Friday, May 25, 2007

Parks, Monuments, and other National Sites

In 1872, President Ulysses Grant set aside a remarkable region of canyons, geysers, hot springs, and other natural wonders, known as Yellowstone, for the enjoyment of the public. Although Yellowstone was the first National Park, over the next century it was to be followed by thousands of other sites across the country.

First National Park, Yellowstone, 1872
Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. It also contains approximately one-half of the world’s hydrothermal features, over 10,000, including over 300 geysers. Now Yellowstone is just one of nearly 400 National Parks, although it is still among the most visited every year.

First National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, 1890
In 1890, Congress began taking steps to protect historic battlefields. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park on the Georgia-Tennesse border, became the first National Military Park. It contains two major battlefields, Chickamauga, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War, and Lookout Mountain, where Union troops finally took control of Chattanooga. The Park was followed with designations of other famous Civil War sites, including Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg. Today, in addition to the National Military Park designation, battle sites are also classified as National Battlefields, National Battlefield Parks, or National Battlefield Sites, with about two-dozen total in the system.

First National Monument, Devils Tower, 1906
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to designate landmarks, structures, and other objects as National Monuments, without approval from Congress. The first was Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, created by President Theodore Roosevelt. A massive rock formation, rising 867 feet from its base to the summit, it can be seen from many miles away. This site, like others that followed, remains controversial because American Indians consider the monument sacred. Today, there are almost 100 National Monuments.

National Park Service, 1916
The 1916 National Park Service Organic Act established the modern National Park Service, which oversees the various parks, monuments, and other sites that make up the National Park System. In 1970, Congress elaborated on the original Act, saying all units of the system have equal legal standing, regardless of their designation within the national system. In addition to the NPS, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under the U.S. Department of the Interior), and the U.S. Forest Service (under the U.S. Department of Agriculture) also manage national sites.

First National Historic Site, Salem Maritime, 1938
The Historic Sites Act of 1935 allows the Secretary of the Interior to establish National Historic Sites that have national historical significance, usually because they are associated with a famous individual or event. The first was Salem Maritime National Historic Site, in Salem, Massachusetts, designated in 1938. The Site consists of 12 historic structures and land along the waterfront, as well as a visitor center. It highlights the maritime history of New England, whose shipping played an important role in the early economic development of the United States. Today, there are 78 National Historic Sites in the National Park System.

First National Seashore, Cape Hatteras, 1953
National Seashores were authorized in 1937, and the first, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, on the "Outer Banks" of North Carolina, was established on January 12, 1953. There have been only ten national seashore designations, scattered along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts.

First National Historic Landmark, Sergeant Floyd Monument, 1960
In 1960, the Secretary of the Interior was authorized to make another type of designation: National Historic Landmark. NHLs can be individual objects, buildings or other structures, sites, or entire districts. Unlike other national sites, more than half of the approximately 2,500 National Historic Landmarks are privately owned. All NHLs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first National Historic Landmark was the Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City, Iowa, which honors the only member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who died on the journey.

First National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks, 1966
Nearly thirty years after authorizing the designation of seashores, Congress turned to the Great Lakes, and created Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, near Munising, Michigan, in 1966. There are now four National Lakeshores, all on Lakes Michigan and Superior.

First National Scenic Trail, Appalachian, 1968
In 1968, in order "to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population," Congress authorized the creation of National Scenic Trails. The first was the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which stretches through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. In addition to Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and National Historic Trails also are part of the National Trails System.

First National River, Buffalo, 1972
A century after the creation of Yellowstone, another designation was created, and the Buffalo river in Arkansas became America's first National River in 1972. Although some development is allowed on designated rivers, the goal is to preserve their original "character."

To learn more about the various national site designations, see the National Park Service's Designation of National Park System Units.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Boomers, Sooners, and Eighty-niners

By the 1870's, following the Civil War, most of what was to become the state of Oklahoma had been divided between various American Indian tribes, whose people had been forced to relocate there from other parts of the country. However, an area of roughly 3,000 square miles, much of it ceded to the United States government by the Creek and Seminole tribes, remained unoccupied and became known as the "Unassigned Lands." This region would give rise to the Boomers, the Sooners, and the Eighty-niners.

