May 24, 1830: Mary Had a Little Lamb Published

Mary Sawyer was born in 1806.  The daughter of a farmer who lived near Sterling, Massachusetts, in March of 1816 she became close to a lamb who had been rejected by her mother.  At age 83 she wrote about the incident.

I went out to the barn with father; and after the cows had been fed, we went to the sheep pen, and found two lambs which had been born in the night. One had been forsaken by its mother, and through neglect, cold and lack of food was nearly dead. I saw it had still a little life, and asked to take it into the house; but father said, No, it was almost dead, anyway, and at the best could live but a short time. But I couldn’t bear to see the poor little thing suffer, so I teased until I got it into the house. Then I worked upon mother’s sympathies. At first the little creature could not swallow, and the catnip tea mother made it could not take for a long time.

I got the lamb warm by wrapping it in an old garment and holding it in my arms beside the fireplace. All day long I nursed the lamb, and at night it could swallow just a little. Oh, how pleased I was! But even then I wasn’t sure it would live; so I sat up all night with it, fearing it wouldn’t be warm enough if there was not someone at hand to look out for its comfort. In the morning, much to my girlish delight, it could stand; and from that time it improved rapidly. It soon learned to drink milk; and from the time it would walk about, it would follow me anywhere if I only called it.

One day the lamb was following Mary as she and her brother walked to school:

The day the lamb went to school, I hadn’t seen her before starting off; and not wanting to go without seeing her, I called. She recognized my voice, and soon I heard a faint bleating far down the field. More and more distinctly I heard it, and I knew my pet was coming to greet me. My brother Nat said, “Let’s take the lamb to school with us.” (more…)

May 23, 1934: Frank Hamer takes Down Bonnie and Clyde

Frank “Pancho” Hamer was the archetypal Texas Ranger:  tough, incorruptible, laconic and resourceful.  He despised criminals and had even less love for corrupt politicians.  Born in 1884 he joined the Texas Rangers at age 22 after capturing a horse thief while working as a wrangler on a ranch.  He would be in and out of the Rangers for the rest of his life, frequently resigning if a challenging law enforcement position was offered him.  He developed a reputation of rapidly being able to impose law and order on the most lawless communities, often to the dismay of corrupt local politicians.  He compared criminals to coyotes and crooked politicians to crawfish.

Hamer developed an uncanny ability to get inside of the minds of his criminal adversaries and defeat them by out-thinking them.  Having said that, he also survived about fifty gunfights during his career, although being wounded 17 times and left for dead four times.  He killed 53-70 criminals during these battles.

He retired from the Rangers as a Senior Captain in 1932, but he received an unprecedented Special Ranger commission after he left the ranks.

After the criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had achieved blood stained national renown for a series of robberies in the Midwest, Texas and the Great Plains, the Texas Department of Corrections called Hamer out of retirement on February 12, 1934 to track down Bonnie and Clyde.  Compiling a meticulous map of all sightings of the Barrow gang, Hamer trailed them, living out of his car.  He noted that the travels of the Barrow gang often centered on quick visits to family members.  Gang member Henry Methvin’s father Ivan lived near Arcardia, Louisiana and Hamer decided that he was about due for a visit from the gang.  Harassed by local lawmen, Ivan Methvin told the local sheriff that his son was coming to visit and the sheriff passed this news on to Hamer.

The Barrow Gang had slain nine lawmen, and Hamer took no chances with them.  He staged an ambush of Bonnie and Clyde at 9:15 AM on May 23, 1934, using Ivan Methvin as bait.  After Clyde Barrow drove up along with Bonnie Parker and stopped to talk to Methvin, Hamer and the other five officers with him jumped from ambush and riddled the car with 130 rounds.  Both of the gangsters received more than fifty shots, any one of which would likely have been fatal.  Upon inspection the vehicle proved to be an arsenal on wheels:  three BARs, Winchester 1887 10 gauge shotgun, Remington Model 11 20 gauge shotgun, and ten pistols, along with 1000 rounds of BAR ammunition and 2000 rounds of other ammunition.  Bonnie was armed with the Remington, a pistol taped to her thigh and a pistol in her purse.  Clyde was clutching a pistol with another stuck in his belt and a BAR and the Winchester in easy reach.

