Antietam National Battlefield

IMG_8506Antietam National Battlefield is located in Maryland about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Visiting a battlefield is always a sobering experience and visiting Antietam was certainly that. Serene and quiet now, but on September 17, 1862, there occurred here the bloodiest single-day battle in all of American history.

This park encompasses a little over 3,000 acres and we spent quite a bit of time walking parts of the battlefield and following the marked auto tour route to more distant locations. With the help of the information from the visitors center, we were able to piece together the locations and the timeline of the battle.


This was prime farm ground and there were a number of farmsteads that inadvertently became battlefields. Standing looking over the Cornfield, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to run through that cornfield into a hail of bullets or to have your home become a part of a battlefield.

As with most historical events, there are several points at which the outcome could have been dramatically different. General Robert E. Lee (C.S.A.) took command of the Confederate army June 1, 1862. At that point, the Confederacy appeared on the verge of collapse but with Lee in charge, there was a dramatic reversal of fortune.

Early spring 1862, the Union army had succeeded in capturing Forts Henry and Donelson, the cities of Nashville and New Orleans and won the Battle of Shiloh.

In late June, Lee (C.S.A.), in a weeklong series of battles known as The Seven Days, thwarted Major General George B. McClellan’s (U.S.A.) attempts to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.

The final week of August, Lee (C.S.A.) defeated General John Pope (U.S.A.) at Second Manassas and drove the Union forces back to Washington.

War transferred from the gates of Richmond to the outskirts of Washington. Lee (C.S.A.) decided to launch an invasion of the north and thus began the momentous Maryland Campaign of September 1862 which would culminate in the Battle of Antietam. There were a number of reasons for this audacious move by Lee. He wanted to: create anxiety in the North and give credence to a rising anti-war sentiment; influence upcoming 1862 Congressional elections; bring Maryland, a slave-owning border state, under the Confederacy; and pick a fight on favorable, defensive ground of his own choosing.

IMG_8522Many things were hanging in the balance and both Union and Confederate armies were in trouble. Lee’s army was in bad shape and the Union army was greatly disheartened by Second Manassas

Lee (C.S.A.) devised a plan which divided his army into several parts with the intent being to clear the Shenandoah Valley, capture Harpers Ferry, move across South Mountain and ultimately drive north into Pennsylvania. A great deal of coordination and speed was required to accomplish these goals before the Federal army could march out of Washington and catch up.

Lee prepared Special Orders No. 191 and copies were distributed to the commanders of each of the separate forces. Somehow the copy addressed to General D.H. Hill (C.S.A.) got lost. It remains a mystery as to who lost it and how it got lost but it played a pivotal role in the upcoming confrontation.

IMG_8534On September 13, Special Orders No. 191 was found by Corporal Barton Mitchell (U.S.A.) in tall grass in a meadow which had earlier served as a Confederate campsite. Sending the paper up the chain of command, McClellan (U.S.A.) was literally handed the enemy’s plans.

The Union army immediately headed west intending to prevent Lee’s divided forces from reuniting. The Union seized crucial South Mountain passes. However, the Confederates delayed the Union advance long enough that General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (C.S.A.) effected the surrender of Harpers Ferry and set out to join the main Confederate force.

Lee knew if McClellan moved quickly enough he could destroy the Army of Northern Virginia (C.S.A.) so Lee decided to retreat to Virginia.

IMG_8509Lee’s primary goal had been to draw the Union army out from the safety of Washington and bring it to battle on good defensive ground. With the anticipated arrival of Jackson’s command, Lee called off the retreat as he determined that the terrain west of Antietam Creek was well suited for defense. He began placing his men in position.

The morning of September 15, Union forces arrived on the east side of Antietam Creek. McClellan ordered his men not to attack until he arrived but, by the time he arrived, it was too late in the day to launch an attack.

IMG_8517.jpg   Dunker Church

September 16, an impenetrable fog blanketed the area. As they waited for the fog to burn off, the remaining divisions of Lee’s army arrived. An artillery duel was kept up intermittently throughout the day but primarily the day was used by both armies to move into position.

IMG_8562  Sunken Road

The morning of September 17, the battle began. Many specific locations have become well known because of the horrific carnage that occurred there: the Cornfield, Dunker Church, the East Woods, the West Woods, the Sunken Road (“Bloody Lane”), Burnside Bridge.

IMG_8559 Sunken Road (“Bloody Lane”)

At the beginning of the battle, the Army of the Potomac (U.S.A.) had 85,000 soldiers and 300 cannons, and the Army of Northern Virginia (C.S.A.) had 45,000 men and 200 cannons. In this one-day battle Lee (C.S.A.) lost 25% of his men killed and wounded and McClellan (U.S.A.) lost 23% of his men.

