Wild Weather Wednesday: The Knickerbocker Disaster

WildWeatherWednesdayThis storm, an East Coast blizzard (sometimes called a “Nor’easter”) which occurred in late January of 1922, was so-named because of the disaster it caused on the evening of the 28th.  Decades later this storm is still the one which all storms are measured against … it was one of Washington, D.C.’s worst disasters.

An arctic air mass had been sitting over the Washington, D.C. area for a few days.  A front from the southeast had passed over the Gulf of Mexico where it picked up moisture.  As the low front deepened off the coast of Georgia and the cold front reached the Gulf Stream on January 27, it began to snow heavily from the Carolinas northward to Pennsylvania.  The storm was slowed by a high pressure system from the north, but by noon on January 28 the snows had reached Washington, D.C., snowing heavily until the morning of the 29th.

As it turned out, it would be the heaviest snowfall recorded in D.C. since official weather record keeping began in 1885 – the official weather site received twenty-eight inches, although one area a bit farther north recorded thirty-three.  Snow drifts piled up as high as sixteen feet along the rail line between Philadelphia and D.C.

KnickerbockerStormThe Knickerbocker Theater was the newest and largest movie house in the city, built in 1917 with a flat roof and owned by Harry M. Crandall.  It would be five years before “talkies” became more commonplace.  On the night of the 28th, a comedy silent film entitled Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford was playing at the Knickerbocker, released on December 4, 1921 on seven reels.

Despite the massive snowstorm that had just blown through the area, the “show must go on” as perhaps about five hundred movie-goers braved the weather to take in the latest comedy film (the theater seated two thousand).  About 9:00 p.m. the orchestra was playing during intermission, the lights were dimmed and patrons began returning to their seats.  Suddenly, a loud hissing noise was heard when the roof began to cave in from the massive amount of snow accumulated on the building’s flat roof.

KnickerbockerBefore-AfterA few people noticed the problem and realized they needed to take cover or flee the building.  However, just seconds after the hissing noise the roof began to collapse and with it the theater’s cement balcony, which in turn brought down the theater’s brick walls.  Dozens of people were buried under concrete and bricks.  George Brodie had just entered the theater just moments before the collapse and gave this account:

I grabbed for my hat and coat, and the next minute found myself flat on my face with something weighty on top.  I lay still for about five minutes when I noticed at the side of me a girl with an arch or pillar resting upon her.  I tried to pull it off but couldn’t move it.  Then I started working my way slowly in some direction – I think the middle – and with four other fellows we saw a hole with a light shining through.  The next thing I know I was on the street, but I don’t know how I got there.  I stayed around for a while and helped several others, who were apparently uninjured, out of the place.  It was a frightful sight within, nothing but moans, cries and darkness.

As one might imagine, chaos and confusion ensued as people began to shout and search for friends and loved ones amidst the rubble.  One reporter would say that it reminded him of a scene from World War I.  Some reporters were practically speechless, unable to adequately describe what they were witnessing.  After police arrived, search and rescue efforts were organized and heavy equipment was brought in to begin digging through the carnage.

KnickerbockerDisasterAccording to the Washington Post, almost every residence in the vicinity of the theater became a first-aid station.  The nearby Christian Science Church basement was converted into a morgue.  By midnight at least two hundred police and firemen had arrived and by 2:30 a.m. there were over six hundred at the scene.  According to Weatherbook.com, a “small boy was even sent into the wreckage, squeezing through the holes between the fallen concrete slabs, to distribute pain pills to those who were trapped under the rubble.”

Not only did the rescuers need to cut through the ceiling plaster and the roof’s heavy wire screen, they had to chisel through the cement balcony which had fallen on patrons seated on the first floor.  By the afternoon of the 29th, rescue efforts were complete and the casualty tolls were recorded: ninety-eight dead and one hundred and thirteen injured.  There were many sad stories to be told.  John Daly of the Post wrote:

Perhaps the saddest chapter in the whole dire tragedy was recorded when a little lad, barely 9, went to Christian Science Church yesterday morning and in sorrow too deep for childhood to understand, identified the bodies of his father and mother and two sisters.

