Today In Western History: John Adams II Gets Married

February 25  —

John Adams II, son and grandson of Presidents

John Adams II, son and grandson of Presidents

On this day in 1828, John Adams II, son of President John Quincy Adams, marries his first cousin and inadvertently follows a pattern of keeping marriages within the family.  John Adams’ grandfather, President John Adams, had married his third cousin, Abigail Smith. This tradition skipped a genera-tion with John Quincy Adams, who had married a non-relative. John Adams II, his older brother George and his younger brother Charles were all rivals for the same woman, their cousin on his mother’s side, Mary Catherine Hellen, who lived with the John Quincy Adams family after the death of her parents. But in 1828, at 25 years old, John II married his first cousin, 22-year-old Mary Catherine Hellen, in a private ceremony at the White House, and both his brothers refused to attend. 

Exactly nine months and seven days after the wedding, Mary Catherine gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Mary Louisa, in the White House family quarters. Mary and John gave her the name Mary, after her mother, and the middle name Louisa after her paternal grandmother Louisa Catherine Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams.

In 1853, Mary Louisa Adams also married a family member–her second cousin, William Clarkson Johnson, the son of her first cousin, Abigail Louisa Smith Adams, and President John Adams’ great-grandson. Both bride and groom descended from President John Adams–the wedding constituted the first marriage between descendants of two presidents. While both Mary Louisa and her new husband were descendants of President John Adams, only Mary Louisa was directly related to President John Quincy Adams.

The Adams’ were not the only presidential family to intermarry. In 1905, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
32nd US President

married Eleanor, his fifth cousin once removed. Eleanor did not have to change her name upon marrying, since her maiden name was also Roosevelt. Her father, Elliot, was the brother of former President Theodore Roosevelt.                                                   

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th and youngest US President
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th
and youngest US President


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Today In Western History: William Barrett Travis Calls For Help

February 24  —

Wi lliam Barrett Travis, Commander of the Alamo
Wi lliam Barrett Travis,
Commander of the Alamo

On this day in 1836, in San Antonio, Texas, Colonel William Travis issues what will become a famous call for help on behalf of the Texan troops defending the Alamo, an old Spanish mission and fortress under attack by the Mexican army on their way to crush the Texan’s revolt.

A native of Alabama, Travis moved to the Mexican state of Texas in 1831. He soon became a leader of the growing movement to overthrow the Mexican government and establish an independent Texan republic. When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis became a lieutenant-colonel in the revo-lutionary army and was given command of troops in the recently captured city of San Antonio de Bexar (now known as San Antonio). On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived suddenly in San Antonio. Travis and his troops took

General Antonio Lopez de    Santa Anna
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

shelter in the Alamo, where they were soon joined by a volunteer force led by Colonel James Bowie

James Bowie,  Hero of the Alamo
James Bowie, Hero of the Alamo

Also joining in the fight, legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett and some of his fellow Tennessee

Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo
Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo

fighters, to help Texas gain its independence from Mexico, Though Santa Ana’s 5,000 troops heavily outnumbered the several hundred Texans, Travis and his men determined not to give up. On February 24, they answered Santa Ana’s call for surrender with a bold shot from the Alamo’s cannon. Furious, the Mexican general ordered his forces to launch a siege. Travis immediately recognized his disad-vantage and sent out several messages via couriers asking for reinforcements. Addressing one of the pleas to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” Travis signed off with the now-famous phrase “Victory or Death.”

Only 32 men from the nearby town of Gonzales responded to Travis’ call for help, and beginning at 5:30 a.m. on March 6, Mexican forces stormed the Alamo through a gap in the fort’s outer wall, killing Travis, Bowie and 190 of their men. Despite the loss of the fort, the Texan troops managed to inflict huge losses on their enemy, killing at least 600 of Santa Ana’s men.  But it turned out to be a major mistake for Santa Ana.  He won the battle and lost the war because of this fight.

The brave defense of the Alamo became a powerful symbol for the Texas revolution, helping the rebels turn the tide in their favor. At the crucial Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 910 Texan soldiers com-manded by Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana’s army of 1,250 men, spurred on by cries of “Remember

Sam Houston
Sam Houston,
Texas Governor and Hero of Texas’s War of Independence

the Alamo!” The next day, after Texan forces captured Santa Ana himself, the general issued orders for all Mexican troops to pull back behind the Rio Grande River. On May 14, 1836, Texas officially became an independent republic.


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Western History Today: The Battle of Valverde

On February 21, 1862, at the Battle of Valverde, Confederate troops under General Henry Hopkins Sibley attack Union troops

General Henry Hopkins SIbley, CSA
General Henry Hopkins SIbley, CSA

near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory.   The Union troops were under the command of Union Colonel Edward R. S. Canby.

