest control of the Pacific islands from the Japanese would prove successful in the end but, in 1942, the Americans had much to learn about this style of warfare.

Today, the island Republic of Kiribati comprises 32 atolls and reef islands, located near the equator in the central Pacific, among a widely scattered group of federated states known as Micronesia. Home to just over 110,000 permanent residents, about half of these live on Tarawa Atoll.  At the opposite end of this small archipelago is Butaritari, once known as Makin Island.

A few minutes past 00:00 (midnight) on August 17, 1942, 211 United States Marine Corps raiders designated Task Group 7.15 (TG 7.15) disembarked from the submarines Argonaut and Nautilus, and boarded inflatable rubber boats for the landing on Makin Island. The raid was among the first major American offensive ground combat operations of WW2, with the objectives of destroying Japanese installations, taking prisoners to gain intelligence on the Gilbert Islands region, and to divert Japanese reinforcement from allied landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Left), Makin Island as seen by Nautilus and, Right), Marine raiders about to embark

High surf and the failure of several outboard engines confused the night landing.  Lt. Colonel Evans Carlson in charge of the raid, decided to land all his men on one beach instead of two as originally planned, but not everyone got the word. At 5:15, a 12-man squad led by Lt. Oscar Peatross found itself isolated and alone but, undeterred by the lack of support, began to move inland in search of the enemy. Meanwhile, the balance of TG 7.15 advanced inland from the landing, encountering strong resistance from Japanese snipers and machine guns.

Two Bansai charges turned out to be a tactical mistake for Japanese forces. Meanwhile, Peatross and his small force of 12 found themselves behind the Japanese machine gun team engaging their fellow Marines.  Peatross’ unit killed eight enemy soldiers along with garrison commander Sgt. Major Kanemitsu, knocked out a machine gun and destroyed several enemy radios, while suffering three dead and two wounded of their own.

Unable to contact Carlson, what remained of Peatross’ small band withdrew to the submarines, as originally planned.  That was about the last thing that went according to plan.

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View of Makin Island from USS Nautilus, waiting to withdraw Marine Corps raiding force

At 13:30, twelve Japanese aircraft arrived over Makin, including two “flying boats”, carrying reinforcements for the Japanese garrison. Ten aircraft bombed and strafed as the flying boats attempted to land, but both were destroyed in a hail of machine gun and anti-tank fire.

The raiders began to withdraw at 19:30, but surf conditions were far stronger than expected. Ninety-three men managed to struggle back to the waiting submarines, but eleven out of eighteen boats were forced to turn back. Despite hours of heroic effort, exhausted survivors struggled back to the beach, most now without their weapons or equipment.

Wet, dispirited and unarmed, seventy-two exhausted men were now left alone on the island, including only 20 fully-armed Marines originally left behind, to cover the withdrawal.

A Japanese messenger was dispatched to the enemy commander with offer to surrender, but this man was shot by other Marines, unaware of his purpose.  A rescue boat was dispatched on the morning of the 18th to stretch a rescue line out to the island. The craft was attacked and destroyed by enemy aircraft.  Both subs had to crash dive for the bottom where each was forced to wait out the day. Meanwhile, exhausted survivors fashioned a raft from three remaining rubber boats and a few native canoes, and battled the four miles out of Makin Lagoon, back to the waiting subs. The last survivor was withdrawn at fifty-two minutes before midnight, on August 18.

Many survivors got out with little but their underclothes, and a few souvenirs

The raid annihilated the Japanese garrison on Makin Island, but failed in its other major objectives.  In the end, Marines had asked the island people to bury their dead.  There had been no time.  Casualties at the time were recorded as eighteen killed and 12 missing in action.

The war in the Pacific continued for another three years, but the Butaritari people never forgot the barbarity of the Japanese occupier, nor the Marines who had given their lives in the attempt to throw them out.

Captured Flag
Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson holds a souvenir with his second-in-command from the Makin Island raid, James Roosevelt.  The President’s son. 

Neither it turns out, had one Butaritari elder who, as a teenager, had helped give nineteen dead Marines a warrior’s last due.  In December 1999, representatives of the Marine Corps once again came to Butaritari island, not with weapons this time, but with caskets.

The man spoke no English, save for a single song he had memorized during those two days back in 1942, taught to him by those United States Marines:   “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”

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August 16, 1927 The Dole Air Race

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began. 