The Evening Star reported on January 31 that the pianist and wife of the conductor, Mrs. F. Genivieve Mirskey, was killed instantly.  Her body wasn’t located until around noon on the 29th and it appeared from injuries to her upper body that she had glanced upwards just before the crash.  Some were pulled from the wreckage only to die later.  One rescuer reported finding a mother and her child under a piano in the orchestra pit and the woman only slightly injured.  The first violinist, Joseph Wade Beal, married just five days prior, was seated in the orchestra pit and was crushed to death.

For seventy years following the disaster several lawsuits were filed, all dismissed because negligence could not be proven.  An investigation found that the design of the building utilizing an arch of girders rather than support pillars for the roof contributed to the collapse.  Architect Reginald Wyckliffe Geare was distraught over the disaster and in 1927 committed suicide.

Another theater, the Ambassador, was built in the shell of the Knickerbocker in 1923.  Knickerbocker owner Harry Crandall must have agonized for years over the disaster.  In 1937 he committed suicide by gas in his apartment.  He left a note addressed to the “newspaper boys”, saying, “Please don’t be too hard on me, boys, not for my sake but for those I am leaving behind me.  I’m despondent, and miss my theater so much.”  The building was later demolished in 1969 as part of a renewal project and is today the site of a bank.

Interestingly, a floor speech given by a House Representative from Michigan advocated D.C. self-rule: “The people of the District are entitled to a government of their own which they can hold responsible for failure to perform official duties.”  He boasted of his home city Detroit saying even with a population of one million, a mere nine men attended to all the city’s business.  He remarked that a storm like the one in D.C. would have been cleared in Detroit in twenty-four hours.  Detroit today has fallen far below those standards – oh, how times have changed!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday: The Hay Meadow Massacre

HayMeadowMassacreSiteIt was a Kansas feud, a county seat war, but the massacre occurred in a strip of land which is now part of Oklahoma, the “panhandle” part.  In 1888, however, it was called the “Neutral Strip” or “No Man’s Land”.

Stevens County, Kansas was established in southwest Kansas on August 3, 1885.  The town of Hugo (later called Hugoton) was established in late 1885 and the town of Woodsdale was founded in 1886 by Colonel Samuel Newitt Woods.  Hugoton and Woodsdale would later lock horns over which one would be the county seat.  In that day, county seat wars were all too common – Gray, two counties northeast, was another that turned into an unfortunate bloody affair (you can read about it here).

Colonel Woods, of course, opposed the idea of Hugoton being designated the county seat from the very beginning.  Hugoton’s response to Woods’ meddling was to have him arrested on a libel charge and escort him out of Kansas into No Man’s Land.  The county seat election was held and not surprisingly Hugoton won, although amidst voting irregularities.

Woods was not to be deterred, however.  In 1888 a referendum was ordered by the county on the question of issuing bonds for railroad construction.  Apparently Woods did some wheeling and dealing and the plans called for the rail line to pass through Woodsdale and bypass Hugoton and the citizens of Hugoton rallied to defeat the measure.  The two sides accused each other of fraud and violence escalated, so much so that the Kansas militia was dispatched.

The marshal of Hugoton, Sam Robinson, had whacked Jim Gerrond of Woodsdale in the head with the butt of his revolver when the two met in Voorhees.  A warrant was issued for Robinson’s arrest and turned over to Ed Short, marshal of Woodsdale, to pursue.  Short went to Hugoton with the intention of arresting Robinson, but instead the two exchanged shots and Short retreated.

About a month later Short learned that Robinson had gone on a hunting trip in No Man’s Land, or as Ballots and Bullets: The Bloody County Seat Wars of Kansas put it, a “hunting, fishing, plum-picking, and picnicking excursion,” wives and children included.  They reached Goff Creek on Tuesday, July 24 and set up camp.  Short had passed through Voorhees on Saturday the 21st and learned of the family excursion and decided to go after Robinson.