By the end of September 17, there were 23,000 casualties: an estimated 4,000 were killed in action, another 17,000 fell wounded (the numbers of battle-related deaths continued to rise in the ensuing days, weeks, and months), another 2,000 were either captured or listed as missing in action. Six generals lost their lives at Antietam, three from each side.

IMG_8567 Burnside Bridge

Under the cover of darkness, Lee began to retreat. Tactically, the battle was a draw but in many ways it was an important Union victory. As a result, five days later Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and all thoughts of European intervention on the part of the Confederacy were effectively ended.

IMG_8508We came away from our time at Antietam musing about many “what ifs.”

What if Lee had not been put in command of the Confederate army?

What if Special Orders No. 191 had not been lost and fallen into Union hands?

What if the Union forces had attacked on the morning of September 15 rather than waiting?

What if it hadn’t been foggy on September 16?

What if McClellan had pursued and attacked Lee’s army on September 18?

Much food for thought.

For more information:

Posted in American battlefield, Antietam National Battlefield, Civil War, Civil War battlefield, History, Maryland, National Historic Site, National Park Units, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park


When we decided to visit Harpers Ferry, we immediately thought John Brown and that was basically all. Our American history class in high school taught about John Brown and, depending on your viewpoint, his actions made him out as either a lunatic or a visionary or perhaps a bit of both. His methods were frightening and unorthodox but his attack on Harpers Ferry was one of the first acts of the impending civil war and, in the long run, the civil rights movement. In Honors class with Mr. Yates, we discussed the epic poem “John Brown’s Body” by Stephen Vincent Benét in great detail but we never heard about the Civil War battles that took place at Harpers Ferry, or if we did, we somehow missed that part. So Tom and I were surprised when we visited Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. There was a lot more to Harpers Ferry than we realized.

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of two major rivers: the Potomac and the Shenandoah. This was an advantage for trade, for westward migration through the water gap, and for the location of a U.S. Armory and Arsenal. Harpers Ferry was one of the most advanced industrial complexes in America by the 1850’s.

John Brown’s raid on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry took place October 16-18, 1859. Determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points. The raid failed with most of the men killed or captured. On November 2, John Brown was sentenced to hang and he was executed on December 2 in Charles Town, Virginia.

IMG_8474                                                                   John Brown’s “Fort”

At that time, Harpers Ferry was in Virginia (West Virginia did not exist). This previously ideal location began to be a distinct disadvantage to the community of Harpers Ferry on April 17, 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union. The townspeople were divided as to where their loyalties lay. Lt. James was in charge of protecting the U.S. property at the Armory and was understaffed, and Harpers Ferry was in the crosshairs of the Confederacy. Harpers Ferry occupies a point of land at the confluence of the two rivers and is surrounded by heights on three sides, making it very difficult to defend.

The town of Harpers Ferry, truly a border town, experienced five battles in two years. The town changed hands between the Union and the Confederacy eight times in three years. Each of those times was hard on the community.

April 18, 1861, the Union defenders destroyed the U.S. property they could not remove from the town and set fire to the Armory and Arsenal as the Confederate forces advanced. The Union fled and Virginia militiamen took over the town, tore down the Stars and Stripes, and hoisted the Commonwealth of Virginia flag. This was the first day of the war in Virginia.

At the beginning of the war, militia duties were handled democratically which often meant little real order. However, with the arrival of Col. Thomas Jackson, Harpers Ferry was transformed into an army town. June 13, 1861, General Joseph Johnston evacuated the town, destroying the armory buildings and the railroad bridge. The railroad through Harpers Ferry was crucial for the movement of men, supplies and materiel. Throughout the war, the railroad bridge was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, as was the bridge over the Potomac.


With the Confederate evacuation, Harpers Ferry was in Union hands again. However, this was only temporary and the back and forth occupation of Harpers Ferry continued. Each occupation and subsequent evacuation meant more destruction of the town.

In the ensuring conflicts the town was pretty much destroyed, its industries decimated and homes and businesses abandoned by most of the residents. Prior to the war, the population of Harpers Ferry was about 3,000 and, at one point during the war, it was reduced to about 20 families.


At times there were enormous garrisons at Harper’s Ferry and at other times, it was sparsely defended. In the fall of 1862, there were as many as 60,000 soldiers at Harpers Ferry.

June 20. 1863, in the midst of the Gettysburg campaign, the western and north central counties of Virginia broke away from the Old Dominion and were granted statehood as West Virginia. Harpers Ferry was now officially Union, but it wasn’t until July 7 of 1864, when the town changed hands for the last time, that it was in Union control and remained that way.

We arrived at the Visitors Center of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, picked up our maps and information and caught the bus to the Lower Town: an 1800’s town, John Brown’s fort, armory site, information center, films, exhibits and the C&O Canal. We visited the museum, explored and examined John Brown’s “Fort” (the building in which he made his final stand).

