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Book Review - The Trail of Tears by D. L. Birchfield

"The Trail of Tears" by D. L. Birchfield (ISBN#0-8368-5381-4)

Description: Part of the Landmark Events in American History series - This series explores the causes and significance of key events in the history of the United States and introduces readers to the people who influence those events. Each book uses primary sources, archival photographs and illustrations, maps, time lines, and focus boxes to bring these stories of the nation's past alive.

Highlights: I've been researching Native American's history and migrations (voluntary and involuntary) throughout North America and it's been incredibly eye-opening and, at times, very heart wrenching. I found this book at the library and it is full of great simplified history that makes it a good resource. Here are a few highlights I've found within the 48 pages...

By 1500 BC, corn was being grown in the American Southwest.

By 1000 BC, corn was being grown by tribes in the American Southeast.

500 BC, "Mound Builders" arose in the river valleys of the woodlands areas east of the Mississippi River. At first the mounds were for burials and then they evolved into temple mounds. (Reviewer's note: There are a ton of mounds you can visit in Northeastern Louisiana). By 1300 AD, over 100,000 mounds had been built in the Mississippi River Valley.

The largest city of mound builders was Cahokia (Illinois). The base of the largest mound is 6 square miles - larger than the base of Egypt's Great Pyramid. 30,000 people lived here between 1100-1300 AD but by 1680 AD only a small village remained.

European diseases (especially highly contagious diseases such as small pox and cholera ) killed about 90% of the natives throughout the 1500's and 1600's.

Native Americans participated in the North American military until the War of 1812.

There were numerous Indian Removal Acts passed by the government to force natives onto reserved areas (reservations) or into less desirable areas. A lot of natives starved because either the hunting on those lands was poor or they did not have the proper knowledge or tools for agriculture. Many of the treaties promised food and supplies but dishonest Indian agents did not provide them or provided spoiled products.

The Cherokee created an alphabet with 85 symbols ("talking leaves") which was adopted in 1821.

Video Review - History Channel - Comanche Warriors

The History Channel released this interesting documentary, Comanche Warriors, several years ago and you may be able to borrow a copy from your local library.

For more than 150 years the Comanche of the Southwest were ferocious raiders who struck terror into the hearts of the plains tribes Mexican villagers and frontier settlers. Once a ragtag band of scavengers the Comanche transformed themselves into superior warriors by becoming the first Native American tribe to tame wild mustangs. In less than a generation the Comanche became the world's greatest horsemen and with their calculated attacks on wagon trains and a penchant for decorating their lances with the scalps of those who fought back they also became the most feared and powerful tribe in the American heartland. Featuring incisive expert interviews and fascinating archival photos find out how these great warriors rose to power and chart the course of their tragic demise. COMANCHE WARRIORS is a revealing look at the motivation tactics weapons and legends of the nomadic Native Americans known as the "Lords of the Southern Plains."

  • Before Westward Expansion, the Comanche tribes lived throughout the Central Plains region (stretching from Kansas to Central Texas), an area roughly 20,000 square miles.
  • They were nomadic hunters and had a reputation for being fine horse breeders/riders
  • Neighbors included the Apache, Kiowa, and Ute
  • The name "Comanche" may have come from the Ute tribe's word "Kohmaht" ("Those who are against us")
  • The Comanche tribe actually consists of many sub-bands, including the Quahadas, Nokoni, Penatukas, Yaparuhkas, Lacotsarutas
  • Each band had a leader who was chosen for his valor and skills
  • By the end of the 18th century, the hunting grounds was known as "Comancheria" as they had driven off most of the other tribes
  • A warrior's status in the tribe was based on courage, stealth and ruthlessness
  • Children were trained early to use bow and arrow (made of ash or hickory wood)
  • In the late 1700's, Comanches came into contact with French fur traders and traded furs for flintlock rifles, but the single-shot muskets were worse than bow and arrows
  • Starting in 1834, US troops move into the Comanche territory
  • February 1840, Comanche leaders go to San Antonio for a peace treaty but it ends up a blood bath
  • 1859, Federal Reservation (eventually becomes Oklahoma)
  • 1861, less than 5000 Comanches are left after wars, disease and removal to reservations kill many off
  • 1874, Red River War, was the end of the Comanche defiance against moving to the reservations completely.