Short returned to Woodsdale to recruit some help and on the 22nd they headed for No Man’s Land.  “That he had no official jurisdiction as an officer of the law in the Neutral Strip troubled him not at all; since there was no law in No Man’s Land, both outlaws and lawmen felt free to operate as they pleased.”  (Ballots and Bullets, p. 148) When Short caught up to Robinson’s group he was determined to serve the warrant but didn’t want to risk injury to the women and children.  Instead he sent a cowboy from the nearby Patterson Ranch to deliver his ultimatum.

Robinson was sure that Short was bluffing so he saddled up his horse and galloped away.  His friends, Charles and Orrin Cook and A.M. Donald quickly took down the camp and headed back to Stevens County to alert the town about the latest attempt on Robinson by the lawmen of Woodsdale.  Word had already reached Hugoton, however.  As soon as Short had departed Woodsdale with his posse a “spy” alerted the citizens of Hugoton.  By Tuesday the 24th Hugoton already had assembled a party of ten to fifteen men who were already headed out to rescue their marshal.

Meanwhile, Short was in hot pursuit of Robinson, who after a brief exchange of gunfire was wounded slightly.  Ed Short realized, however, that he needed more help and sent Dick Wilson back to Woodsdale.  During the night Robinson escaped and later one of the Hugoton posses came upon Short and Bill Housley – Short and Housley barely escaped and in the process Short dropped his gun.  Taking a circuitous route they finally arrived back in Woodsdale.

The largest posse consisting of J.B. Chamberlain, the Cook brothers, J.W. Calvert, John Jackson, John A. Rutter and William Clark found their slightly-wounded marshal.  Instead of returning to Hugoton, however, they decided to go deeper into No Man’s Land seeking out anyone from Woodsdale.  Meanwhile, Woodsdale’s Sheriff Cross had organized his own posse to rescue Short:  Robert Hubbard, Rolland T. Wilcox, Cyrus Eaton and Herbert Tonney, heading out about nine o’clock on the evening of the 24th in a pouring rainstorm.

Cross and his posse arrived in Voorhees about four hours later and ate at an all-night restaurant.  Continuing on they arrived at the Goff Creek location where Ed Short had last been seen (unbeknownst to them Short and Housley were already en route back to Woodsdale).  After learning that Short was no longer in the area they spent the rest of the day looking for Short, of course unsuccessfully.  As night approached, Cross and his men decided to make their way back to Stevens County.

About nine o’clock that evening (the 25th) they came upon a camp of four men who had been cutting hay around the nearby dry lake bed (Wild Horse Lake).  It was a good place to stop since both they and their horses were in need of rest.  While the horses grazed they moved off about fifty yards from the haymakers’ camp to eat, stretch out and sleep for awhile before continuing on.  Cross, Hubbard and Tonney laid down near two haystacks while Eaton and Wilcox chose a hay wagon.

Not long afterwards Robinson and his friends surprised them and killed the sheriff and three of his deputies.  After feigning death, Tonney, though seriously wounded, was able to make his way back to Voorhees.  After details of the massacre became known to residents of Stevens County, the whole county was on edge and armed to the teeth.  The mayor of Woodsdale implored Kansas Governor John Martin to act.  Martin sent Attorney General S.B. Bradford to the scene of the crime.

Bradford observed the pools of blood where the men had been shot and verified witness statements, including Tonney’s.  Bradford was also convinced that the situation was indeed volatile.  When asked if there was danger of further trouble he replied, “Yes; immediate danger.  If one man from either town goes to the other, he will be killed, and this will precipitate a fight.  Both towns are armed and patrolled, there being about 150 armed men at each place.  They have rifle pits and pickets day and night.” (Topeka State Journal, August 2, 1888)

Even though it was obvious that an act of cold-blooded murder had been committed, astonishingly no one was arrested – No Man’s Land was out of Kansas state jurisdiction.  Colonel Woods, however, worked for two years to find a way to bring the murderers to justice.  Twelve men from Hugoton were indicted and tried in a Federal Court in Paris, Texas.  Five were convicted of murder but the United States Supreme Court ordered a new trial, which never occurred.

