May 16, 1917: Stephen Mather appointed First Director of the National Park Service

Stephen Mather was born to a family of old New England stock, but he was a true son of the West. Born in California, he graduated from Berkeley, worked briefly as a reporter, and then got a job with the Pacific Coast Borax Company where he branded “20 Mule Team Borax” so successfully that it became a runaway success.MaTHER pLAQUE

But in 1903 he suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork. During his illness his employer withheld his salary, so Mather quit and started a competing borax company. He soon became so rich that by the time he turned 47 he was a self-made millionaire and restless for a new challenge.

One of the highlights of Mather’s life thus far had been his meeting John Muir in Sequoia National Park in 1912. Mather found himself intoxicated by the wonders of nature, and visited Sequoia and Yosemite again in the summer of 1914 – But when he got there he was disgusted by the poor condition of the parks.

He wrote a letter of complaint to his college friend, Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane.

Secretary Lane replied:
Dear Steve, If you don’t like the way the national parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself.

Steve Mather accepted the offer.

He took on staff, paid their salaries out of his own pocket, and began a public relations blitz. In 1915 spent $4,000 of his own money to lead a tour of influential leaders through Sequoia Park, Kern River Canyon and Mount Whitney for two weeks in July. All on the excursion fell under the spell of the rugged breath-taking scenery, particularly Gilbert H. Grosvenor, editor of the National Geographic Magazine, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the national parks.

Mather plied newspapers and magazines with park material, and between 1917 and 1919 his office inspired over 1,050 press articles. He raised funds from his wealthy friends to purchase new park lands, and at times he purchased land himself and donated it to the National Park Service.

He engaged the budding automotive industry to help “democratize” the parks, working to increase their accessibility to ordinary Americans, and he professionalized the corps of park rangers.

There were times when Steve Mather still suffered from depression, but, as so many have found, the wilderness protected by the National Parks provided a welcome tonic, and time with nature helped ward off his bouts of melancholy.

Stephen Mather is not well remembered today, but upon his death in 1930 the Park Service erected bronze plaques in each National Park engraved with his image and the words: “There will never come an end to the good that he has done.”

May 13, 1787: George Washington Arrives in Philadelphia

Patrick Henry refused to join to the convention, saying bluntly that he ”smelt a rat”, Rhode Island announced it would send no delegation at all, and a series of spring storms turned all the roads leading to the City of Brotherly Love into Philly_Constitution_of_the_United_Statesrivers of mud.

Despite the impediments, George Washington left his wife Martha behind at Mount Vernon and arrived in Philadelphia on time, one day in advance of the scheduled opening of the Federal Convention. He expected he would lodge at Mrs. House’s boarding house at Fifth and High Streets, but his friend, financier Robert Morris, insisted that the General stay at his house just one block away. Washington accepted, saying “being again warmly and kindly pressed by Mr. & Mrs. Rob. Morris to lodge with them I did so…”

Washington immediately then paid a visit to Benjamin Franklin, noting in his diary “Waiting on the President, Doctr. Franklin as soon as I got to Town.” Dr. Franklin, age 81, held the title of “President of Pennsylvania”; Washington at this point was just a citizen without any official position and felt obliged to wait for his old ally to formally receive him.

James Madison of Virginia and Colonel Alexander Hamilton of New York had been engineering state meetings on commercial cooperation, but it was only the mob violence of Shay’s Rebellion that shocked the Continental Congress into reluctantly approving the Philadelphia convention.

The delegates would be asked to resolve a tangle of thorny problems: swollen state and national debts, a shortage of hard currency, inflated paper money issued by the different states, commercial conflicts among the states, repeated violations of treaties by the separate states, a depression in foreign trade, and a flood of imports.

Most of the fifty-five delegates who arrived in Philadelphia were ready to modestly revise the Articles of Confederation, but they still thought of themselves as envoys from twelve sovereign nations, tied together solely for purposes of commerce, defense, and foreign diplomacy.

A long hot summer of political, intellectual, and emotional struggle was about to begin.

May 12, 1962: General Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems toMacArthur-Dtbe little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.




