Sunday, May 31, 2020

George Washington Starts a War

In 1754 the age old contest between Great Britain and France once again erupted into war. The so called Seven Years War was fought across several continents and the world’s oceans between the British and French, together with their European allies. In North America, the English colonies were locked in mortal combat with their age old enemy the French and their Indian allies. Some say that George Washington started the war at a place called Jumonville Glen in western Pennsylvania.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Marcus Reno, the Branded Coward of the Little Bighorn

George Armstrong Custer was no military novice in 1876 when he rode out to subdue the Sioux. Custer graduated from West Point in 1861, and distinguished himself in the American Civil War as a brave cavalry officer, being promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general in 1863 and brevet major general in 1865. Custer’s adherents made much of the fact that he was a “boy general”, but such honors were fairly common during the Civil War. In fact two of Custer’s subordinate officers in the 1876 campaign, Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen had been given similar honors during the Civil War. Reno was made a brevet brigadier general in 1865 and, by the end of the war, Benteen had been recommended to receive the rank of brevet brigadier general.   Unlike many other brave soldiers, however, Custer had a knack for publicity. He frequently invited correspondents from leading newspapers to accompany his campaigns, and their reporting significantly enhanced his visibility and reputation.

On June 25, 1876 Custer ordered Major Reno, with three companies, to attack the Indian village along the Little Bighorn River from the south, while Custer with five companies intended to cross the river farther north and come into the village from the opposite side.  Historian Nathaniel Philbrick writes in The Last Stand, “For many of the soldiers in Reno’s battalion, this was their first time in combat.  Their horsemanship skills were rudimentary at best.  They were fine sitting on a walking horse or even trotting horse, but galloping among 130 mounted troopers over uneven, deceptive ground was a new experience.”  He continues, “No U.S. cavalry officer before or since had what Reno now faced: the chance to see if a mounted battalion could push the collective psyche of a thousand tepee village past the breaking point and transform this giant seething organism of men, women, children, horses, and dogs into a stampeding mob.  The question was who….wanted to be the guinea pig in this particular experiment.”  Apparently not Marcus Reno or his men. 

Reno began a charge on the southern end of the village as ordered.  The Indians did not flee as expected, but began pouring out of the village toward Reno like angry bees.  Reno halted, had his men dismount and formed a skirmish line.  As pressure from the hostiles mounted, Reno withdrew to a second defensive position in the timber near the river.  Sioux and Cheyenne warriors began to flank Reno’s position and he beat a hasty retreat, or as he reported it “a charge to the rear”.  The disorderly retreat/rout resulted in many casualties, but Reno established a defensive position atop the bluffs overlooking the river and made a successful stand against the attacking Indians. 

Custer partisans blamed Reno for Custer’s death and denounced him as a coward and a drunkard.  Responding to persistent charges of cowardice and drunkenness at the Little Bighorn, Reno demanded and was granted a court of inquiry. The court convened in Chicago on January 13, 1879, and called as witnesses most of the surviving officers who had been in the fight. After 26 days of testimony, Judge Advocate General W. M. Dunn concluded, “I concur with the court in its exoneration of Major Reno from the charges of cowardice which have been brought against him.” He added, “The suspicion or accusation that Gen. Custer owed his death and the destruction of his command to the failure of Major Reno, through incompetencey or cowardice, to go to his relief, is considered as set to rest….”  The findings of the court of inquiry did little to stop Custer partisans from hounding Reno. 

After years of being branded a coward, Marcus Reno became morose and descended into alcoholism.  In 1880 Reno faced charges of drunkenly attacking a junior officer with a pool cue, of being a “peeping Tom” and of being drunk while on duty at Fort Meade in Dakota Territory. Reno was found guilty and dishonorably discharged from the service, for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.” Reno tried vigorously for the rest of his life to clear his name, but failed. Marcus Reno died of throat cancer on March 30, 1889, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Washington, D.C. 

In 1967, at the request of Charles Reno, the Major's great-nephew, a U.S. military review board reopened Reno's 1880 court martial. It reversed the decision, ruling Reno's dismissal from the service improper and awarded him an Honorable Discharge.