In June of 1891, Colonel Woods was gunned down, shot and killed from behind by Jim Brennan, a deputy sheriff of a neighboring county.  Brennan, a witness for the defendants in the Federal trial, surrendered himself to authorities in Liberal, Kansas but was never tried – the reason being the jury pool of Stevens County was so contaminated with partisans of both factions that it was impossible to seat an unbiased jury.

After Woods died, Woodsdale declined; the post office closed in 1910 and the townsite was sold off for taxes.  By 1934 even the remains of Sheriff Cross and his men were moved to other locations.  To this day, Hugoton remains the county seat.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Book Review Thursday: Birdmen

Birdmen  On December 17, 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with their first-ever power-controlled flight, brief though it was.  At the time the Wright Brothers weren’t the only ones pursuing the elusive feat of engine-powered flight.  This book chronicles the rivalries among the daredevils of that day who would become known as the “Birdmen.”

Not long afterwards the Wrights filed a broadly-worded patent with the intent, no doubt, to garner royalties from anyone who ever built another piece of aircraft from that point forward.  When asked to appear at exhibitions they would demand licensing fees and a share of the profits.  In a way, it was good business practice to protect their invention, but in the end it more or less made them appear to be greedy.

Their chief rival, Glenn Curtiss, was undaunted by their threats of lawsuits.  He had ideas of his own (as did other aeronautical innovators of the day).   Historian Lawrence Goldstone has carefully researched the subject and written a detailed history of both the pre- and post-flight era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not only in America but abroad in Europe.

What quickly becomes apparent is that although the Wrights worked hard to improve their invention over the years, they fell behind in innovation, primarily because they spent so much time in court defending their patent.  The book, however, isn’t just about the rivalry between the Wrights and Curtiss, although a significant portion is devoted to that subject.  With all of the lawsuits brought against fellow aviators and the demands for exorbitant fees, the reputations of Wilbur and Orville Wright suffered, both at home and abroad.  As Goldstone noted, “Wilbur Wright was transformed overnight from hero and adopted son to scoundrel” in his dealings abroad.

There are as many twists and turns to the story as there were innovators and daredevils.  The daredevils have a special place in early aviation history.  Their exhibitions attracted crowds of thousands, at least initially.  The more daring their stunts, the more enthralled were the spectators.

Goldstone also chronicles a four-year period when the luck of many of those stunt pilots ran out.  During that period, one hundred and forty-two pilots crashed their planes and died.  In almost every instance, fans would rush to the scene, not to attend to the pilot, but to grab pieces of the plane for souvenirs.

The book is very detailed, and I have to admit it took awhile for me to get into it.  Some parts of the Wright brothers story I had read in another book I reviewed recently (Washed Away).   Having never heard of the rivalries nor the legal wrangling (which went on for years), I found the book very informative.  If you have an interest in a meticulously researched account of the early days of flight, this book is a must read.

By the way, one of the men who was a part of the exhibition team was Frank Coffyn.  He was profiled in a Surname Saturday article here.

Rating:  ★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Wild Weather Wednesday: The White Hurricane

WildWeatherWednesdaySince we’re in the middle of a pretty H-O-T summer, I thought a Wild Weather Wednesday article about a blizzard might be cool and refreshing.  Historically, the entire year of 1913 was full of disastrous and record-setting weather events.  The Ohio Valley was flooded in January, an Illinois ice storm in February, heavy and disastrous flooding and tornadoes in March (see articles on The Great Flood of 1913 here and here), Midwest drought and heat waves and the hottest day on record in Death Valley on July 10 – 134 degrees!

