How the West Was Won

Western Wagons

They went with axe and rifle, when the trail was still to blaze,
They went with wife and children, in the prairie-schooner days,
With banjo and with frying pan—Susanna, don’t you cry!
For I’m off to California to get rich out there or die!

We’ve broken land and cleared it, but we’re tired of where we are.
They say that wild Nebraska is a better place by far.
There’s gold in far Wyoming, there’s black earth in Ioway,
So pack up the kids and blankets, for we’re moving out today!

The cowards never started and the weak died on the road,
And all across the continent the endless campfires glowed.
We’d taken land and settled but a traveler passed by—
And we’re going West tomorrow—Lordy , never ask us why!

We’re going West tomorrow, where the promises can’t fail.
O’er the hills in legions, boys, and crowd the dusty trail!
We shall starve and freeze and suffer. We shall die, and tame the lands.
But we’re going West tomorrow, with our fortune in our hands.

Stephen Vincent Benet

Something for a New Year weekend.  The theme  song from the movie How the West Was Won (1962).  The death of Debbie Reynolds drew my attention to this film, which featured her in a starring role.  The film itself is an uneven work, but it has a magnificent score which captures something of the spirit of the pioneers.    The settlement of the West, from the Appalachians to the Pacific, is perhaps the defining event in the history of our nation and it receives too little historical comment.  Thomas Jefferson thought it would take one hundred generations to settle the land beyond the Mississippi.  Instead, from the ending of the American Revolution to the census of 1890 which proclaimed that the frontier no longer existed, barely five generations had passed, and there were a handful of Americans at the end still living who had lived through almost all of it.  This epic tale is perhaps too large for the historians and thus today I have picked out two poems written by Stephen Vincent Benet that convey a small fragment of the passion, grandeur, tragedy and wonder  of it all. (more…)

Advertisements
Published in: on December 31, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on How the West Was Won  
Tags: , , , ,

Debbie Reynolds: Requiescat In Pace

 

Legendary actress Debbie Reynolds has died of a stroke one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher.  It is said that she wished to be with her daughter, and I can deeply empathize with that sorrowful sentiment of a parent longing for a dead child.  May the mercy of God enfold them both.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Debbie Reynolds: Requiescat In Pace  
Tags: , ,

Carrie Fisher: Resquiescat in Pace

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene II

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 3:25 am  Comments Off on Carrie Fisher: Resquiescat in Pace  
Tags: , ,

Video Clips That Bring Tears to My Eyes: Churchill and the Pilot

But the Consul’s brow was sad,
And the Consul’s speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall,
And darkly at the foe;
“Their van will be upon us
Before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge,
What hope to save the town?”

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods,

“And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,—
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?

“Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three:
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?”

Horatius at the Bridge
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Video Clips That Bring Tears to My Eyes: Churchill and the Pilot  
Tags: , ,

Reframing Washington Crossing the Delaware

An interesting video on Eli Wilner’s re-framing of the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Published in: on December 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Reframing Washington Crossing the Delaware  
Tags: ,

December 27, 1776: Washington Reports on Trenton

 

Washington crossing the Delaware is ingrained in the American psyche, and well it should be.  Without Washington’s brilliant attack at Trenton against the Hessian garrison stationed there on December 26, 1776, his subsequent maneuver around the reacting British force under General Cornwallis, and his victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777, it is likely that the American Revolution would have died during the winter of 1776-1777, Washington’s army dissolving in the gloom and pessimism brought on by the string of American defeats of 1776.  Instead, Washington’s victories brought out fresh levies of patriot militia from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, strengthening Washington’s army and causing the British to retreat from New Jersey.  In the span of a week, Washington and his men altered the likely outcome of the American Revolution, and all subsequent history.  Here is Washington’s report to the Continental Congress on the victory at Trenton:

 

Sir: I have the pleasure of Congratulating you upon the success of an enterprize which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning. The Evening of the 25th I ordered the Troops intended for this Service [which were about 2400] to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon as it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary Artillery, by 12 O’Clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the Morning, the distance being about nine Miles. But the Quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of the Boats so much, that it was three O’Clock before the Artillery could all get over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.