In the period between the World Wars, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk was well within living memory. The flying Aces of the Great War seemed like some kind of modern-day knights, and many became pop-culture heroes. Wood-and-fabric biplanes gave way to sleek, metal monoplanes, while air races and daring, record-setting flights seemed a constant feature of the daily news.

The first non-stop transatlantic flight in history began on June 14, 1919, when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown departed St. John’s, Newfoundland in a modified bomber, arriving in Ireland the following day.

Charles Lindbergh’s better known (and longer) New York to Ireland flight began in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, when the custom-built, linen-skinned Ryan Aeronautical Company monoplane Spirit of St. Louis departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

33½ hours later, thousands of spectators’ cars were caught up in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history”, to be there for the landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome.

Heavier-than-air flight, once considered an impossibility, was coming of age.

Dole-Air-Race
Oakland Field California, August 16, 1927, for the start of the Dole Air Derby

Two months after Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic, a pineapple magnate offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to fly from Oakland to Honolulu, an orthodromic (Great Circle) distance of 2,406.05 miles.  A $10,000 prize was offered for a second-place finisher.

The overture from James Drummond Dole, founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now known as Dole Foods), attracted 33 entrants for the event.  14 were selected for starting positions following inspections.  By August 16, 1927, race day, the final list of starters was down to eight.

Tremaine-Humming-Bird-wreckage-10-August-1927
Wreckage of the Tremaine Hummingbird, H/T San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began.  One Pacific Aircraft Company J-30 known as the Tremaine Hummingbird crashed in heavy fog on August ten on the way to Oakland, killing Naval Lieutenants George Covell and Richard Waggener.

The pair had drawn starting position #13, for race day.

British aviator Arthur Vickers Rogers was killed the following day, just after takeoff in his Bryant Monoplane the Angel of Los Angeles.  Still another aircraft, the Miss Doran, was forced to make an emergency landing in a farm field, and the International Aircraft Corporation F-10 triplane  Pride of Los Angeles crashed into San Francisco Bay on final approach to Oakland.

International-Triplane-CF-10-Spirit-of-Los-Angeles

Happily, the occupants of neither aircraft were hurt, though the latter came away wetter for the experience.

Goddard-Special-NX5074-El-Encanto-16-August-1927
The Goddard Special, NX5074, El Encanto, favored to win the race, crashed on takeoff. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Eight entrants remained by the morning of the 16th, but that number was whittled down, fast.

Oklahoma took off but soon returned, due to engine trouble. El Encanto and the PABCO Pacific Flyer, crashed on takeoff. Fortunately, none of the three crews were hurt.

The Golden Eagle took off without a problem, and disappeared into the west.  PABCO Pacific Flyer took her second attempt, only to crash.  Again.

Miss Doran, freshly repaired following her unscheduled landing in that farmers fieldcrashed on takeoff, but the second attempt proved successful.

On board Miss Doran were John “Auggy” Pedlar at the stick and Lieutenant Vilas Raymond Knope, U.S. Navy, Navigating. This entrant carried a passenger too, Miss Doran herself, a 22-year-old fifth-grade school teacher from Flint, Michigan.

Dallas Spirit took off, but quickly returned to Oakland. The last two entrants, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane called Aloha and Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000, took off and headed west, without a problem.

This last entrant, with Arthur Cornelius Goebel as pilot and Lieutenent (j.g.) William Virginius Davis, Jr., U.S. Navy, as navigator, won the air race, crossing the Pacific and landing in Honolulu with a time of 26 hours, 17 minutes.

GOEBEL-Arthur-C.-winner-of-1927-Dole-Air-Race-with-lei

Neither Golden Eagle nor Miss Doran were ever seen again.

Forty ships of the United States Navy scoured the ocean for Miss Doran and Golden Eagle, but to no avail. Dallas Spirit was repaired and joined in the ocean search but she too disappeared, never to be seen again.

DORAN-Mildred

Mildred Alice Doran had once said, “Life is nothing but a chance.” Miss Doran had taken her chance and lost, at the dawn of the age of aviation.

Ten years later almost to the day, another pioneering female aviator would take her chance, crossing the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean. She too would disappear without a trace, joining her sister and so many others, at the bottom of some unmarked and watery grave.

A tip of the hat to This Day in Aviation.com, for all these great photographs.

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.