In November the Great Lakes region experienced a storm called “The Great Lakes Storm of 1913″ or “The White Hurricane.”   “November gales” or “The Witch of November” are not uncommon in that part of the country – since 1847 there have been several killer storms recorded.  In 1975 one of these storms sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald and inspired the Gordon Lightfoot hit song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Great Lakes, although located in the northern region of the mainland United States, hold their heat later in the year than one might expect given the harsh winters we hear about.  Typically, two weather tracks converge on the area with cold, dry air from the Canadian provinces and warm, moist air flowing northeast from the Gulf of Mexico.  When these two storm systems converge over the Great Lakes they are affected by the still-warm waters of the Lakes, creating a cyclonic effect.  These storms are capable of producing hurricane-force winds, waves in excess of fifty feet accompanied by several inches or either rain or snow – and they can sit over the region for days.

The approaching weather system began to be tracked on Thursday, November 6 with an advisory for “moderate to brisk winds” and some rain for the upper Great Lakes.  By the next morning the advisories had been changed to “moderately severe” and later in the afternoon the Coast Guard raised lanterns to signal the coming hurricane-force winds (winds exceeding 74 mph).  Lake Superior winds had already been measured at 50 mph and a blizzard was approaching Lake Huron.

On Saturday November 8, the storm was centered over the eastern part of Lake Superior and had been upgraded to “severe.”  At one point that day, a false lull occurred, called a “sucker hole.”  Ship captains mistakenly believed it was safe to navigate across the region and by the morning of the 9th the storm headed south to Virginia, merging with a southern low pressure system.

By noon on Sunday the barometric pressures had even begun to rise which usually indicates a storm has passed – the lower pressure area was moving northeast away from the lake region.  So at 8:00 a.m. the Weather Bureau was reporting more favorable conditions (they only issued two daily reports, one at 8:00 a.m. and one at 8:00 p.m.).

However, a southern low-pressure system was moving toward Lake Erie, formed overnight it didn’t appear on the last weather map.  The counterclockwise rotation brought wind gusts of 75-80 mph in Buffalo and Cleveland, with a dramatic barometric pressure drop.  As the system continued to churn, wind speeds increased accompanied by blowing snow.  Ships on Lake Huron were hit with massive waves.

GreatLakesThe worst part of the Sunday storm raged from 8:00 p.m. to midnight with continuously sustained winds of more than 70 mph.  Ships on Lake Huron sustained the greatest damage, one gust of 90 mph was recorded at Harbor Beach, Michigan.  Without the dynamic weather forecasting tools available today, meteorologists of that day didn’t have adequate data to understand what was approaching the Great Lakes region.  Data was collected twice daily around the country and hand-drawn maps were created, but without the technology and instant news we have today, the information was soon outdated and of little use, especially when it came to unusual and fast-moving weather systems like this one.

ClevelandStormThe storm began to move northeast on Monday morning, the famous lake effect accompanying it.  Cleveland received seventeen additional inches of snow that day and snow drifted to six feet high in some places.  Streetcars were stranded and without power for several days, telephone and telegraph communications were cut off with downed lines.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on November 11:

Cleveland lay in white and mighty solitude, mute and deaf to the outside world, a city of lonesome snowiness, storm-swept from end to end, when the violence of the two-day blizzard lessened late yesterday afternoon.

Cleveland’s chief weather forecaster declared it was the worst storm the city had experienced since the Weather Bureau had a establishing a station in 1870.  However, as bad as the damage and isolation was in Cleveland and other cities, the Lakes suffered far worse.  Newspapers around the United States and Canada printed headlines like this one:

Vancouver_Daily_World_Tue__Nov_11__1913_Several ships had sunk and over two hundred and fifty deaths were estimated, with Lake Huron by far claiming the most ships and victims.  Four ships, the Leafield, James Carruthers, Plymouth and Hydrus, have never been located.  In recent years two ships, the Wexford (2000) and Henry B. Smith (2013) have been found.  Here is a picture of some of the twenty victims from the Wexford who washed ashore:

wexfordThe losses were significant in 1913 dollars: $2,332,000 for ships totally lost; $830,900 for damaged vessels; $620,000 for damaged ships later returned to service and approximately one million dollars in lost cargo (grain, coal, lumber, iron ore).  Cleveland streetcars and businesses were shut down for two days.  However, after cities were stranded without power and communication for days, one forward-looking plan following the aftermath was the decision to place utility cables underground.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Measles Memorial Cemetery