Video Review - How We Got Here: Denim Defeats Communism (AHC)

Great historical video series titled "How We Got Here" from American History Channel that focuses on some important turning points in our history. This particular video highlights the making of Levi's denim pants.

If tradesman Jacob Davis doesn't survive the California Gold Rush, he will never meet Levi Strauss and the idea for the copper rivet will not be born. The saga of Levis Strauss and the triumph of blue jeans is the incredible story of HOW WE GOT HERE. Starring: Josh Fapp, Benjamin Horatio Garvis Runtime: 23 minutes Original air date: January 27, 2015


Levi Sraus was born 1829 in Germany, the youngest of seven. His two older brothers went to New York around 1845.

1847 - Levi goes to New York to learn the dry goods business

1848 - Gold is discovered in California

At this time, San Francisco had 34 dry goods stores but mostly lacking any real goods (since they didn't have reliable shipments).

Levi wants to set up shop so his brother sends a ship full of dry goods including cloth. At first he plans to make tents, but then realizes the miners are in short supply of long-lasting clothes, especially pants with strong knees.

Jacob Davis is a taylor and he figures out that copper rivets at stress points make the pants more durable. These stronger pants become very popular. Levi offers to become his partner so they can mass-produce these pants.

1872 - At first, the pants are made of a brownish canvas, but then they invest in twill cotton fabric dyed indigo. They patent their product.

1886 - They put a leather patch on the back of the pants

1890 - Their patent expires

1902 - Levi dies

Early 1900s - Buffalo Bill Show features denim-wearing cowboys to Easterners, opening a new area of demand

Video Review - 10 Things You Don't Know about the OK Corral with Henry Rollins

The H2 (History 2) channel has been airing this wonderful series with host Henry Rollings called "10 Things You Don't Know About..." on a variety of interesting topics. Fabulous series that spotlights little-known facts. Today, I'll highlight episode #5 in season 1 that focuses on the famous gunfight at the OK Corral.

"10 Things You Don't Know About the OK Corral with Henry Rollins"


The OK Corral was the site of the world's most famous Wild West gunfight. But the shootout didn't actually happen at the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp was more of a pimp than a lawman, and Doc Holliday didn't die with his boots on. Historian David Eisenbach heads straight to the scene of the crime to unearth what you don't know about the gunfight at the OK Corral.


The famous gun battle took place behind the OK Corral in a vacant lot on October 26, 1881

Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Virgil Earp, and Morgan Earp versus Bill Clanton, Ike Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury

Wyatt Earp worked in Tombstone as a guard for Wells Fargo

July 1880, 6 U.S. Army mules were stolen and found on the McLaury ranch. This was considered a Federal Offense.

The gunfight only took 30 seconds.

Billy Clanton and Tom McLaury died. Frank McLaury was shot. Morgan Earp was shot in the shoulder.

December 28, 1881 - the cowboys took revenge and shot Virgil Earp.

March 18, 1882 - Morgan Earp was shot dead while playing pool

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday flee to Colorado.

Book Review - Telegram! by Linda Rosenkrantz

"Telegram!: Modern History as Told Through More than 400 Witty, Poignant, and Revealing Telegrams" by Linda Rosenkrantz

Description: There was a time when the sight of a Western Union delivery boy coming up the walk filled Americans with a sense of excitement or trepidation. Between its invention in the mid-nineteenth century and its post-1960s relegation to money transfer and congratulations, the telegraph served as the primary medium for urgent messages. Telegram! collects the most poignant and revealing examples of this earliest form of instant communication.