With the opening of the first Transcontinental Railroad, thousands of settlers were streaming west. In 1879, a number of prominent citizens, newspapers, and railroads began publicly campaigning to open the Unassigned Lands to settlement. These pro-settlement forces were known as Boomers.

The Boomers carried out "raids" into the area to survey for future towns. Some went as far as planting crops and building houses. For a decade, the government resisted, even sending troops. Finally, in March of 1889, the Springer Amendment to the Indian Appropriation Act of 1889 officially authorized settlement. However, instead of honoring the "squatter's rights" of the Boomers, the land was to be settled by a land run on April 22, 1889.

Almost immediately, claimants began illegally staking out land before the run. A section of the legislation referred to as the "sooner clause" prohibited this practice (staking a claim too soon), so those who persisted became known as Sooners.

Some Sooners sneaked onto claims the night before the run. Once the run had started, they would suddenly appear, having seemingly beat legitimate settlers. Naturally, this led to many disputes, and the term "Sooner" had a negative connotation for years, especially in Oklahoma. (Eventually the word lost its unfavorable association. In 1908, the University of Oklahoma adopted "Sooners" as the nickname of its football team, and later Oklahoma became known as "The Sooner State.")

Tens of thousands of settlers, many of them immigrants, came to Oklahoma for the land run. Cities literally sprang up overnight. At noon on April 22, 1889, at the many points of entry surrounding the claims, military officers fired pistols or rifles, sounded trumpets, or set off cannons, signaling the start of the run. An avalanche of horses, wagons, and even people on foot surged forward all at once. An estimated fifty-thousand vied to stake their claim on 160 acres of free land. Boomers and Sooners alike became known as the Eighty-niners.

Being an Eighty-niner was a source of great pride. Many gathered at annual picnics to share stories. In 1927, The 1889ers Society was formed, with membership comprised of Eighty-niners, their spouses, and their children or direct descendants. The society still exists today, and welcomes new members.

One of the best modern portrayals of the 1889 land run can be seen late in the movie Far and Away.

Many museums in Oklahoma have exhibits about the land run, including the Harn Homestead and 1889ers Museum in Oklahoma City, which preserves the homestead of William Harn, charged with conducting behind-the-scenes investigations of claim disputes arising from the land run.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Native Guards

Thanks largely to the movie Glory, the story of blacks fighting in the Civil War, for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment of the Union Army, is widely known. Lesser known is the story of an earlier black unit, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, that actually fought first on the side of the Confederacy.

The Native Guards were a group of about 1,000 free blacks and mulattoes, living in and around New Orleans, that enrolled in the Louisiana militia in 1861 and eagerly served alongside other Confederate units. However, rather than using them in battle, the South largely paraded them to counter northern propaganda. In fact, despite their service, it is believed that they were never officially mustered into the Confederate Army.

In April of 1862, New Orleans fell to the Union Army. At least 100 of the Native Guards then volunteered for the new 1st Louisiana, considered one of the first, if not the first, official Union black unit. They were joined by runaway slaves in such great numbers that the unit split into three regiments.

For almost a year, the Native Guards were used by the Union for manual labor, like chopping wood, gathering supplies, digging ditches, and guard duty. Eventually, the regiments did see combat during the siege of Port Hudson in May and June of 1863. Yet the men got little respect. Black officers were replaced with whites. Many soldiers resigned or deserted. The regiments were dissolved and folded into other units.

Still, these brave men left a unique legacy, having been part of the only unit to serve both the North and the South during the Civil War.

The Port Hudson State Historic Site near Jackson, Louisiana preserves the site of the Native Guards' first battle.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The United States Invades Canada

Most Americans today think of Canada as a "friendly neighbor" to the north. The idea of Canada and the United States at war with each other seems preposterous. And yet, not long after gaining independence following the Revolutionary War, the United States invaded Canada and burned her capital!