Union General Edward R. S. Canby
Union General Edward R. S. Canby

The battle, the first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, produced heavy casualties but no decisive result. This action was part of the broader movement by the Confederates to capture New Mexico and other parts of the West.   Their goal was to gain control of territory that the Rebels believed they had been denied by political compromises made before the Civil War. Additionally, the financially impoverished Confederacy intended to use Western mines to fill its treasury. From San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico (which included Arizona) and captured the towns of Mesilla and Tucson. Sibley, with 3,000 troops, now moved north against the Federal stronghold at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande.  However, at Fort Craig, Canby believed the Rebels could not wait long before running low on supplies so he intended to force the Confederates lay siege to the post in order to make them run through what supplies they did have.  He also knew that Sibley did not have enough heavy artillery to attack the fort. When Sibley arrived near Fort Craig on February 15, he ordered his men to swing east of the fort, cross the Rio Grande, and capture the Valverde fords of the Rio Grande.  He hoped to cut off Canby’s com-munication and force the Yankees out into the open.  At the fords, five miles north of Fort Craig, a Union detachment attacked part of the Confederate force. They pinned the Texans in a ravine and were on the verge of routing the Rebels when more of Sibley’s men arrived and turned the tide. In command in place of an ill Sibley, his second in command,  Colonel Tom Green made a bold counterattack against the Union left flank. The Yankees fell back in retreat, and headed back to Fort Craig.

The Union suffered 68 killed, 160 wounded, and 35 missing out of 3,100 engaged. The Confederates suffered 31 killed, 154 wounded, and 1 missing out of 2,600 troops. It was a bloody but indecisive battle. Sibley’s men continued up the Rio Grande. Within a few weeks, they captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe before they were stopped at the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28.


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Western History Today: The Battle of Olustee, Florida

February 20  —

On this day in 1864, at the Battle of Olustee, the largest conflict fought in Florida during the Civil War, a Confederate force under General Joseph Finegan decisively defeats an army commanded by General Truman Seymour. The victory kept the Confederates in control of Florida’s interior for the rest of the war.

Olustee was the climax to a Union invasion of Florida a few weeks before. General Quincy Gilmore, commander of the Union’s Department of the South, dispatched Seymour to Jacksonville on February 7. Seymour’s troops secured the town and began to send cavalry raiders inland to Lake City and Gainesville.

John Hay, Private Secretary to President Lincoln
John Hay, Private Secretary to President Lincoln

Just behind the troops came John Hay, private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. Hay began issuing loyalty oaths to residents in an effort to form a new, Republican state government in time to send delegates to the 1864 party convention. Under the president’s plan of reconstruction, a new state government could be formed when 10 percent of the state’s prewar voting population had taken a loyalty oath.

Seymour began moving towards Lake City, west of Jacksonville, to destroy a railroad bridge and secure northern Florida. Finegan possessed only 500 men at Lake City, but reinforcements were arriving. By the time the two sides began to skirmish near the Olustee railroad station, each side had about 5,000 troops. Throughout the day on February 20, a pitched battle raged. The Confederates were close to breaking the Yankee lines when they ran low on ammunition. When more cartridges arrived, the attack continued. By late afternoon, Seymour realized the fight was lost and he began to retreat.

The Yankees suffered around 1,800 killed, wounded, or captured, while the Confederates lost about 900 men. The battle did disrupt the flow of supplies from Florida to other Confederate armies, but it failed to bring about a new state government. Most of Florida remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.



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Western History Today: The Donner Party Is Rescued

On February 19, 1847, the first rescuers reach surviving members of the Donner Party, a group of California-bound emigrants stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In the summer of 1846, in the midst of a Western-bound fever sweeping the United States, 89 people–including 31 members of the Donner and Reed families–set out in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois. After arriving at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, the emigrants decided to avoid the usual route and try a new trail recently blazed by California promoter Lansford Hastings, the so-called “Hastings Cutoff”, which didn’t exist as he had never been there.

Lansford W. Hastings.
Lansford W. Hastings.