Organized into categories such as "Parents and Children," "Hooray for Hollywood," and "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office," the telegrams range from such moving personal notes as W.C. Fields's wire to his dying friend John Barrymore, "You can't do this to me," to political advice, such as one voter's telegraphed suggestion to President Herbert Hoover: "Vote for Roosevelt and make it unanimous."

The communication compiled here also provides a novel and engaging perspective on modern history. Abraham Lincoln virtually conducted the Civil War over the telegraph wires, financial nabobs used them to discuss (and fail to predict) the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression, and Japanese diplomats in Washington sent a flurry of encoded telegrams to Tokyo in the weeks leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This handsome volume blends history, sociology, wit, and creativity as captured and dispatched by the telegram in its golden age.

Highlights: The telegraph worked by sending electric pulses along the telegraph wire. The operator opened and closed a switch which transmitted the electric pulses to a pen on the receiving side. The pen marked a strip of paper with dots and dashes. The receiving operator translated the marks into letters and words.

Western Union was originally known as the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. They built the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

Bank robbers cut telegraph wires to prevent news (of thefts) from spreading to lawmen.

1774 - the first functioning telegraph is demonstrated in Geneva, Switzerland by George Louis Lesage.

1832 - Samuel Finley Breese Morse transmits signals by opening and closing an electrical circuit.

1960 - Western Union sends its last Morse code telegram

Book Review - The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853 by Edward Dolnick

The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853 by Edward Dolnick

Description: In the spring of 1848, rumors began to spread that gold had been discovered in a remote spot in the Sacramento Valley. A year later, newspaper headlines declared "Gold Fever!" as hundreds of thousands of men and women borrowed money, quit their jobs, and allowed themselves- for the first time ever-to imagine a future of ease and splendor. In THE RUSH, Edward Dolnick brilliantly recounts their treacherous westward journeys by wagon and on foot, and takes us to the frenzied gold fields and the rowdy cities that sprang from nothing to jam-packed chaos. With an enthralling cast of characters and scenes of unimaginable wealth and desperate ruin, THE RUSH is a fascinating-and rollicking-account of the greatest treasure hunt the world has ever seen.

1848 - San Francisco population is about 812
1851 - San Francisco population is now 30,000

In 1840s, New York is the largest city in the US. Already Wall Street, Broadway, and Fifth Avenue are well-known.

Before gold was discovered in California, gold was mined from Siberia by prisoners who worked 14 hour days. This is why the Calfornia gold rush was even more popular - because people could actually mine/claim their own gold (and not just labor for the mine owner).

In 1848, gold miners could earn up to $150/day. Children panned for gold up to $25/day.

The book highlights some funny gimmicky contraptions that people sold to help miners "find gold".

Gold mining is an ancient labor. There are depictions even in ancient Egypt of slaves mining for gold.

Book Review - Bodie: The Town that Belongs to Ghosts (Abandoned!) by Kevin Blake

Bodie: The Town That Belongs to Ghosts (Abandoned! Towns Without People) by Kevin Blake

Bodie's Timeline:

1848 - Gold Rush starts
1880 - Bodie was a bustling town of about 10,000 people
1884 - Population dwindled to 1,500
1930 - Ghost town
1932 - Fire broke out and destroyed 75% of the town


Over 65 saloons were opened
There was 1 doctor
90% of the residents were men
There were 2 churches
Out of 30 gold mines, only 2 would continue to be profitable/operational

Review - Book - Object: Matrimony by Chris Enss

Chris Enss has written a fabulous, entertaining book called "Object: Matrimony" about the mail-order bride industry during the late 19th century, a sort of follow up on previous book, "Hearts West: True Stories Of Mail-Order Brides On The Frontier".