May 11, 1910: Glacier National Park is Established

For years, George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Field and Stream, visited the remote mountains of Montana and repeatedly urged that they be set aside as a permanent reservation, but for years this lofty goal seemed only a dream:


“How often, in dreams of the night or day, have I revisited these scenes during the years that have passed since last I left these happy shores. How often, in fancy, have I seated myself on some rock on the point of old Singleshot and gazed over the beautiful scene. The two great lakes, the rocky walls of the sky-reached mountains which inclose them, the gray slide rock at my feet, the brown expanse of level prairie at the Inlet, the dark pine-clad foothills and the yellow grass of the little parks, the matchless blue of the unclouded sky were all present down the gorge at my feet I would seem to hear the faint roll of the ruffed grouse, as he summoned – in vain at this season – his harem to his side, and then, at first indistinct, but each movement more plainly heard and calling all my senses into alertness, would come the rattle of the hale which told me that a sheep was picking its way with dainty step over the slide rock, or was bounding with nervous leaps from rock to rock up or down the mountainside. But always before the crucial moment came when the noble game should present itself to my eyes, the vision faded and I found that the St. Mary’s Lakes were far away.”



May 10, 1869: The Golden Spike is Driven

Long lines of horses, mules and wagons stood in the open desert near the camp train at Promontory Summit, the stock getting its breakfast of hay and barley. Trains shunted in from the west with supplies and materials for the day’s work. The_Last_Spike_1869Foremen galloped here and there giving orders. Swarms of Chinese, Irish and American laborers were hurrying to their work.

On one side of the track stood the portable blacksmith shop where a score of smiths were repairing tools and shoeing horses and mules. Close by was the harness shop where leatherworkers repaired collars, traces and other tack. To the west lay the rails and line of telegraph poles stretching back as far as the eye could see. The telegraph wire from the last pole was strung into the car that served as a telegraph office. To the eastward stretched the grade marked by a line of newly distributed earth.

By the side of the grade smoked the camp fires of blue clad Chinese laborers, waiting for the signal to start work. Miles back was the camp of the Chinese who followed the track gang, ballasting and finishing the road bed.

The rails, ties and other material were thrown off the train as near to end of the track was as feasible, and then the empty train was drawn back out of the way. The rails were then hauled by horses to the rail gang who took the rails and laid them on the ties. A man on each side distributed spikes, two to each tie; another distributed splice bars; and a third the bolts and nuts by which the rails were spliced together. Back of the track builders followed a gang with the seven more ties necessary to complete the foundation for each rail. These were put into position and spiked by another gang, which also leveled up the track and left it ready for the ballasters.

On May 10, 1869, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit. An eight man Chinese crew laid the last section of rail, and the golden spike (made of 17.6-karat copper-alloyed gold) was dropped into a pre-drilled hole.

At exactly 12:47 pm Leland Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line, and the single word “done” flashed via telegraph around the country.

Afterwards the construction chief, J.H. Strobridge, invited the Chinese who had participated in the ceremony to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present stood and cheered. See More




May 9, 1775: Ethan Allen seizes Fort Ticonderoga

“We made a forced march from Bennington, and arrived at the lake opposite to Ticonderoga, on the evening of the 9thEthan Allen day of May, 1775, with two hundred and thirty valiant Green Mountain Boys; and it was with the utmost difficulty that I procured boats to cross the lake. However, I landed eighty-three men near the garrison, and sent the boats back for the rear guard, commanded by Colonel Seth Warner; but the day began to dawn, and I found myself under the necessity to attack the fort, before the rear could cross the lake.

The men being, at this time, drawn up in three ranks, each poised his firelock. I ordered them to face to the right, and, at the head of the center file, marched them immediately to the wicket gate aforesaid, where I found a sentry posted, who instantly snapped his fusee at me; I ran immediately toward him, and he retreated through the covered way into the parade within the garrison, gave a halloo, and ran under a bombproof. My party, who followed me into the fort, I formed on the parade in such a manner as to face the two barracks which faced each other.

The garrison being asleep, except the sentries, we gave three huzzas, which greatly surprised them. One of the sentries made a pass at one of my officers with a charged bayonet, and slightly wounded him. My first thought was to kill him with my sword; but, in an instant, I altered the design and fury of the blow to a slight cut on the side of the head, upon which he dropped his gun, and asked quarter, which I readily granted him, and demanded of him the place where the commanding officer kept; he showed me a pair of stairs in the front of a barrack, on the west part of the garrison, which led up to a second story in said barrack, to which I immediately repaired, and ordered the commander, Captain de la Place, to come forth instantly, or I would sacrifice the whole garrison; at which the Captain came immediately to the door, with his breeches in his hand, when I ordered him to deliver me the fort instantly; he asked me by what authority I demanded it: I answered him, ‘In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.’

