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Book Review - The Irish Texans by John Brendan Flannery

The Irish Texans by John Brendan Flannery - ISBN#0-933164-33-5

An essential reference book concerning the history of Irish immigrants into Texas and how they settled and created the towns/cities we know and love today. Contains lots of interesting anecdotes and the evolution of Irish names and customs as they adapted Mexican or American culture.
Flannery, John Brendan. The Irish Texans. San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1980, 173p, bib, index, illus.


Places of heavy concentrations of Irish of early Texas: Staggers Point, San Antonio, Refugio, Corpus Christi, Houston
Between 1717 and the Revolutionary War, around 250,000 Irish immigrated to the American Colonies
After the English Act of Union of 1800 (which created one nation of Scotland, Ireland and England), many Irish escaped to America
1835 - the population of Irish in Texas was about 30,000
1836 - Battle of San Jacinto - 100 Irish-born volunteers participated in the battle
Interestingly, many Irish became Mexican citizens to obtain large tracts of land
1835-1840 - School teachers in Austin were Irishmen
Dallas was founded by John N Bryan who came in 1841 and built a cabin on the east bank of the Trinity River (which was part of Peters Colony)
San Patricio (named after St Patrick) established October 1831 on the east bank of the Nueces River. By 1836 there were 500 people living there. The railroad bypassed the town (1886) and many moved out. 1919 a hurricane destroyed much of the town and the old St Patrick's church.
1840's - a large influx of Irish to San Antonio; one area was known as the "Irish Flats" (1842)
Henry L Kinney founded Corpus Christi. There were 27 blocks of "Irishtown". The area had its own firefighting unit, the Shamrock Hose Company. In 1875 there was a hurricane in Corpus Christi.

Check your local library for a copy or you can find one here:

Book Review - America's Westward Expansion Series - Pioneer Life in the American West by Christy Steele

America's Westward Expansion Series - Pioneer Life in the American West by Christy Steele - ISBN#0-8368-5790-9

Learn how the U.S. government once gave away millions of acres of free land under the Homestead Act. In many cases, the "free" land wound up costing many pioneers much more than they had bargained for, causing some financial ruin and even death. This volume explains the hazardous challenges of daily pioneer life, such as finding food, water and fuel that people needed to survive.


1820 - The Land Law of 1820 offered public lands for sale in 80-acre lots at $1.25 per acre (or $100 per parcel). Land speculators bought up lots and re-sold them at higher prices or split them into smaller units and sold them for a profit.
1830 - President Andrew Jackson enforces a Native American removal policy to obtain their land (in today's Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Montana, and the Dakotas) to eventually give to settlers. This land was known as the "Great American Desert".
1840's - Settlers bypassed the "sea of grass" to settle in California and the Pacific Northwest.
1841 - Pre-Emption Act of 1841 helped squatters to buy legal title to the land they occupied.
1862 - Homestead Act gave title of 160 acres to settlers after improving the land within 5 years (building a house, farming, etc).
The government gave acres of free land grants to the railroad companies who then sold choice land tracks to settlers to finance the railroad construction. They often lured European immigrants to purchase the land (since Americans could get free land already). The railroad even offered transportation to the land for them to buy.
1890 - Open-range ranching was over due to the invention of barbed wire (in 1873).
Sod houses: the homesteader would stack slabs of sod (grass-side down) to form the walls, formed a roof with cottonwood branches and covered that with more sod (grass-side up). This settled for several weeks, then they coated the inside walls with plaster or whitewash paste. The dirt floor had to be raked often to keep it even. Withstood fire and wind well, but insects, snakes, and mice lived within the walls. If it rained too much, the roof (and probably the walls) collapsed. Eventually, successful homesteaders imported timber to build wood-framed homes.
1837 - John Deere invented the steel plot
1845 - Texas becomes a state
1848 - James Marshall finds gold at Sutter's Mill
1850 - California becomes a state
1860 - The Pony Express starts delivering mail
1864 - Nevada becomes a state
1869 - The Transcontinental Railroad is completed
1900 - Hawaii becomes a state
1907 - Oklahoma becomes a state
1912 - New Mexico and Arizona become states

Check your local library for a copy or you can find one here:

Book Review - The Sioux of the Great Northern Plains by Pete DiPrimio

The Sioux of the Great Northern Plains (We Were Here First: the Native Americans) - by Pete DiPrimio - ISBN#978-1624690754

Sitting Bull had a vision of a great Sioux victory, but would he live to see it? Crazy Horse had an almost mythical ability to avoid death, but would it last? These were two of the greatest chiefs of the Sioux Nation, a mighty Native American people who once ruled the plains and prairies between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes. The Sioux were great warriors and buffalo hunters. They were master horsemen who roamed the country living in teepees and keeping up with buffalo herds. They fought the U. S. government to keep their land and way of life. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led a historic victory over General George Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn before they were eventually beaten and driven into reservations. The Massacre at Wounded Knee ended the SiouxĂ­s dream of returning to their old way of life, but not their desire to be free. This is their story.