We climbed the well-worn stone steps toward Jefferson Rock past St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.


This Church escaped relatively unscathed during the Civil War, as Father Costello flew the British Union Jack over the church as a symbol of neutrality to protect it from both Union and Confederate bombardment.


St. John’s Episcopal Church did not fare so well. One of Harpers Ferry’s five original churches, it served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt later but abandoned in 1895.


Jefferson Rock is on a promontory above Harpers Ferry. In 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry and waxed poetic over the view of the two mighty rivers joining. It was a magnificent sight.

The day we were at Harpers Ferry it was very warm and humid, raining off and on. We were somewhat limited on time but learned much during our visit. Prior to this trip, we were reading the American Library series of books entitled The Civil War. Each of the four-book set covers one year of the war and is made up of primary source material. Reading diaries, letters to and from soldiers on both sides, reports from generals, speeches, etc. provides real insight into the people who actually lived then and were a part of that American conflict. A person’s perception is his/her reality and those realities collided dramatically in a major turning point in our national history. Harpers Ferry provides a glimpse into that part of our American history.

For further information:


Posted in Civil War, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, History, John Brown, National Historic Site, National Park Units, Parks, Potomac River, Shenandoah River, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Makes a National Park?

Kennicott Glacier(Wrangell- St. Elias National Park, 13,188,000 acres)

February 22, 2018, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial became Gateway Arch National Park. It is a lot easier to say and remember than the original title. Because of this re-designation, our list of remaining National Parks to visit is now 9 rather than 8. In our minds, the jury is still out on whether this really should be a National Park.

National Parks are often referred to as the “crown jewels” of the park system and contain some of the country’s best-known natural attractions. They are generally large, diverse areas with outstanding natural features and ecological resources and tend to be the most strictly protected unit in the system. Having said this, the newest National Park is only 91 acres in a metropolitan area and, other than being located on the banks of the Mississippi River contains no outstanding natural feature.

(Arches National Park)                               (Lassen Volcanic National Park)

We have concerns beyond whether this area is “worthy” of being a national park. Our national parks are in trouble financially. Even a change in designation from memorial to national park will incur large expenditures to change signage, promotional materials and operations. Rather than adding more units to the park service or changing designations, our Congress first should properly fund the system we have. Our national parks have been underfunded for quite some time and it continues to get worse. The National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog reached nearly $12 billion at the end of fiscal year 2017. The President’s current budget recommends extreme staffing cuts of nearly 2,000 National Park Service rangers at a time when national park visitation is at an all-time high. There are more than 20,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal employees but without the 315,000 volunteers who help take up the slack, our parks would suffer even more severely. Please consider contacting your congressmen/women and asking them to act responsibly concerning our national parks – a true treasure.

What makes a national park different than a memorial or a monument, or any of the different naming designations? Why are some places designated as national parks and then later “demoted” to a different status or even to no status? That has happened!

America’s second national park, Mackinac National Park, was established in 1875 and disbanded in 1895 becoming a Michigan state park. Platt National Park, established in 1906, was disbanded in 1976 and became a part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Sullys Hill National Park, established in 1906 was disbanded in 1931 and became Sullys Hill National Game Preserve. General Grant National Park, established in 1890 was absorbed into Kings Canyon National Park in 1940. Hawaii National Park, established in 1916, was split into two separate National Parks, Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes in 1960.

(Kings Canyon National Park)                                 (Haleakala & Hawaii Volcanoes )

The result of my research on the various designations of national park units has been nothing less than confusing. It seems rather willy-nilly in some respects.

For the most part, the different titles signify different types of resources and attractions: one expects historic buildings at a national historic site, natural attractions at a national park and recreational opportunities at a national recreation area. The title may also signal information about who established the unit (Congress or the President), who manages it, and what activities Congress has chosen to permit or prohibit in the unit. National monuments are the only units that may be established by the President although they may also be established by Congress. Most are smaller and less diverse than national parks.

102_4809 (San Antonio Missions National Historical Park)

IMG_2281 (Washita Battlefield National Historic Site)

IMG_4270 (Fort Union National Monument)

As of May 13, 2018, the National Park Service manages 417 individual units covering more than 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories. There are at least 19 naming designations.