The authority of the Congress being very little known at that time, he began to speak again; but I interrupted him, and with my drawn sword over his head, again demanded an immediate surrender of the garrison; with which he then complied, and ordered his men to be forthwith paraded without arms, as he had given up the garrison.




May 6, 1903: Teddy Roosevelt Visits the Grand Canyon

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I was delighted to learn of the wisdom of the TR Grand CanyonSanta Fe railroad people in deciding not to build their hotel on the brink of the canyon. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel, or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.

We have gotten past the stage, my fellow-citizens, when we are to be pardoned if we treat any part of our country as something to be skinned for two or three years for the use of the present generation, whether it is the forest, the water, the scenery. Whatever it is, handle it so that your children’s children will get the benefit of it. If you deal with irrigation, apply it under circumstances that will make it of benefit, not to the speculator who hopes to get profit out of it for two or three years, but handle it so that it will be of use to the home-maker, to the man who comes to live here, and to have his children stay after him.

Keep the forests in the same way. Preserve the forests by use; preserve them for the ranchman and the stockman, for the people of the Territory, for the people of the region round about. Preserve them for that use, but use them so that they will not be squandered, that they will not be wasted, so that they will be of benefit to the Arizona of 1953 as well as the Arizona of 1903.

To the Indians here I want to say a word of welcome. In my regiment I had a good many Indians.
They were good enough to fight and to die, and they are good enough to have me treat them exactly as squarely as any white man. There are many problems in connection with them. We must save them from corruption and from brutality; and I regret to say that at times we must save them from unregulated Eastern philanthropy. All I ask is a square deal for every man. Give him a fair chance. Do not let him wrong any one, and do not let him be wronged.




May 5, 1925: John T. Scopes is arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Such obscenities as the forthcoming trial of the Tennessee evolutionist, if they serve no other purpose, at least call attention dramatically to the fact that enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed. It is common to scopesassume that human progress affects everyone — that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized — though I should not like to be put to giving names — but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.

Such immortal vermin, true enough, get their share of the fruits of human progress, and so they may be said, in a way, to have their part in it. The most ignorant man, when he is ill, may enjoy whatever boons and usufructs modern medicine may offer — that is, provided he is too poor to choose his own doctor. He is free, if he wants to, to take a bath. The literature of the world is at his disposal in public libraries. He may look at works of art. He may hear good music. He has at hand a thousand devices for making life less wearisome and more tolerable: the telephone, railroads, bichloride tablets, newspapers, sewers, correspondence schools, delicatessen. But he had no more to do with bringing these things into the world than the horned cattle in the fields, and he does no more to increase them today than the birds of the air.

On the contrary, he is generally against them, and sometimes with immense violence. Every step in human progress, from the first feeble stirrings in the abyss of time, has been opposed by the great majority of men. Every valuable thing that has been added to the store of man’s possessions has been derided by them when it was new, and destroyed by them when they had the power. They have fought every new truth ever heard of, and they have killed every truth-seeker who got into their hands.

– H. L. Mencken



May 4, 1820: Birth of Julia Gardiner Tyler

Julia Gardiner stood five foot, three inches tall and wore long brown hair and had searching gray eyes. She lived in East Hampton and could sing and play the guitar and had been to New York’s finest finishing school and when she made her social debut in1835 she quickly became known as “the Rose of Long Island.”julia-gardiner-tyler-1

When she turned nineteen she shocked Knickerbocker society by posing for a mass-produced lithograph advertising a local clothing emporium. The picture of a rose in the ad clearly revealed the identity of the prominent socialite making the commercial endorsement.

Her parents thought it might be time to take Julia out of New York – they headed to Washington, D.C. where Julia and her sister were received at the White House by President Van Buren. Then they set off on a grand tour of Europe, and visited England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland and Italy, where Julia was presented to Pope Leo IX, kissed his ring and explored Mount Vesuvius.

She carried on brief romances with a German baron and a Belgian count, and was presented at the court of Louis Philippe. The family arrived back in the United States in the fall of 1841 and headed to Washington for another social season. A married Congressman (future president Millard Fillmore) quite openly flirted with Julia, and In January she and her parents were welcomed as guests in the White House by the new President, John Tyler, and his daughter and daughter-in-law. The President’s wife, Letitia, lay incapacitated in her second floor bedroom, paralyzed by a stroke several years earlier.