Of all the major wars in which the U.S. has fought, the War of 1812 is probably the least known and least understood. In June of 1812, President James Madison declared a state of war with the United Kingdom. The U.S. claimed to be upset with Britain over trade restrictions with Europe, as well as impressment of American sailors, and violations of American waters by British ships. However, some historians believe that the prospect of conquering British-controlled Canada was a major factor in the decision to go to war. Indeed, shortly after war was declared, Thomas Jefferson boasted that America need only march north to easily take Quebec.

Canada, at the time of the war, might better be described as "British North America." There were still seven "independent" British colonies, as they would not come together to form a federation for another fifty years. These included Upper Canada, along the Great Lakes, with its capital, York (present-day Toronto). Early in the war, the U.S. hoped to force a victory by targeting Upper Canada.

After a series of defeats, in April of 1813, the United States launched an assault on York, and successfully took the city. However, in their retreat, the British ignited a huge powder magazine, and the blast and flying debris killed famed American General Zebulon Pike and many other soldiers. In retaliation, U.S. soldiers looted the city and burned several buildings, including Parliament.

Although the Battle of York had the effect of restricting supplies to the British on Lake Erie, and contributed to later successes in the American campaign there, the plunder and arson of the city were to have devastating results in the United States.

In August of 1814, the British marched on Washington, D.C., as part of a campaign around the Chesapeake Bay. They easily took the city, as it was mostly abandoned, and American militia troops quickly retreated. Then, the British burned most of the public buildings, including the Capitol buildings (housing the Senate, House of Representatives, and Library of Congress) and the White House. Most historians agree that this was a direct retaliation for the U.S. invasion of York.

The day after Washington fell, the British left for their ships in the Chesapeake, possibly due to a severe storm. Although they had only occupied the capital for just over a day, it took decades to complete reconstruction. It remains one of the most embarrassing U.S. losses in history.

This pattern of attacks followed by reprisals is emblematic of the war as a whole. Largely considered a stalemate by 1814, the Treaty of Ghent, ratified in early 1815, ended the war. Although some American scholars continue to claim victory, the real winner was neither the United States nor Britain, but rather Canada. Successfully resisting U.S. invasion laid the groundwork for its future sovereignty.

Visitors to Toronto's Fort York, the site of the U.S. invasion, can view a large collection of original War of 1812 buildings, as well as musket and drill demonstrations.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kentucky, Land of Lincoln

Ask people which state they associate with Abraham Lincoln, and most will answer Illinois. After all, "Land of Lincoln," the official Illinois state motto, is found on signs across the state, not to mention on every license plate.

In fact, Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin (now LaRue) County, Kentucky. Still, he only lived in Kentucky until the age of seven, moving to Indiana and later Illinois, where he began his political career and lived most his life. But his birth state of Kentucky was to play a crucial, if under appreciated, role in the defining event of Lincoln's later life: the Civil War.

Kentucky was a "border state" at the time of the war. Its unique geographical position meant it was neither fully in the north nor south. Once the western frontier, by the time of Lincoln's presidency, it was "midwestern," wedged between the disputed states of Missouri on the west and Virginia to the east.

It was clear to Lincoln that Kentucky had strategic importance. In September 1861, just months into the war, he wrote "to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game." Further, he reportedly said that he hoped to have God on his side, but he had to have Kentucky!

Kentucky declared itself neutral. But in response to a Confederate occupation of Columbus, the legislature passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of Confederate forces, and eventually backed General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union troops stationed in Paducah.

Southern supporters reacted by forming their own government in Confederate occupied Bowling Green, and Kentucky was recognized by the Confederacy as the 13th member state, receiving a star on the Confederate battle flag. Kentucky was then in the unique position of having representatives in both Congresses and troops in both Union and Confederate regiments. However, by early 1862, following Grant's campaign along the Tennessee border, Union forces dominated the state. Thereafter, Kentucky's Confederate government had little power or impact.

Perhaps most importantly, Lincoln's shrewd politics, including ongoing negotiations with state leaders, guaranteed that Kentucky would remain loyal to the Union throughout the war. Early northern control of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers proved crucial, and meant the south had no hope of victory in the Western Theater of the war.