  • National Battlefields (11)
  • National Battlefield Parks (4)
  • National Battlefield Sites (1)
  • National Military Parks (9)
  • National Historic Parks (52)
  • National Historic Sites (77)
  • International Historic Sites (1)
  • National Lakeshores (4)
  • National Memorials (29)
  • National Monuments (87)
  • National Parks (60)
  • National Parkways (4)
  • National Preserves (19)
  • National Reserves (2)
  • National Recreation Areas (18)
  • National Rivers (5)
  • National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Riverways (10)
  • National Scenic Trails (3)
  • National Seashores (10)
  • Other Designations (11)

For information on units within these designations go to:

(Everglades National Park)                              (Katmai National Park)


Posted in National Historic Site, National Monuments, National Park, National Park Travels, National Park Units, U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pecos National Historical Park


The Upper Pecos Valley in New Mexico has served as a corridor between the Great Plains and the southwestern high country for thousands of years. As a result, Pecos National Historical Park has layer upon layer of history. The park primarily relates the overlapping stories of ancestral Puebloans, European contact and conquest, Santa Fe trail usage and a Civil War battle. Pecos National Monument was established in 1965 because of its archeological importance and, in 1990, was elevated to a National Historical Park and expanded to include landmarks from the Civil War battle.

Probably the first humans to enter the area were nomadic hunters of 10,000 years ago. By 6,000 B.C. a hunter-gatherer culture had filtered in from the far west. By 2,000 years ago northwestern New Mexico was home to Anasazi, also known as ancestral Puebloans, who were early farmers.

Ancestral Puebloans settled in the Upper Pecos Valley around 800 A.D, left abruptly the end of the tenth century and returned in the early 1200’s. Over the next 200 years they built stone masonry pueblos up and down the Pecos Valley. Then, for unknown reasons, these villagers left their pueblos and joined people already living atop the steep-sided mesilla that rises from the east bank of Glorieta Creek.


By the time Columbus reached the Americas, Pecos Pueblo had grown into one of the largest and most powerful city-states in northern New Mexico. Archeologist Alfred Kidder found evidence that the pueblo was designed in advance and constructed as a unit, rather than starting small and growing over time. Lacking doors and windows on the lower stories and encircled by a chest high wall, it was nearly impregnable. Pecos became a gateway and a trading center for people of the pueblos and those of the plains.

The arrival of Coronado and the conquistadors in 1540 heralded the beginning of the decline of Pecos Pueblo. The pueblo welcomed the Spaniards as they had other potential trading partners. A series of events soured the relationship which would alternate between coexistence and confrontation. In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate set forth to colonize New Mexico. Franciscan priests were assigned to the region and rewarded with encomiendas (system by which the Spanish Crown granted a colonist land and the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the Indian inhabitants of the area).

Between 1617 and 1717 the Franciscans built four churches at Pecos. The first church was never finished and was located some distance from the main pueblo. Completed in 1625 using Indian labor, a huge mission church covering 6,000 square feet and built of 300,000 adobe bricks rose fifty-five feet above Pecos; the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciúncula. The foundations of this structure are visible today. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Indians set fire to the roof and toppled its massive walls.IMG_4322

Don Diego de Vargas led a small army up the Rio Grande to retake New Mexico in 1692. Pecos was under Spanish sovereignty again, and a temporary church was erected. By 1717, the fourth church was completed atop the ruins of the massive mission. However, the Pueblo was in decline due to famine, European disease, the threat of Apache raids and Hispanic settlement in the area. By 1838, fewer than thirty members of a pueblo that once numbered two thousand remained. These individuals left to join Towa-speaking relatives at Jemez Pueblo. The ruins of this fourth church and of Pecos Pueblo stand silent on the mesa.

In 1821, William Becknell headed west from Missouri to Santa Fe with a mule train of merchandise. The Santa Fe trail was born and for sixty years, wagon trains and stage coaches traveled the trail, passing Fort Union and Pecos through Glorieta Pass to Santa Fe. Two stagecoach stops on the trail are preserved within the park: Kozlowski’s Stage Stop and Pigeon’s Ranch. Much of the old Santa Fe Trail is now part of I-25.


The Upper Pecos Valley also served as a corridor for wars. In 1846, the first year of the Mexican-American War U.S. troops marched through the area on their way to seize Santa Fe.


In the last half of 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley raised a volunteer Texas force to invade New Mexico Territory. The plan was to capture military supplies at Union forts, recruit westerners to the Confederate cause, and take control of the mining riches of Colorado and the key ports in the California Territory. Sibley’s forces clashed with Union forces under the command of Col. Edward R.S. Canby near Fort Craig and were triumphant in what became known as the Battle of Valverde. Sibley then marched northward, occupying Albuquerque and taking Santa Fe. From there, they began moving eastward with the intent of capturing Fort Union, northeast of Pecos.

On March 25th, 1862, unbeknownst to each other, Union and Confederate forces were camped on opposite sides of Glorieta Pass. Advance pickets soon discovered each other’s forces. Over the next three days, they engaged in the fighting that became known as the Battle of Glorieta. With approximately 1200 soldiers on each side, the casualties were high. Union forces suffered 51 killed, 78 wounded and 15 captured. Confederate forces had 48 killed, 80 wounded, and 92 captured.