Hamer refused to write his memoirs, thinking that it was improper for him to reap a financial reward for merely doing his duty.  He continued to work in law enforcement. (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 22, 1819: SS Savannah Begins First Trans-Atlantic Trip by a Steam Ship


Cutting edge technology is always risky to use.  And therefore it was not certain what would happen when on May 22, 1819 the SS Savannah began a three week journey across the Atlantic, becoming the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic.  The Savannah was equipped with sails and only used its boilers for eighty hours during the crossing.  During its twenty five days stay in Liverpool the ship and crew were celebrities and were visited by thousands including influential members of the British government and Roayl Navy. Upon its return to the US from its journey, the fate of the Savannah was not happy.  Unable to make a profit, the ship was converted to sails only, and was broken up after running aground on Long Island on November 5, 1821.  However, the fact remains that the Savannah blazed a path.  Regular steam ship traffic across the Atlantic would not occur for another twenty years.  Her legacy was remembered in 1959 when the first nuclear powered merchant vessel bore the name Savannah.

Published in: on May 22, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’


Something for the weekend.  Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.  A historical curiosity of 1943.  The only gospel song that I am aware of that praises Joseph Stalin, it was inspired by this remark in a speech by FDR:

The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin.  The song was performed a cappella by the gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.  The song was a moderate success in 1943 and has mercifully been largely forgotten since that.  A tribute to war time tunnel vision and the delusional view of Stalin firmly embraced by President Roosevelt and many other liberal Americans, inside and outside of his administration, at the time.

Published in: on May 21, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 20, 1873: Blue Jeans Patent Granted


Blue jeans long predated the granting of the patent on May 20, 1873 to Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, the name being commonly associated with clothes made from denim or dungaree.  Davis, an immigrant Jewish tailor from Russia hit upon the idea of using copper rivets to strengthen the blue jean trousers he made.  He offered a partnership in his idea to the man who supplied fabric to him, Levi Strauss, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, in exchange for Strauss fronting the money for the patent application.  The new blue jeans quickly became popular for their sturdiness among the majority of American men who engaged in manual labor.  Jeans as a fashion statement would not take place until the 1950s.  One wonders what Davis and Strauss would have made of that bizarre turn in events!

Published in: on May 20, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 19, 1780: New England’s Dark Day


May 19, 1780 was a memorable one in the history of New England.  Darkness descended for several hours in New England and parts of New York.  The cause of the darkness has been blamed on everything from volcanoes to dust storms.  The most commonly accepted explanation today is that the darkness was caused by forest fires.  An excellent overview of the Dark Day and its possible causes is presented by John Horrigan here.

Darkness in the middle of the day of course caused quite a bit of alarm, with more than a few people thinking that the Day of Judgment had arrived.  In the Connecticut legislature a motion to adjourn was proposed and passed.  Members of the Council of Safety of the legislature wanted to go to their homes.  Senator Abraham Davenport would have none of it.  “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”  John Greenleaf Whittier immortalized this archetypal stubborn Yankee with this poem:



May 18, 1652: Rhode Island Bans Slavery




More than two centuries before slavery was abolished in the United States, Rhode Island passed the first anti-slavery statute in the English speaking colonies on May 18, 1652:



Whereas, it is a common course practiced amongst English men to buy
negers, to that end they have them for service or slave forever: let it be
ordered, no blacke mankind or white being forced by covenant bond, or
otherwise, to serve any man or his assighnes longer than ten years or until
they come to bee twentie four yearsof age, if they be taken in under
fourteen, from the time of their cominge with the liberties of this
The Act limited the time to ten years for whites and blacks being held as indentured servants.  Unfortunately, the Act quickly became a dead letter, and by the middle of the Eighteenth Century slaves constituted eleven percent of the population of Rhode Island.  The permanent abolition of slavery did not begin until the Rhode Island legislature passed a plan for gradual emancipation in February 1784.  All slaves born after March 1, 1784 were to be freed, girls at age 18 and boys at age 21.  By 1800 there were 384 slaves remaining in Rhode Island.  In 1840 these numbers were down to 5 quite elderly slaves, twelve years prior to the 200th anniversary of the first attempt to abolish slavery in Rhode Island.