Dream Catchers - a small round net with feathers attached. Native Americans believed the air was filled with good and bad dreams. The good dreams passed through the center hole to a sleeping person while the bad dreams get caught in the net and are destroyed by the riding sun.
The Sioux had ruled the Great Plains (North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana) until 1850 when the white settlers arrived.
1868 - A Treaty was signed which gave the Black Hills (South Dakota) area to the Sioux, but by 1874 gold was found and thousands of settlers came to take over the land.
Spanish introduced horses in the late 1500's.
The Sioux broke into several loosely connected tribes (confederacy) and spoke 3 dialects/styles of language (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota).
The Sioux believe they are descended from a great spotted eagle (Wanblee Galeshka).
Only the bravest warrior could wear grizzly bear claw necklace
Sky spirits were called Thunderbirds
Each tribe had 1 medicine man who performed ceremonies. Each ceremony honored one spirit at a time.
The number four was symbolic: four sacred colors (white, yellow, red, black) which represented the four elements (air, water, fire, earth) and the four directions (north, south, east, west), 4 seasons, and 4 cycles of life (birth, life, death, afterlife).
Seven Fires Council - main Sioux government/7 tribe chiefs
Sitting Bull had 5 wives (Light Hair, Four Robes, Scarlet Woman, Snow-on-Her, and Seen-by-Her-Nation) and four children (Crow Foot, Many Horses, One Bull, and Walks Looking).
Boys started hunting buffalo at age 10.

Check your local library for a copy or see:

Book Review - The California Gold Rush by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

"The California Gold Rush" by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk - ISBN#0531200329

Grade 5-7-- An advantage this book has over Rhoda Blumberg's excellent The Great American Gold Rush (Bradbury, 1989) is the lack of footnote style and a good many illustrations in some kind of color--if only a wash. There is not much that can be added to the story of the California gold rush, but Van Steenwyk tries. The discovery of gold at Sutter's mill is somewhat more dramatic and vivid than in other accounts. However, a statement that sea-traveling rushers were called Argonauts "after the gold seekers in Greek mythology" makes one wonder whether gold nuggets and the golden fleece can be equated. Mention, and a picture, of Lola Montez, a gold camp entertainer, is a plus. The story of foreign miners who came to California, particularly the Chinese, enlarges readers' knowledge. Two full-page, useful maps and a helpful glossary round out this attractive addition to literature on the topic. --George Gleason, Department of English, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

1839 - John Augustus Sutter (originally from Switzerland) arrived in California. Sutter applied for Mexican citizenship in order to receive a land grant of 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. He built an adobe fort near the south bank of the American River. He named this land New Helvetia (Helvetia was another name for Switzerland).
January 1848 - There were 300 people at Sutter's Fort.
January 14, 1848 - Marhsall found a gold pebble.
Second week of March, the news of this discovery finally reached San Francisco. By March 15th, it appeared in newsprint (on the last page of the San Francisco "Californian").
December 5, 1848 - President James K. Polk delivered news to Congress of gold discovery; the rush was finally on.
1949 - 50,000 people rushed to California ("forty-niners"), enduring illness, hard living conditions, bad weather and violent crime. They often moved camp to camp. 15,000 people traveled around Cape Horn or through the Strait of Magellan - they dealt with gales, storms, fires, food spoilage/shortages, seasickness, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowding.

Once the emigrants arrived, they needed transportation to the "diggings" as well as supplies and room & board. A small room rented for $50/month (whereas back East it would only cost $5/month). A pair of boots or a blanket were $100 each. A shovel was $50.
1850 - California became a state. 56,000 people were in San Francisco.
Gold dust became currency.
Preachers rode through to preach; most miners rested on Sundays. Holidays (like Fourth of July) was celebrated. Professional entertainers were paid with gold dust including singers, dancers and actors. Lola Montez was a famous Irish dancer of this time.
People came from all over the world. In 1850, there were 600 Chinese. By 1855, there were 25,000.
Women were still scarce. In 1853, women only accounted for 15% of the population.

Check your local library for a copy or you can find one here:

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).