We hiked the trails over the battlefield area which was quite hilly. Rangers reminded us that in 1862 it looked very different as it was not so heavily vegetated. March 26 – 28th the Union and Confederate troops were engaged in artillery duels, sharpshooting and fighting at close range with several advances and retreats. On March 28, Maj. John Chivington and his men surprised the Confederate rear guard by marching over the steep Glorieta Mesa and destroying their food and ammunition supplies. This forced the Confederates to quit the battlefield they had won and retreat to Santa Fe.

The Battle of Glorieta is referred to as “The Gettysburg of the West.” Tom and I felt that was a bit of a stretch but much as the Confederates never invaded the North again after Gettysburg, they also never attempted a significant action in the far West after Glorieta, so it was significant.

For more information:


Posted in Anasazi, Battle of Glorieta, hiking, History, National Historic Site, New Mexico, Pecos National Historical Park, prehistoric ruins, Santa Fe Trail, Southwest History, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history, Western History, Western U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

IMG_2284.jpgIt’s been over a year since we visited Washita Battlefield National Historic Site and it has taken me this long to decide how to write about it. Located in western Oklahoma, in November of 1868 this site was the winter camp of the band of Southern Cheyenne led by Black Kettle. I’ve done quite a bit of reading trying to make some kind of sense out of what happened there and it still baffles and bothers me. Of course, I’m looking at it through my twenty-first century lens and one of the things the ranger on duty said was that there is a difference of opinion as to whether this should be called a battle or a massacre. I’ll let you decide what you think.


We were at Washita at the end of December so the battlefield was cold and windy and conditions were similar to those in 1868 except that there was no snow on the ground and we were there mid-day. We hiked the trail through the battlefield and read the trail guide to learn what happened there. We were the only people visiting the site that day so perhaps it was a little easier to visualize what it must have been like in 1868.



The Cheyenne were a nomadic tribe who originated in the woodlands of the Great Lakes region and migrated west. By the early 1830’s. they had forged important friendships with white traders on the Arkansas River, trading thousands of buffalo robes at Bent’s Fort.


The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 promised lands to the Cheyenne and Arapaho which included the Pike’s Peak area in which gold was discovered in 1858. Some Cheyenne leaders, including Black Kettle, felt the best course of action was to move away from the growing white population and in 1861, they entered into the Treaty of Fort Wise which reduced their land holdings for a compensation of $450,000. The Dog Soldiers and some of the other warrior societies refused to recognize the treaty. Black Kettle and other Cheyenne peace chiefs were fairly successful in controlling their young men but other tribes conducted raids north along the Platte.


Things changed dramatically in 1864 after Lean Bear was shot by U.S. troops while attempting to parley, and hostilities broke out in earnest along the Platte and Arkansas river routes. Cheyenne chiefs met with the governor in an attempt to arrange a peace, leaving there with assurances of safety and setting up winter camp on Sand Creek. However, in November, Col. John Chivington and his Third Colorado Cavalry swept into the village and massacred 125 men, women and children.

Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, survived the massacre, and even then, tried to effect a peace between his people and the whites. In 1865, Black Kettle and other chiefs negotiated yet another treaty, the Little Arkansas Treaty, which established a new reservation south of the Arkansas River. In 1867, another treaty established a new reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). However, the nomadic ways of these tribes precluded acceptance of confinement to the specific territory of the reservation. Cultures clashed.


In 1868, Indian/white hostilities broke out in Kansas. Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan prepared for a winter campaign against the hostile bands. He chose winter because Indian horses would be weak from lack of forage and the cold and snow would make it easier to overtake villages. His plan was basically the same as “The Burning” of the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War – complete destruction. Sheridan planned a three-pronged attack: cavalry and infantry marching east from New Mexico; cavalry moving southeast from Colorado; and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer leading an attack south from Fort Dodge, Kansas.


Black Kettle’s village was sprawled along the Washita River, a few miles from other camps. It was bitter cold and they were processing meat from recent hunts. Just before dawn on November 27, 1868, Custer led his troopers in a surprise attack on the village. His approximately 700 troopers were divided into four parts: the first, under Maj. Joel Elliott, would circle the village and strike from downstream; the second, under Capt. William Thompson, would attack from the south; the third, under Capt. Edward Myers, would move in from the west; and the largest contingent, under Custer himself, would charge directly into the village.


The number of Cheyenne killed that morning is unknown. Custer claimed 103 but Cheyenne accounts are as low as 13 men, 16 women and 9 children. Both Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, were killed. There were 53 women and children taken captive. The cavalry then burned the lodges and all their contents and slaughtered the large herd of Indian ponies leaving the surviving Cheyenne to suffer the brutal winter.