Published in: on May 18, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Civilization VI Optimism


As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to play historically based computer strategy games.  One of my favorite series has been the Civilization games by Sid Meier.  The first one reached my house on Christmas Eve 1991, the first Christmas of my twin sons, and my bride and I quickly became entranced by it.   In between playing with our infants and introducing them to the joys of Christmas, we took turns charting the courses of society through 6,000 years of history.  For a young married couple fascinated by history, it was the ideal Christmas present.

Over the past quarter century we have purchased each new version of it.  I was struck by the optimism of the announcement trailer.  It is a historical optimism I share and it is splendidly set forth in Daniel Webster’s closing argument to the jury of the damned in The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet: (more…)

May 16, 1771: Battle of Alamance



One of the more obscure conflicts in American history, The War of the Regulation in North Carolina, 1765-1771, is considered to be a precursor to the American Revolution. Settlers on the North Carolina frontier took up arms against what they regarded as a corrupt alliance between Royal officials and elite easterners in North Carolina, most of them wealthy planters, to keep taxes on the frontier high and to line their pockets.  The insurgents, called Regulators, would break up courts, drive away tax collectors, and generally brought government to a standstill, while petitioning for lower taxes and honest officials.  The only real battle of the war took place in then Orange, now Alamance county, on May 16, 1771.  About 2000 Regulators were camped south of Great Alamance Creek in the western part of the county.  Their organization left much to be desired, having no officers higher in rank than Captain, and no units larger than companies.  The Regulators did not expect to have to fight, assuming that their numbers would overawe the colonial militia, about 1,000 men under Governor William Tryon.

After some attempt at a peaceful resolution through negotiation, fighting broke out, and the disorganized Regulators, who lacked ammunition, were defeated.  About nine Regulators were killed in the fighting , seven were subsequently executed for treason and an unknown number were wounded.  Sixty-one of the militia were wounded and and estimated nine-twenty-seven killed.  This brought the Regulator movement to a halt, although not the bitter division between the west and east in North Carolina.

Ironically, many members of the militia were Patriots during the Revolution and many of the Regulators became loyalists.

Tryon went on to serve as Royal Governor of New York and fought as a Major General in the British Army during the American Revolution.

Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 14, 1916: Patton Shootout




The Punitive Expedition had been an exercise in frustration for General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.  Pancho Villa, predictably, had eluded the Americans, refusing to stand and fight.  Thirty year old Second Lieutenant George S. Patton had been an aide to Pershing.  Requesting a chance to command troops, he was assigned by Pershing to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry.  In that capacity Patton took part in efforts to locate Captain Julio Cardenas, commander of the elite bodyguard of Villa, the Dorados “Golden Ones”.

On May 14, 1916 Patton was on a mission to buy corn, his force consisting of a corporal, six privates and a civilian interpreter, all in three Dodge touring cars.  Learning from locals that Cardenas might be present at a ranch, which Patton had searched the previous week, near the town of Rubio, Patton decided to investigate.  Leaving two cars to block the southwest exit from the ranch, Patton, a driver, the civilian interpreter and a private took the remaining car to the northwest exit.  Patton advanced on the ranch with the civilian interpreter.  He spotted  an old man and a boy butchering a steer near a fence.  Suddenly three horsemen charged out from the ranch.

Initially they rode to the southwest.  Encountering Patton’s soldiers they then charged to the northwest, estimating presumably that the odds were in their favor against the lone American officer.

The Mexicans opened up at 20 yards.  Ignoring their fire, Patton coolly aimed his Colt single action pistol at the lead rider, knocking him off his horse.  Patton fired at the two remaining riders as they rode past him.  He then ducked around a corner of the ranch house and reloaded. Patton brought down the second horseman.  Patton waited while the bandit freed himself from his dead horse, Patton only shooting him when the Mexican attempted to fire rather than surrender.  The third bandit was brought down in a hail of fire from Patton and two of his soldiers who were now joining the fight.

The first bandit Patton had shot, got to his feet, made the mistake of going for his pistol, and was quickly brought down by the Americans.

The first bandit was identified as Captain Julio Cardenas, the second as Juan Garza and the third was never identified. (more…)


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