Desperate to strike it rich during the Western Gold Rushes and eager for the free land afforded them through the Homestead Act, men went west alone and sacrificed many creature comforts. Only after they arrived at their destinations did some of them realize how much they missed female companionship.
One way for men living on the frontier to meet women was through subscriptions to heart-and-hand clubs. The men received newspapers with information, and sometimes photographs, about women, with whom they corresponded. Eventually, a man might convince a woman to join him in the West, and in matrimony. Social status, political connections, money, companionship, or security were often considered more than love in these arrangements.
Complete with historic photographs and actual advertisements from both women seeking husbands and males seeking brides, Object Matrimony includes stories of courageous mail order brides and their exploits as well as stories of the marriage brokers, mercenary matchmakers looking to profit as merchants did off of the miners and settlers. Some of these stories end happily ever after; others reveal desperate situations that robbed the brides of their youth and sometimes their lives.


Daily Alta California newspaper points out on October 6, 1859, there was 1 woman for every 200 men. Alaska in 1898 had 57 women for 3000 men. Ripe pickings for a single woman back East looking for a husband!

It was a 129-day trip overland from Independence, Missouri to San Francisco, California.

An alternative was taking a steamship via the ocean but that was still a three-month journey and fraught with danger. Between 1852 and 1867, 160 steamships burned, 209 blew up, and over 520 sank.

A popular option for single people was to post an ad in a newsletter/newspaper like Matrimonial News. The weekly Matrimonial News was established in 1870 in England by Leslie F. Duncan. It became so popular, two additional offices opened in San Francisco and Kansas City.

There were also matrimonial clubs (match-making clubs). One such clubs was called the Busy Bee Club set up in Arizona for marriage-minded singles. Membership to these clubs were usually free. Matrimonial clubs date back to 1849.

For those who had extra money to spend and who were a little more eager could pay for match-making services through a matrimonial agency or a marriage broker. Costs ran from $200 to $750 (a huge sum in those days).

Review - Wild West Tech - Native American Tech

Every once in awhile the History Channel re-runs its Wild West tech series. I also found some videos available at my local library or you can watch pieces of the shows on YouTube. I really like the shows because they offer a vivid image of what life was like during the Old West sprinkled with facts and research that I can use for my own works in progress.

This particular episode, Native American Tech, deals with some of the interesting facets of native life including some famous chiefs, fighting tactics, and daily life.

During the gold strikes of Montanan, in the early 1860s, white miners would flow in and several government issued forts appeared along what is now known as the Bozenman Trail (1864). Additionally, there were constant army supply wagons to restock the forts - temptation for nearby natives, such as the Lakota, who found them easy pickings.

The main weapon of natives was the bow and arrow (until later when white settlers traded guns to them). Arrowheads have been found as early as 500 BC and were brought to the plains for hunting. Originally made of flint or obsidian (very sharp), they could travel 100 feet per second. Later arrowheads were made of iron. The arrow shaft was made of a light wood such as ash or hickory and decorated with turkey or hawk feathers. Eagle feathers were too fragile and were rarely used. Bows were under 3 feet long and had a range of about 60-75 yards.

Horses were introduced to natives by the Spanish after 1500. The Commanche tribe excelled at horsemanship. They could jump on and off a horse and shoot arrows while moving. Dogs were used as beasts of burden and pulled travois (a type of sled) loaded with hundreds of pounds.

Commanche and Lakota had portable tipis that could be packed up within an hour but were strong enough to withstand gale force winds. They were typical tipi design - 3 pole tripod with several supporting poles and a hide cover.

By 1890, all plains indians were on reservations.

You can view part of the episode.

Review - The Real West - The Law from Behind the Tin Star

One of my favorite ways to research is to watch documentary-type television series because we can get a more three-dimensional sense of the facts as opposed to reading in a book. The History Channel's The Real West series is an enjoyable one with plenty of little tidbits and first person accounts throughout.