MeaslesMemorialCemeteryThis cemetery was apparently a family cemetery on a plot of land owned by John W. Measles of Lavaca, Sebastian County, Arkansas since the first person buried there was John’s son Emil who died in 1891 at the age of twenty-two.  How long it remained a private cemetery is unclear since there are several other people buried there who may or may not be related to the Measles family.

At the entrance is a sign which reads “Measles Memorial Public Cemetery.”  The First Baptist Church of Lavaca is nearby and it appears that some of those interred in the cemetery were members of that congregation.  What caught my eye, of course, was the somewhat unusual cemetery name, specifically the surname “Measles.”

After a bit of research, I’ve concluded that “Measles” was not the original spelling of this family name, nor am I certain how the name was originally spelled, although I’m leaning toward “Mizell”.  As the article unfolds you’ll see the various spellings, but first some information about John W. Measles and his family.

John W. Measles

His tombstone indicates he was born in 1841 and 1850 census records show he was born in Lauderdale County, Tennessee to Miles and Elizabeth Mizells.  In 1860 John was still residing with his parents, but for the census their names are spelled “Measles”.  Whether or not the spelling “evolved” to “Measles” over those ten years is unclear.

JohnAndMarthaMeaslesGraveOn November 11, 1861, J.W. Meazles enlisted in the Confederate Army for one year service in Company E of the 1st Confederate Cavalry, recruited by Captain C.H. Conner.  For the muster roll dated April 30, 1862, he was listed as absent – “captured by the enemy near Paris, Tenn. 11 March 62 with horse & equipments.”

The Paris courthouse lawn was the staging area for several Confederate units.  On March 11, 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant brought the Civil War to Paris, his troops numbering five hundred while the Confederates had four hundred on that day.  The two sides battled for about thirty-five minutes until the Union troops retreated back to Paris Landing.  Union casualties were four killed and five wounded and the Confederates sustained twenty casualties.

A record dated March 12, 1864 indicates that John resigned on October 1, 1862, perhaps following his release from captivity, but apparently returning to duty soon afterwards because from October 30, 1862 to April 30, 1863 John Measley had been reassigned away from his company – “absent at wagon train.”  Records indicate that John served as a teamster for the remainder of the war.  He (“Jno Measels”) was mustered out “in accordance with the terms of a Military Convention entered into on the 26th day of April, 1865,” although the roll is undated.  John had last been paid on November 1, 1863.

On May 29, 1867 J.W. Measells married Martha Caroline Norman in Lauderdale County.  John was a farmer and by 1870 their first child Emil was two years old, born on March 18, 1868.  John and Martha lived in Civil District 10 of Lauderdale County, his parents Miles and Elizabeth Mizells lived close by, according to the census six residences down the road.

JohnAndMarthaMeaslesBetween the 1870 and 1880 censuses the family migrated to Sebastian County, Arkansas.  In 1880 J.W. and Martha Measels had four children: Emil A., Emma Dora, John Doniven and Sarah Anne.  In 1884, their son Merritt Monroe was born.  Emil married Lula Seward on December 19, 1888 and on January 14, 1891 he died – one family historian believes he fell from a horse.  Shortly after his death, Lula discovered she was pregnant and named the baby “Emil A.” after his father.  Emil was the first person buried in the cemetery located on John’s land in Lavaca.

EmilMeaslesGraveJohn and Martha Measles were enumerated in Lauderdale County, Tennessee for the 1900 census, probably visiting Martha’s eighty-two year old father F.T. [sp?] Morman [Norman].  Interestingly, a granddaughter (of Martha’s father) named Thursday (sp?) Measles is listed as well, thirty-six years old and born in October of 1863.  Whose child she was is unclear since John was away serving in the Civil War at that time and he and Martha didn’t marry until 1867.