After electing George Donner as their captain, the party departed Fort Bridger in mid-July. The shortcut was nothing of the sort: It set the Donner Party back nearly three weeks and cost them much-needed supplies. After suffering great hardships in the Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake Desert and along the Humboldt River, they finally reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains in early October. Despite the lateness of the season, the emigrants continued to press on, and on October 28 they camped at Truckee Lake, located in the high mountains 21 kilometers northwest of Lake Tahoe. Overnight, an early winter storm blanketed the ground with snow, blocking the mountain pass and trapping the Donner Party.  Most of the group stayed near the lake–now known as Donner Lake–while the Donner family and others made camp six miles away at Alder Creek. Building makeshift tents out of their wagons and killing their oxen for food, they hoped for a thaw that never came. Fifteen of the stronger emigrants, later known as the Forlorn Hope, set out west on snowshoes for Sutter’s Fort near San Francisco on December 16. Three weeks later, after harsh weather and lack of supplies killed several of the expedition and forced the others to resort to cannibalism, seven survivors reached a Native American village.  News of the stranded Donner Party traveled fast to Sutter’s Fort, and a rescue party set out on January 31. Arriving at Donner Lake 20 days later, they found the camp completely snowbound and the surviving emigrants delirious with relief at their arrival. Rescuers fed the starving group as well as they could and then began evacuating them. Three more rescue parties arrived to help, but the return to Sutter’s Fort proved equally harrowing, and the last survivors didn’t reach safety until late April. Of the 89 original members of the Donner Party, only 45 reached California.



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St. Lucie Co. Local Authors Book Fair

Just a reminder, the St. Lucie County Local Authors Book Fair is going to be on March 12.  I will be at the Morningside Library location (2410 SE Morningside Blvd, Pt. St. Lucie  337-5632) from 10:00am to 12:00pm, along with Sue Arndt, Janet Balletta, Fred Berri, Sheila Craan, Aria Dunham, Stephanie Erickson, Gail Gilroy, DonnaMarie, Margaret Hawke, L. D. Hedman, Karen Howard, Gene Hull, George Jackson, Carole Lee Limata, Megan Loughlin, Maritza Mejia, CHad Miller, Yashi Nozawa, VIrginia Nydard, “Tiger” Lydi Pallares, WIllard F. Rockwell III,  Albert Schwartz, Solana Tara and Christos Tzanetakos.  Come by and say hello to all of us!  Maybe even buy a book?

The other location is the Ft. Pierce Branch (101 Melody Lane, Ft. Pierce,  462-1615) from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  Local authors at that site will be R. J. Blacks, Linda Bolton, Rod Burns, Joanne E. Caras, Jacquetta Cook, Nancy Dale, Danny L. Davis, Paul Dawson, Rosemary Dronchi, Pamela Frost, Regena B.,  Demetrious, E. Glimidakis, Thea Harris, Dorothy (Smith) Haynes, Linda Gordon Hengerer, Josephine Johnson Knight, Lynn Michelsohn, Heather Murray, Ned Schwartz and Raymond Tortolani.

After you leave us, go by and see them too!  Support Your Local Author!

Western History Today: Lincoln County War


Today, February 18, 1878, long simmering tensions in Lincoln County, New Mexico, explode into a bloody shooting war when gunmen murder the English rancher John Tunstall.

John Tunstall, rancher and businessman
John Tunstall, rancher and businessman

Tunstall had established a large ranching operation in Lincoln County two years earlier in 1876, stepping into the middle of a dangerous political and economic rivalry for control of the region. Two Irish-Americans, J.J. Dolan and L.G. Murphy,

Lawrence_Murphy (circa 1870's)
Lawrence_Murphy Lincoln County War (circa 1870’s)

operated a general store called The House, which controlled access to lucrative beef contracts with the government.

James J. (J J) Dolan circa 1870's
James J. (J J) Dolan
circa 1870’s


The big ranchers, led by John Chisum and Alexander McSween, didn’t believe merchants should dominate the beef markets and began to challenge The House.  Tunstall, a wealthy young English emigrant, soon realized that his interests were with Chisum and McSween in this conflict, and he became a leader of the anti-House forces. He won Dolan’s and Murphy’s lasting enmity by establishing a competing general merchandise store in Lincoln. By 1877, the power struggle was threat-ening to become overtly violent, and Tunstall began to hire young gunmen for his protection, including the soon-to-be-infamous William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.

William H. Bonney, Billy the Kid
William H. Bonney,
Billy the Kid

Early the next year, The House used its considerable political resources to strike back at Tunstall, winning a court order demanding that Tunstall turn over some of his horses to pay an outstanding debt. When Tunstall refused to turn over the horses, the House-controlled Lincoln County sheriff dispatched a posse-with William Morton, another House supporter, at the head-to take them. Billy the Kid and several other Tunstall hands were working on the ranch when they spotted the approaching posse. Outnumbered, the men fled, but they had not gone far before they saw Tunstall gallop straight up to the posse to protest its presence on his property. As Billy and the others watched, Morton pulled his gun and shot Tunstall dead with a bullet to the head.