This particular episode focuses on the Law of the Wild West, which in some places wasn't a whole lot. "Gun Law" ruled before actual lawmen did, which also meant there were vigilante gangs to impose their own form of "justice". Sometimes lawmen overstepped their duties - intentionally or not.

April 15, 1871, James Butler Hickok (known as "Wild Bill Hickok") became marshal of Abilene, Kansas. He was a Civil War hero and flamboyant dresser with a real talent for handling and shooting guns. On October 5, 1871, James is holding off an unruly crowd on the sidewalk and shoots Phil Coe. He also accidentally shoots his deputy, Mike Williams.

Iron cages for jails were shipped to towns via the railroad. Badges were made from tin cans or were emblems sewn on hats.

Pat Garrett was sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches he made an imposing figure. In 1881 he captured Billy the Kid. He died in 1908 almost penniless.

Review - Smithsonian Channel's Mystery Files - Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn

The Smithsonian Channel has a great series called Mystery Files which takes an investigative journalism approach to well-known events and offers a glimpse into what really happened. This particular episode, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn, digs deep into the events leading up to and during the battle and exposes the truth behind the legendary myth that Sitting Bull led his warriors to victory.

Sitting Bull was a member of the Lakota Nation who had been a respected warrior in his youth but had become a sun-dancer and spiritual leader in his forties. He performed the annual Sun Dance ceremony for his people and had visions or prophecies.

In 1868, the Lakota had agreed to a peace treaty with the United States and were moved to the Great Sioux Reservation with plenty of land to roam. However, in 1874, Colonel George Custer's expedition finds gold deposits in the Black Hills. Once news gets out, white settlers flood the land to mine the precious ore. The government decides to take this piece of the reservation back. The Bureau of Indian Affairs goes one step further and decrees the Indians can no longer roam on/off the reservation and must remain within the reservation boundaries. The Indian's way of life - to follow the herds as hunters - was now in jeopardy. Sitting Bull refuses to accept this new decree.

On June 25, 1876, General Custer charges into Sitting Bull's camp (next to Little Big Horn) but quickly realizes the camp is bigger than he expected. His men, who practiced Civil War-style line formations, are quickly surrounded by warriors who engage in guerrilla-type combat (like hit and run). Sitting Bull was not a combatant. For now, the tribesmen were victorious.

The native people were attacked and pursued for several years. In 1881, Sitting Bull finally surrenders and moves to a permanent reservation.

Learn more on the Smithsonian Channel

Learn more about the gold rush to the Black Hills

Review - Wild West Tech - Train Tech

Review - Wild West Tech - Shootout Tech

The Wild West Tech series is enjoyable for western history buffs. This particular episode focused on the spreading of the locomotive throughout the west.

Old trains were made mostly of wood which made them easily damaged and highly flammable. Sparks from the coal stove could catch the car on fire.

In San Antonio, a boiler exploded and 26 men were killed. Pieces of the train were found up to a mile away.

Before the railroad came, a trip across country on a wagon took months or a trip around Cape Horn via ship took almost a year. One could travel about a month through the area that would eventually be the Pananama Canal, but the locals demanded heavy payment and the journey was dangerous.

1862 marked the first Transcontinental Railroad.

Early rails were of "strap rail" construction - two planks of wood and a bar of iron strapped on top. This construction tended to come undone or the planks of wood tended to curl ("snakehead") causing trains to derail.

1856, Henry Bessemer of Bessemer Steel made steel tracks which were a lot stronger.

Interestingly, the initial straight smoke stacks allowed floating embers to fly into the passenger cars (igniting the wooden seats) or into nearby farm fields. The shape of the stack became cone shaped so the sparks became trapped inside preventing potential fires.

1869, George Westinghouse invented automatic air breaks. Previously, a brakeman had to run down a narrow cat walk, over cars, and set a handbrake manually. Very dangerous. 1872, an air compressor break was designed to run along a peper.

In 1830, there were 23 miles of tracks. In 1900, there was over 200,000 miles.