Maj. Elliott’s detachment was missing, but faced with warriors from the camps further down the river, Custer left the Washita Valley. When Custer and Sheridan returned to the site in early December, they found the remains of Elliott and his troopers.

This attack and other military actions soon forced the Southern Plains tribes to live on the reservation.


Magpie, a boy of sixteen on that fateful day on the Washita, escaped. In June of 1876, Magpie was in the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne village on the Little Bighorn River in Montana when Custer and his Seventh Cavalry struck. Custer and more than 250 of his men were killed. Magpie became a chief of the Cheyenne.

Congress established Washita Battlefield National Historic Site as a unit of the national park system on November 12, 1996. This site recognizes the attack by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th U. S. Cavalry on the Cheyenne encampment of Peace Chief Black Kettle as a nationally significant element of the United States Government Indian policy and the struggles of the Cheyenne to maintain control of their traditional homelands.IMG_2258


For additional information:

Greene, Jerome A. Washita: the U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

Posted in History, National Historic Site, Oklahoma, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history, Western History, Western U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Haleakalā National Park


Sunrise above the clouds near the summit of Haleakalā was an absolutely amazing experience. When we first planned the trip to visit Haleakalā National Park on the island of Maui we were somewhat skeptical about the value of getting up at 2 a.m. and taking a bus tour to stand in the freezing cold wind on top a mountain in order to be there before sunrise. Not exactly what one thinks of as a Hawaiian sort of experience. To our great surprise, it was more than worth the cost, the getting up in the middle of the night, and the dragging warm coats during our trip all over the tropical Pacific.

IMG_7386The nation’s eleventh national park, Hawaiʻi National Park was originally established August 1, 1916, 24 days before the National Park Service was established by Congress. It consisted of three units: the summit of Haleakalā on Maui and portions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa on Hawaiʻi. However, it took another six years before any funding was allocated to begin operations there. In the early years, most of the emphasis was on Kīlauea and Mauna Loa for which there was easier access. A road to the top of Haleakalā was completed in 1935. In 1960, Hawaii National Park was re-designated as two new national parks: Haleakalā National Park on Maui and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Hawaiʻi.

Haleakalā rises 10,023 feet above sea level and below the ocean descends another 19.000 feet making it one of the largest mountains on earth when measured from its base. The “crater” atop Mount Haleakalā is not actually a volcanic crater but rather a giant valley which is the result of erosion.IMG_7310

Haleakalā itself is a huge shield volcano on the island of Maui and the national park encompasses the basin and portions of the volcano’s flanks. It was believed that the most recent eruption was in 1790 but more recent scientific studies indicate it could have been between 1480 and 1780.

Haleakalā means “house of the sun” and is a wahi pana: a legendary or celebrated place which is the backdrop for tales of ancient gods and goddesses, chiefs and priests, nature and humankind. One of the most famous stories recalls the time when the demigod Maui stopped the sun. In those days the sun moved so quickly across the heavens that humans led a miserable life. Without sunlight, fruit would not ripen, daily tasks couldn’t be completed and kapa cloth would not dry. With a rope made from coconut husks, from high atop Haleakalā, Maui lassoed the sun. One by one, he broke off the sun’s rays, until the sun begged for life and promised to go more slowly across the sky. The days were long and bright and life was pleasant.

There is very limited parking at the top of the mountain and sunrise is so popular the park service has instituted a system to control the number of visitors any given morning. You can purchase a ticket for a minimal fee for your personal car or you can be a part of a sanctioned tour. Traffic up the mountain from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m. is closed to all other vehicles. Even quite in advance, tickets for personal vehicles were sold out and the idea of the curvy, steep road in the dark made the tour option more attractive.

Our trip up the mountain began with leaving our B&B at 2:30 a.m. to meet the tour bus at 3:00 a.m. Our bus driver Nettie, a native Hawaiʻian, was our guide. She was full of information and obviously loved the mountain Haleakalā. Ascending the mountain, the temperature drops about 3°F. per 1,000 feet in elevation. However, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet there is often a temperature inversion layer which forms when heat rises from the surrounding landmass, cools, and creates a “lid” trapping the moist warm air below. This is responsible for the wreath of clouds that often gently hugs the middle slopes of Haleakalā although clear skies prevail above and below. We travelled above this wreath of clouds. Upon reaching the top, still in pitch darkness, we grabbed a spot at the railing to view the sunrise. It was very cold and very windy on the mountaintop waiting for the “show” to begin. We were quite happy to have warm coats, hats, and gloves and a blanket around our shoulders. We did take turns holding our spot and taking a quick warm-up in the visitor center which was small and crowded. And then it began: the first light over the rim of the clouds. As it progressed the colors on the clouds and reflected in the sky were incredible. It’s difficult to describe but we knew, without a doubt, that the effort and discomfort was more than worth it.