This made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events. I form’d my detachments into two divisions one to March by the lower or River Road, the other by the upper or Pennington Road. As the Divisions had nearly the same distance to March, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out Guards, to push directly into the Town, that they might charge the Enemy before they had time to form. The upper Division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at Eight O’Clock, and in three Minutes after, I found, from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’ for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seemed undetermined how to act. Being hard pressed by our Troops, who had already got possession of part of their Artillery, they attempted to file off by a road on their right leading to Princetown, but perceiving their Intention, I threw a body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to pieces if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms. The Number, that submitted in this manner, was 23 Officers and 886 Men. Col Rall. the commanding Officer with seven others were found wounded in the Town. I dont exactly know how many they had killed, but I fancy not above twenty or thirty, as they never made any regular Stand. Our loss is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded. I find, that the Detachment of the Enemy consisted of the three Hessian Regiments of Lanspatch, Kniphausen and Rohl amounting to about 1500 Men, and a Troop of British Light Horse, but immediately upon the begining of the Attack, all those who were, not killed or taken, pushed directly down the Road towards Bordentown. These would likewise have fallen into our hands, could my plan have been compleatly carried into Execution. Genl. Ewing was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken possession of the Bridge leading out of Town, but the Quantity of Ice was so great, that tho’ he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over. (more…)

Published in: on December 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Thirty Five Years Ago: Reagan Christmas Address

 

On December 23, 1981, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation.  The video above is an excerpt from that speech.  The portion of the address dealing with the attempt by the then Polish Communist regime to crush Solidarity, the Polish labor union leading a movement for freedom that would ultimately be the spark that destroyed Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, is omitted.  A few things struck me about the address:

1.  When is the last time a president quoted G.K. Chesterton?

2.   Reagan’s reference to children as a gift from God.

3.   His reference to Christ’s first miracle being His coming to humanity as a helpless babe.

They don’t make them like Reagan anymore, and more is the pity.  Here is the text of his address: (more…)

Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 5:38 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

 

 

Something for the Christmas weekend.  Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming.  Written by the ever prolific composer Anonymous in 16th century Germany, it quickly became a favorite hymn of both Catholics and Protestants in that time and land of religious strife, and that is a good message for Christmas. (more…)

Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming  
Tags: , , ,

We’re No Angels

What would Christmas be without Devil’s Island and escaped convicts?  This is probably a Christmas movie to avoid unless, like me, you are blessed\cursed with a quirky sense of humor.  On Christmas Eve 1895, three escaped convicts from Devil’s Island, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray, fall in with a family who run a store.  Initially planning on robbing and murdering them, the convicts instead end up helping the family and by the conclusion of the film decide to return to prison to serve out their sentences.  Hearing the plot, I am sure you are aware that a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required while watching the film.

The dialogue is witty and the performances are superb, especially that of Basil Rathbone who portrays the greedy and villainous Uncle of the family.  His greed proves his undoing as this scene relates:

 

 

(more…)

Published in: on December 22, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on We’re No Angels  
Tags: , , , , ,

Fetterman Fight

 “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one–They promised to take our land…and they took it.”

Red Cloud, Lakota Chief

 

 

Next to the battle of the Little Big Horn, the worst defeat of the US Army in the wars against the Plains Indians was the Fetterman Fight of December 21, 1866.  Fort Phil Kearney was built by the Army in the summer of 1866 to safeguard passage for settlers in Wyoming and Montana over the Bozeman Trail. This touched off what the Army called  Red Clouds War with an alliance of Northern Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho fighting to maintain the last hunting ground of the northern plains largely untouched by white settlement.   Skirmishing was constant between the Indians and the garrison at Fort Phil Kearney.

Captain William J. Fetterman arrived at the Fort in November.  He had an extensive combat record in the Civil War, rising to the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel of volunteers, but no experience fighting Indians.

On December 21, 1866 Red Cloud, leading a force of Indians, perhaps 1,000 in total, decided to stage an ambush.  Attacking a wagon train sent out from the Fort to cut timber, Red Cloud successfully ambushed a relief force, infantry and cavalry, of 81 men set out from the Fort under Captain Fetterman, completely wiping them out.  The Indians stripped and mutilated the corpses of the soldiers.  Here is the report of Colonel Henry Carrington who commanded the Fort: (more…)

Published in: on December 21, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Fetterman Fight  
Tags: , , , ,