ThusdayMeaslesIn 1910 John and Martha lived next door to Merritt in Lavaca and John was still farming at the age of sixty-nine.  In 1911 Martha passed away, and according to Sebastian County death records John W. Measels died on November 14, 1914.  Their daughter Emma Dora Kidd passed away on August 21, 1923 and is buried with her family in Measles Memorial Cemetery.  Her husband Benjamin is buried there as are twin daughters Dorris and Dorothy who died in 1926 and 1928 respectively (born in 1925).  Find-A-Grave notes that these are Emma’s children, but according to Sebastian County death records she passed away in 1923, so perhaps Benjamin remarried (he died in 1939).

JohnMeaslesChildrenJohn and Martha’s children John, Sarah and Merritt lived into their eighties and nineties, and with the exception of Merritt, were buried in the family cemetery (he is buried in Fort Smith).  Merritt’s infant son was born and died on January 12, 1910 and buried in Measles Memorial.  The spouses of Sarah and John are buried there as well, but no sign of the mysterious “Thursday Measles” from the 1900 census.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Military History Monday: The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek

BurntCornCreekOn July 27, 1813 the battle that started the Creek War occurred at a bend on Burnt Corn Creek, located in present day Escambia County, Alabama.  First of all, where did the name “Burnt Corn Creek” originate from?  There are a few theories:

  • The Creek Indians tried to drive the white settlers away from their land by burning their corn cribs.
  • The white settlers burned the corn fields of the Creek Indians to drive them away.
  • A group of Indians left an ailing tribe member behind with a supply of corn.  When he was well enough to travel, however, he had no way to carry the corn away with him so perhaps he burned the corn in his campfire before departing.  Others came along later, stayed at the nearby spring and noted that they stayed by the spring where “corn had been burnt.”

Any-who, it is a unique name and some historians theorize that the name and place may pre-date the Revolutionary War.  If true, then Burnt Corn also pre-dated the formation of the Mississippi Territory in 1798 and Alabama’s founding in 1819.  Like the list of reasons why the name, the theories of when the area first became known as “Burnt Corn” are unclear or unknown.

Tecumseh  The Creeks (or Muscogee Creeks) had actually been mostly at peace with white settlers for many years, but when Tecumseh traveled south in 1811 to recruit (and stir up) allies among what were called the Five Civilized Tribes things changed.  An excerpt from a speech to the Muscogees:

The Muscogee was once a mighty people. The Georgians trembled at your war-whoop, and the maidens of my tribe, on the distant lakes, sung the prowess of your warriors and sighed for their embraces. Now your very blood is white; your tomahawks have no edge; your bows and arrows were buried with your fathers. Oh! Muscogees, brethren of my mother, brush from your eyelids the sleep of slavery; once more strike for vengeance; once more for your country. The spirits of the mighty dead complain. Their tears drop from the weeping skies. Let the white race perish.  (as reported by Captain Samuel Dale who was present at the speech)

At the time, Florida was still under Spanish control and Spaniards were also stirring up discord among the Creeks.  In July of 1813 Peter McQueen led a band of Creeks called “Red Stick Warriors” to Pensacola, Florida.  The “Red Stick Warriors”, so called because they used red-colored war clubs, were on a mission to buy weapons and ammunition from the Spanish.

McQueen and his warriors returned from Florida on July 27 and camped for the night on Burnt Corn Creek.  White settlers had received word of the Creeks’ purchase and became alarmed, forming a militia of one hundred and eighty men.  That night the militia, led by Colonel James Caller, ambushed the Red Sticks, causing them to scatter and flee into the nearby brush.