The Hawaiʻian Islands are the most isolated island group on the planet, 2400 miles from the nearest continental land mass. This isolation limited the arrival of plants and animals and, as a result of adaptation, many new species emerged. One of the primary reasons for Haleakalā National Park is to preserve the unique biology of native flora and fauna.

The ʻāhinahina (Haleakalā silversword) is found only above the 7,000-foot elevation on Haleakalā volcano. The silversword grows for an estimated 30 to 60 years before sending up a single, spectacular flower stalk from its silver rosette of leaves. This stalk bears as many as five hundred blossoms, flourishes for a few weeks while its seeds mature, then begins to die. No one knows what triggers the plant to flower or why many silverswords bloom in some years and few bloom in others. Very concentrated efforts have brought the silversword back from near extinction but it has shown a decline in recent years.


In addition to Haleakalā National Park, we did a bit of exploring on Maui.

We visited the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puʼunēnē. This museum is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and heritage of Maui’s sugar industry. It looks at sugar’s influence on the development of Maui’s water resources and rich multiethnic makeup. The Puʼunēnē Sugar Mill was in operation from 1902 until 2016. As 2016 came to a close, it brought forth the end of an era not only for Maui but the entire state of Hawaii. Hawaii’s last sugarcane company, HC&S, ceased operations. We were told that the plan is to replant the sugarcane fields with hemp, which takes less water. Although industrial hemp and medical and recreational marijuana are all members of the cannabis family, hemp is distinguished from other species by its extremely low THC content. Hemp fiber is known for use in making rope but there are also thousands of other uses for industrial hemp.

The road to Hana is touted as one of the world’s curviest roads and it seems as if some of the tourist info brochures are designed to either scare people away from driving it or daring them to be adventurous and drive it. Being very familiar with mountain roads in the Rockies, we didn’t find it all that hair-raising. That side of the island is rainforest so there was lots of jungle on the uphill side of the road and great ocean views on the down side. It is a pretty drive and there are 56 one-lane bridges and 600 hairpin curves.

Hoʻokipa Beach Park is a resting place for Honu – Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. The turtles come up on the beach, rest, and go back into the sea. There were so many of them and they were fascinating to watch. The resting area is lightly roped off but the turtles didn’t seem to mind that the rest of the beach was full of people swimming, surfing and wind-surfing. Climb up on the beach, take a snooze, and head back into the water. Seems like a rather pleasant way to spend some time.

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National Park of American Samoa


sign2National Park of American Samoa became our 50th out of 59 national parks to visit. We always thought it would be number 59 but a family wedding in Hawaii meant we would be halfway there so we added it to that trip. American Samoa is roughly 2600 miles southwest of Hawaii and just east of the International Date Line in the South Pacific. There are only two flights a week from Honolulu so the choice was to go either way on Monday or on Friday. We chose Monday outbound so we would have an extra day there. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Even though the national park was our reason for visiting, the people of American Samoa proved to be the real draw. They were very friendly and welcoming. The pace is leisurely and low stress with few tourists.

American Samoa is the only U.S. territory south of the equator and consists of seven islands: five rugged, highly eroded volcanic islands and two coral atolls. The national park here is unique in that there is no federally-owned land; parkland and water are leased from native villages and from the American Samoa government. In 1993 Samoan chiefs agreed to sign a 50-year lease that enables the National Park Service, with Samoan help, to manage an area of rainforest, beach and coral reef on three islands.

Tutuila is the largest of the seven islands in American Samoa and Pago Pago Harbor is one of the largest natural harbors in the South Pacific. It cuts deeply into the south-central coast and almost divides the island in two. A steep mountainous spine runs the 20-mile length of the island and it was this portion of the national park on this island that we explored. Much of it is tremendously rugged so our hiking was somewhat limited. The park preserves the only mixed-species paleotropical rainforest in the United States and is the habitat of “flying foxes” (fruit bats). Bats are the only native mammals found in American Samoa and the two species of flying foxes have wingspans close to three feet. They also fly during the day as well as at night, unlike most other bats.

Our introduction to the island was our arrival at Pago Pago airport at roughly 10 p.m. We walked out to the waiting area and the number of people there was truly amazing. It was completely packed. Everyone goes to the airport on “flight night.” We learned later that nearly entire villages turn out to welcome home anyone who has been away. A hint: when you are scheduled to leave the island on the 11:00 pm flight, go to the airport early in the day, get your boarding pass, check in your bags and leave them at that time. Unlike airports elsewhere, they will check your bags in well ahead of time and you will avoid the seemingly disorganized masses that night.