Washington went into mourning when Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand. When the Gardiners returned to Washington for the winter 1842-1843 social season, they increasingly became part of the presidential family’s intimate circle through friendship with the President’s sons, and President Tyler, having just lost his wife of nearly thirty years and seeking consolation, turned his affections to twenty-two year old Julia Gardiner.

He proposed marriage to her at a White House masquerade Washington’s Birthday Ball on February 22nd, just six months after the death of his wife. Julia refused to accept, but she and the President began to appear together in public, prompting speculation and rumors.

Julia’s parents decided it was time for another family trip to Europe.

Julia Gardiner, her sister and father returned for a third winter social season in Washington in February 1844. On February 28, 1844 Julia, her father, President Tyler and members of his Cabinet, as well as the former First Lady Dolley Madison and four hundred other guests set out on a Potomac River cruise on the new naval cutter, the USS Princeton.

The guests viewed the firing of the ship’s impressive big guns and then retired below decks for lunch and refreshments. When they came back up to view another test firing, the ship’s huge “Peacemaker” cannon blew up unexpectedly, exploding shrapnel into the crowd.

Instantly killed were the Secretaries of State and the Navy, the Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs, the Chargé d’Affaires to Belgium, the President’s valet, and Julia’s father -Colonel David Gardiner.

Julia and the President were below decks when the gun exploded. When Julia Gardiner found out her father had died in the explosion she fainted into President Tyler’s arms, not waking up until Tyler was carrying her off the ship.

The President was effusive in his consolation. Julia found in his mature strength a needed comfort for her loss.

Julia Gardiner Tyler, age 24, married President John Tyler, age 54, four months later at The Church of the Ascension in New York City, and she became the new First Lady of the United States of America.



May 3, 1846: War breaks out with Mexico!

Fort Texas was an earthwork fort on the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas. It was built in the shape of a six-sided star, with an earthen face which extended 150 yards. The walls were 9 feet high and 15 feet wide, and a moat 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep circled the exterior. Inside, U.S. troops had constructed a number of bomb shelters and powder magazines to provide protection from incoming fire.Palo Alto

There had been no formal declaration of war, but after the outbreak of hostilities at the nearby Rancho de Carricitos General Mariano Arista began shuttling troops across the Rio Grande to besiege the isolated Fort Texas.

General Zachary Taylor expected just such a move. On May 1 he marched most of his troops to Point Isabel on the Gulf of Mexico, where he planned to meet a fleet carrying supplies needed to endure an extended siege. Major Jacob Brown and 550 men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry and portions of the Third Artillery held the post on the river.

After Taylor’s departure for the coast General Arista moved quickly to surround the U.S. outpost. On May 3, 1846, Mexican artillery opened fire on Fort Texas from all directions in hopes of forcing a quick surrender.

Only two U.S. soldiers died in the bombardment—but one of them was the fort commander Jacob Brown, who was struck in the leg by a cannon ball. Despite being wounded, Brown helped maintain troop morale throughout the siege. He survived for several days only to die just hours before the siege ended. His men renamed the liberated post—Fort Brown—in his honor.

As soon as General Taylor resupplied his force he marched with 2,300 troops and 200 supply wagons to break the siege of Fort Texas.

General Arista positioned 3,200 troops across the Matamoros road where it crossed the broad prairie of Palo Alto to block this advance. On the afternoon of May 8, 1846, he engaged the U.S. force in a fierce artillery battle—the first major clash of the war.
Mexican forces stood their ground but suffered heavy casualties.

On the morning of May 9, General Arista withdrew several miles to the brush covered banks of Resaca de la Palma. Taylor’s troops pursued, and engaged the Mexican Army that afternoon in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Taylor’s troops overran Arista’s lines and forced Mexican troops to retreat across the Rio Grande.

On May 18, Taylor’s troops crossed the Rio Grande and entered the city of Matamoros without a fight. Mexican forces had withdrawn down the road leading to Monterrey. The lower Rio Grande Valley had been conceded to the U.S. Army

Although Fort Brown remained an active post until after World War II, the original earthworks were abandoned shortly after the war with Mexico. In the 1950s. Much of the structure was bulldozed to build a levee along the Rio Grande. Today a small section of the original walls has survived.

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park is currently involved in activities to stabilize the surviving earthworks, to protect the site, and interpret this fort as a unit of the park.

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