Mistakenly, Caller’s men thought they had routed the Creeks and began to plunder the Indian camp and take away their horses.  However, McQueen rallied his warriors and mounted a fierce counterattack on the militia.  Confusion and panic ensued and the militia scattered and fled, although some militia members stood their ground and prevented a complete rout.  Colonel Caller and one of his men became disoriented and wandered in the woods for two weeks before being found in a delirious state.

The militia lost two men with ten to fifteen wounded.  The Red Sticks lost perhaps as many as ten warriors and eight to ten wounded.  The militia also captured some of the guns and ammunition as well, but the battle was considered a loss for Colonel Caller.  Burnt Corn Creek emboldened the Creeks, for on August 30 about seven hundred Red Stick Warriors attacked Fort Mims and massacred two hundred and fifty people.

The governors of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi Territory called for action.  Governor William Blount put Generals John Cocke and Andrew Jackson in charge of two Tennessee regiments.  Interestingly, Jackson’s forces were supplemented by a large contingent of Cherokee warriors.  Tune in next week for more about the Creek War and Jackson’s role in the final battle of that conflict, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Hymnspiration: Count Your Blessings

JohnsonOatmanToday’s hymn was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and set to music by Edward O. Excell.  The hymn, based on Ephesians 1:3, was first published in 1897 and considered to be the best of over five thousand songs Oatman wrote during his lifetime.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.

Johnson Oatman, Jr. was born on April 21, 1856 in New Jersey to parents Johnson and Rachel Oatman.  His father was an accomplished singer and Johnson, Jr. loved to sit beside him in church listening to him sing.  Early in his life he was involved in the family mercantile business and at the age of nineteen joined the Methodist church.  He was later licensed as a Methodist Episcopal minister although he never served as a full-time pastor, instead working with various local congregations on a fill-in basis.

Following his father’s death, Johnson worked in the insurance industry.  In 1892, at the age of thirty-six, he began writing songs – some say that he averaged writing four or five a week and rarely receiving more than one dollar per song.

Hymn historian J.M. Hall stated that while Johnson Oatman, Jr. never served in a local pastorate, “he daily preaches to a larger congregation than the pastor of any church in the land.” Through his hymns he was able to preach the Gospel “to all the world.”  Hall also remarked that he believed no hymnal was complete without one of Oatman’s hymns.

Count Your Blessings first appeared in Songs for Young People, published in 1897 by the hymn’s musical composer, Edmond O. Excell.  Excell was born in 1851 and at the age of twenty became a singing teacher, traveling around the country conducting singing schools that were popular at that time.  His association with Southern evangelist Sam Jones highlighted his  talent as a song leader.  He published over fifty song books and wrote and/or composed more than two thousand songs.

Johnson Oatman’s lyrics were always well received and perhaps none more so than Count Your Blessings.  From the book 101 Hymn Stories:

Perhaps no American hymn was ever received with such enthusiasm in Great Britain as this hymn.  The London Daily, in giving an account of a meeting presided over by Gypsy Smith, reported, “Mr. Smith announced the hymn ‘Count Your Blessings.’  Said he, in South London the men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.”  During the great revival in Wales it was one of the hymns sung at ever service along with such Welsh favorites as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (No. 26) and “O That Will be Glory” (No. 70).

Clearly, the song has shown evidence of worldwide appeal through the years, one writer remarking, “Like a beam of sunlight it has brightened up the dark places of the earth.”  The song was said to have been sung frequently in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.  Interestingly, Oatman’s great grandson lives a few block from Ground Zero and is himself a talented writer.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
count your many blessings name them one by one,
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done!
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
count your many blessings money cannot buy
your reward in heaven nor your home on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
do not be discouraged. God is over all;
count your many blessings angels will attend,
help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson married Wilhelmina Ried on July 21, 1878 and together they had three children, a son and two daughters.  Their oldest daughter Miriam followed in her father’s footsteps and wrote hundreds of her own hymns, in addition to composing music for her father’s hymns.  Wilhelmina died in 1909, and on September 25, 1922 Johnson passed away and was buried in Lumberton, New Jersey.


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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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