At the National Park Visitor’s Center, we met a young ranger named André who was extremely helpful. He gave us much information on the park and suggested a couple of hikes he thought we would enjoy. (This was early January but since we were in the southern hemisphere, it was summer and very hot and humid.) As we explored and found things we were curious about, we made many trips back to visit André and ask questions. He was very knowledgeable and answered our queries about the national park, the flora and fauna, as well as the Samoan culture and way of life.

We rented a car at the airport so had our own transportation but the local aiga or family buses were everywhere. They are frequent but unscheduled and the fare varies. They originate and terminate at the market in Fagatogo. There are many bus stops but you can get on or off anywhere they can pull off the road.IMG_6949

The Lower Sauma Ridge Trail led us past Samoan archeological sites and spectacular views of the northeast coastline of the island and the Vaiʻava Strait National Natural Landmark. Tall, skinny Pola Island, a nesting area for seabirds, was also visible.

We also hiked the Pola Island Trail which led to a rough and rocky beach with views of the coastline and a closer view of Pola Island. André told us there were “singing rocks” on this beach and sure enough, we discovered them. When the waves came in, they washed up over many of the rocks and when they receded, many small black rocks bounced together and down the beach making “music.” It was lovely and brought a smile.

The Samoan islands have been populated for 3,000 years and many believe this is where all Polynesian people originated. Even though separated by thousands of miles of ocean, there are similarities in the different island languages. Examples: the Samoan “Talofa” is similar to the Hawaiian “Aloha”; Samoan “ʻava” (local drink made from the root of the pepper plant) is “cava” in Tahitian.

Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen sighted Samoa in 1722 and other Europeans followed. The London Missionary Society sent its first representatives to the islands in the 1830’s and from there missionary influence spread. We were totally amazed at the vast number of churches and denominations on the island of Tutuila.

An 1899 agreement between colonial powers divided Samoa into spheres of influence with Germany controlling the western islands and the United States the eastern islands. Formal cession by the local chiefs came later. By 1904 the eastern islands had all been ceded to the United States, although the U.S. Congress did not formally accept the deeds of cession until 1929. In 1951 control of the territory was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior with an appointed governor. In 1977, a Samoan became the territory’s first elected governor. Since then all members of the territory’s Fono have been elected by the citizens. In 1981 American Samoans for the first time elected a nonvoting delegate to serve a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A strong U.S. military connection existed with American Samoa from the late 1800’s through the mid-1900’s. During World War II, a U.S. Naval base with a Marine contingent operated from Pago Pago as a defense in the South Pacific. Throughout the island there are a number of installations from that time period. We hiked to the Blunts Point naval gun emplacement. These two large guns that could fire six-inch shells nine miles were mounted atop Matautu Ridge, at Tulutulu Point, to defend Pago Pago Harbor from potential Japanese invading naval forces. There were two additional guns mounted on Breakers Point across the bay. Along the coast of Tutuila Island, archaeologists have identified 81 pillboxes which served as an initial line of defense against an amphibious invasion. January 11, 1942 a Japanese submarine surfaced and fired at the U.S. Naval Station. Very little damage was done and this was the only time that the Japanese attacked Tutuila during WWII but Japanese submarines were active in the area.

For some 3,000 years, the people of Polynesia’s oldest culture have been attuned to their island environment. The name Samoa means “sacred earth.” Over the centuries, distinct cultural traits emerged now called faʼasamoa (the Samoan way). Lands, waters, and food sources are managed to sustain them for the future. Samoan culture, customs and traditions emphasize the importance of the extended family, the aiga. Each aiga’s lands are managed by its chief, or matai, for the common good.

We visited Tisa’s Barefoot Bar one afternoon. Tisa sat down with us and was very willing to tell us about American Samoa and the culture. She told us that the chief of each village determined how that land was to be used, such as where someone could build a house, etc. She also said property could not be sold to non-Samoans. The villagers take care of each other and make sure no one goes hungry or homeless.

Throughout the island, we saw what we called pavilions – open-sided buildings which were quite large. We were told they were “welcoming houses” (my terminology) where the high chief would welcome visitors and ceremonies were held. We learned a bit about the ceremonial aspects and the order of high talking chief down to the untitled men. The high talking chief position entails a great deal of responsibility and is not directly hereditary. Even though outside influences are very apparent and a part of their life, the American Samoans have held on to their distinctive culture.

One day we decided to visit ʻAunuʻu Island, the smallest inhabited island. We drove to the village of ʻAuʼasi and took the ferry, a small fishing boat that runs as it has passengers. We spent time on the beach, which we had entirely to ourselves. We had thought to try snorkeling but the waves were just too strong. However, it was very peaceful and beautiful for pictures of the waves and of Tutuila in the distance. Daily we swam in Pago Pago Harbor so we can at least say we swam in the South Pacific. American Samoa is an island paradise with a slow pace and very friendly people.


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