Although he had not worked for Tunstall long, Billy the Kid deeply resented this cold-blooded murder, and he immediately began a vendetta of violence against The House and its allies. Lincoln County became a war zone, and both sides began a spree of vicious killings. By July, The House was prevailing, having added McSween to its lists of victims. However, fighting would continue to erupt sporadically until 1884, when Chisum died of natural causes, and The House finally regained full control of Lincoln County. By that time, Billy the Kid had already been dead for three years, gunned down by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett.



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Western History Today: The Missouri Compromise Passes

The Senate passes the Missouri Compromise, an attempt to deal with the dangerously divisive issue of extending slavery into the western territories today, February 17,  in 1820.

From colonial days to the Civil War, slavery and western expansion both played fundamental but inherently incompatible roles in the American republic. As the nation expanded westward, the Con-gress adopted relatively liberal procedures by which western territories could organize and join the union as full-fledged states. Southern slaveholders, eager to repli-cate their plantation system in the West, wanted to keep the new territories open to slavery. Abolitionists, concentrated primarily in the industrial North, wanted the West to be exclusively a free labor region and hoped that slavery would gradually die out if confined to the South. Both factions realized their future congressional influence would depend on the number of new “slave” and “free” states admitted into the union.

Consequently, the West became the first political battleground over the slavery issue. In 1818, the Territory of Missouri applied to Congress for admission as a slave state. Early in 1819, a New York congressman introduced an amendment to the proposed Missouri constitution that would ban importation of new slaves and require gradual emancipation of exist-ing slaves. Southern congressmen reacted with outrage, inspiring a nationwide debate on the future of slavery in the nation. Over the next year, the congressional debate grew increasingly bitter, and southerners began to threaten secession and civil war. To avoid this disastrous possibility, key congressmen hammered together an agreement that became known as the Missouri Compromise. In exchange for admitting Missouri without restrictions on slavery, the Compromise called for bringing in Maine as a free state. The Compromise also dictated that slavery would be prohibited in all future western states carved out of the Louisiana Territory that were higher in latitude than the northern border of Arkansas Territory.

Although the Missouri Compromise temporarily eased the inherent tensions between western expansion and slavery, the divisive issue was far from resolved. Whether or not to allow slavery in the states of Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska caused the same difficulties several decades later, leading the nation toward civil war.



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Western History Today: General Grant Captures Fort Donelson

February 16  —


Lt. General Ulysses Grant
Lt. General Ulysses Grant

On this day, February 16, Ge in 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant finishes a spectacular campaign by capturing Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. This battle came 10 days after Grant’s capture of Fort Henry, just 10 miles to the west on the Tennessee River, and opened the way for Union occupation of central Tennessee.

After Grant surrounded Fort Henry and forced the surrender of 100 men, he moved east to the much more formidable Fort Donelson. The fort sat on a high bluff and had a garrison of 6,000 troops. After the fall of Fort Henry, an additional 15,000 reinforcements were sent to aid Fort Donelson. Grant crossed the narrow strip of land between the two rivers with only about 15,000 troops. One of Grant’s officers, Brigadier General John McClernand, had initiated the battle on

General John A. McClernand, USA
General John A. McClernand, USA

February 13 when he tried to capture a Rebel battery along Fort Donelson’s outer works. Although unsuccessful, this act-ion probably convinced the Confederates that they faced a superior force, even though they actually outnumbered Grant.Over the next three days, Grant tightened the noose around Fort Donelson by moving a flotilla up the Cumberland River to shell the fort from the east. On February 15, the Confederates tried to break out of the Yankee perimeter. An attack on the Union right flank and center sent the Federals back in retreat, but then Confederate General Gideon Pillow made a fatal miscalculation. Thinking he could win the battle, Pillow threw away the chance to retreat from Fort Donelson. Instead, he pressed the attack but the Union retreat halted. Now, Grant assaulted the Confederate right wing, which he correctly suspected had been weakened to mount the attack on the other end of the line.

The Confederates were surrounded, with their backs to the Cumberland River. They made an attempt to escape, but only about 5,000 troops got away. These included Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest and 500 cavalrymen.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA
General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA

Forrest later became a legendary leader in the West and his exploits over the next three years caused much aggravation to the Union Army. When the Rebels asked for terms of surrender, Grant replied that no terms “except unconditional and immediate surrender” would be acceptable. This earned Ulysses S. Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.” The loss of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were unmitigated disasters for the Confederates. Kentucky was lost and Tennessee lay wide open to the Yankees.



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