Marcus A. Reno was reburied, with full military honors, at the Custer National Cemetery on the Little Bighorn Battlefield, on September 9, 1967.  Reno was reburied with all of the honors due a brigadier general, including an eleven gun salute, a guard of honor, taps, and a black riderless horse bearing the Seventh Cavalry emblem.  There was also a parade in Hardin, Montana, with two bands and a drum and bugle corps in the dress of the uniformed cavalry.  The governor of Montana attended the ceremony as did chiefs of the Crow, Cheyenne and Arakira Indian nations.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Bandit Queen of Arizona

Pearl Hart was born Pearl Taylor in the Canadian village of Lindsay, Ontario. Her parents were both rich and religious, providing their daughter with a good upbringing, which served her well until she made a disastrous marriage at the age of 16 to an abusive drunkard.  This marriage had its turbulent ups and downs for years, but in 1893 Pearl Hart found herself in Phoenix, Arizona without a husband.

Pearl Hart knocked around Arizona, acquiring a taste for cigars, whiskey, and morphine.  In 1898, Hart turned up in Mammoth, Arizona where she worked as a cook while also operating a tent brothel near the local mine.  All was going well until the mine closed.

At this point, Hart threw in with one Joe Boot.  The pair worked a small mining claim Boot had staked, but found no gold.  The pair decided to rob a stagecoach that traveled near the Superstition Mountains between Globe and Florence, Arizona.

One of the last stagecoach routes still operating in the territory, the run had not been robbed in years and thus the coach did not have a shotgun guard. The robbery occurred on May 30, 1899, at a watering point near Cane Springs Canyon, about 30 miles southeast of Globe.  Hart had cut her hair short and dressed in men's clothing. The pair stopped the coach and while Boot menacingly brandished a Colt .45, Hart took $431.20 (equivalent to about $13,000 today) from the surprised victims.

The pair was bold but not bright, being caught sound asleep in camp six days later by a sheriff’s posse.

The novelty of a female stagecoach robber created a sensation.  Hart and Boot came to trial in October 1899. During the trial Hart touched the hearts of the jurors by claiming she needed the money to help her sick mother.  The jury found her not guilty. Immediately following the acquittal, Pearl Hart was rearrested on the charge of tampering with U.S. mail. Boot received a sentence of thirty years and Hart a sentence of five years for their misdeeds.

Both Hart and Boot were sent to Yuma Territorial Prison. Joe Boot became a prison trusty, driving supply wagons outside the walls. One day Boot and the wagon did not return.  Boot had completed less than two years of his sentence.  Pearl Hart used her position as the only female at an all-male prison to her advantage, playing admiring guards and prison trusties off of each other in an effort to improve her situation.  In December 1902, after serving three years of her sentence, Hart was pardoned by the Territorial Governor of Arizona.

After leaving prison, Pearl Hart worked, under an alias, as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Pearl Hart is acknowledged as the only known female stagecoach robber in Arizona’s history earning her the nickname of the “Bandit Queen.”

Legends of the Superstition Mountains

Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Where is the Holy Grail?

The search for the Holy Grail is indeed a mystery for some Spanish Catholics since they claim that it was never lost.

 According to the Spanish tradition, St. Peter took the Cup of the Last Supper from Jerusalem and sent it to Rome. In Rome this became the Chalice of the Popes, from the time of St. Peter to the time of Pope Sixtus II.  In the year 258, during the Pontificate of Pope Sixtus II, the Roman emperor Valerianus signed an edict appropriating the possessions of all Christians. Sixtus II gave the papal treasures, including the Cup, to his Spanish deacon, later known as St. Lawrence.   Before St. Lawrence was killed, he gave the Cup to a Spanish soldier who transferred it to Huesca (Spain).

 In 553, Vicentius, bishop of Huesca, placed the Holy Chalice at the new church in this town, where it remained for 158 years. In 711, Muslims invaded Spain.  For the next seven hundred plus years the Cup went from one hiding place to another until in 1424, Alfonso V , King of Valencia, Aragon, Majorca, Naples and Sicily, brought the Holy Grail, now known as the Santo Caliz,  to the Royal Palace of Valencia.  In 1437, Alfonso's brother, Don Juan, King of Navarre placed the Grail in the Cathedral of Valencia, where it resides today.

 The Cup has only been taken from the Cathedral twice: during the War of Independence against Napoleon (1809-1813) it was moved to Alicante, Ibiza and Palma of Majorca; and during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) it was hidden at private homes in Carlet and Valencia.

 In 1982, His Holiness Pope John Paul II came to Valencia, where he celebrated Mass with the Santo Caliz.  After an interruption of one thousand seven hundred and twenty four years, a Pope was able to celebrate the Mass with the Holy Grail.

                 Legends of the Superstition Mountains

                      Paititi (The Treasure of the Lost City )