It is an interesting twist of fate that Kentucky produced not only Lincoln, but also Jefferson Davis, believed to be born in 1808 in Christian (now Todd) County, Kentucky. Davis, who was to become the president of the Confederate States of America, is also most often associated with a different state: Mississippi.

Travelers will find the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Next year, the site will host the "kick-off" event for the 200th anniversary celebration of Lincoln's life. Jefferson Davis' birthplace is also memorialized at the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, Kentucky, about 100 miles from the Lincoln site.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jack Jouett, Paul Revere of the South

A midnight ride on horseback. A warning of imminent British attack. The capture of political leaders prevented. The Revolution saved.

Paul Revere? No. Meet Jack Jouett.

John "Jack" Jouett, Jr. was born December 7, 1754 in Virginia. He quickly grew into a six-foot-four, two-hundred-pound giant of a man. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Jouett served as a Captain in the 16th regiment of the Virginia militia.

On the night of June 3, 1781, British General Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, along with 250 soldiers, to make a surprise march to Charlottesville, Virginia (where the legislature was meeting after having fled Richmond), in hopes of capturing Thomas Jefferson and other prominent patriots. Sometime after nine o'clock, the British reached Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County. It was here that Jouett, possibly hiding in the bushes, spotted them and guessed their plan. He mounted his thoroughbred horse and dashed towards Monticello, knowing he faced 40 miles of tough wilderness terrain.

Jouett arrived at about four-thirty the next morning to wake and warn Jefferson and others staying at Monticello. Jefferson sent his wife and children away to a country estate, but personally remained for several more hours, securing his possessions. Jouett rode two more miles into Charlottesville to warn members of the Assembly.

Despite the fact that he was forced to take back roads through woods and undergrowth, Jouett beat the British by several hours. Tarleton was only able to capture seven assemblymen. Jefferson, despite lingering, was able to make a narrow escape into the woods.

Many historians agree that had Jefferson and other leaders been captured, it might well have meant the end of the Revolution. The General Assembly of Virginia recognized their debt to Jouett, and on June 15, just a few days after having fled Charlottesville, they voted to award him a sword and pair of pistols for his bravery. Unfortunately, it took two years before Jouett received the pistols, and twenty years before he received the sword!

So if Jack Jouett's ride was so critical, arguably more important than Paul Revere's, why is he virtually unknown? The answer is that Revere was immortalized in the now famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, while Jouett died in relative obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Still, Jouett left behind another kind of legacy. He helped form the state of Kentucky. His son, Matthew Harris Jouett, fought in the War of 1812 and became a respected artist, painting the portraits of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Jouett's grandson, the naval officer James Edward Jouett, is memorialized in the famous quote by Admiral David Farragut, "Damn the torpedoes! ... Jouett full speed!"

The Jack Jouett House, near Versailles, KY, features a frontier stone cabin and a Federal-style brick cottage adorned with period furnishings.

Perhaps someday, if his ride becomes more widely known, Jack Jouett will take his rightful place in American History. And Paul Revere? He'll be known as the "Jack Jouett of the North."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

That Other First American Colony

Recently, there's been a lot of media coverage given to the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. Some stories refer to Jamestown as England's "first American colony." This is not technically true, which is why others couch the phrase as "first permanent colony" or "first supported colony."

The reality is that Sir Walter Raleigh established what he believed would be the first permanent American colony in 1587 on Roanoke Island. Thus, twenty years before Jamestown, more than 100 English settlers came to live off the coast of present-day North Carolina.

On August 18, 1587, the colony welcomed Virginia Dare, believed to be the first child born in America to English parents. But the colony was to be short-lived. The outbreak of war between England and Spain meant that it could not be supplied. In 1590, governor John White returned from across the Atlantic to find the settlement abandoned. Now called "The Lost Colony," the fate of its settlers remains unknown.

Few people realize that John Smith, probably the most famous resident of Jamestown, was tasked with gathering information about the fate of the Roanoke colony. Smith collected conflicting stories about the settlers being massacred or assimilated into local native tribes.

Today, visitors to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site can see what remains of the colony's fort. Nearby, the long-running outdoor theatre production of "The Lost Colony" is performed nightly during summer months.