Old West History Archives

Texas Joins The United States

In 1837 Mexico didn’t like Texas being an independent nation. And then, when Texas became our 28th state, it was just too much. With diplomacy breaking down, in 1846 President Polk declared war on Mexico.
 
In battles it wasn’t unusual for the Mexican forces to outnumber the U. S. forces as much as four to one. But superior weapons and battle tactics gave the American forces victory. And in less than a year and a half, American soldiers occupied Mexico City.
 
Envisioning the possibility of additional slave states, southern politicians started calling for the conquest of all of Mexico. The northern states, not wanting additional slave states, not only opposed the conquest of Mexico; they introduced bills that said “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude” would exist in any territories acquired by the Mexican War.
 
Finally, on February 2, 1848, after three months of negotiations, a treaty was signed in the Mexican city of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
 
The treaty said the United States would pay Mexico 15 million dollars. The U. S. would take care of any claims American individuals had against Mexico, by paying these Americans 3.25 million dollars. In turn the United States got over one million square miles of territory. It included all or part of what is now California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
 
Counting the money given to Mexico and the Americans, it cost the United States about $15 a square mile. Not a bad deal.
Stephen Austin

The Controversial George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer seemed to always live on the edge.  Even while at West Point, where, incidentally, he graduated at the bottom of his class, Custer was almost expelled because of demerits for actions like food fights in the cafeteria.

However, one of the low points in his career took place on November 25, 1867 when he was court-martialed.  Supposedly, Custer’s officers fell into two categories…those who were related to him, and those who hated him.  As for the enlisted men, they fell into one category…those who feared him.

Custer was found guilty on eight counts.  They included being absent without leave from his command.  He had left his post to visit his wife, Libby.  He had also taken along troopers as escort during this trip.  Another count was shooting deserters without trial.  Incidentally, when Custer left to visit his wife, he was considered a deserter himself.

Libby Custer

The testimony of Captain Frederick Benteen, an officer with Custer at Little Big Horn, was particularly damning.  Other charges included abandoning two men, failing to recover two bodies, and cruelty to three wounded troopers.  The average officer being found guilty on any of these counts would have meant the end of his career.  But George Custer wasn’t average.  His sentence was, “to be suspended from rank and command for one year, and to forfeit his pay proper for the same time.”

At the end of the year Custer’s friend and advocate, General Phil Sheridan, called him back to active duty.  Custer felt he had to do something spectacular to redeem himself.  And he did on November 27, 1868, when Custer and 800 men attacked the peaceful camp of Black Kettle that was flying the American Flag and a white truce flag.

Wild West Renaissance Man

Granville Stuart was born with his brothers in West Virginia, and at a young age, he started migrating west. After reaching Montana, Granville and his brother, James discovered gold there, and they spread the news, the result of their writing their brother back east. Unfortunately, the Stuarts didn’t get rich from their discovery.
 
In 1863, Granville rode with the vigilantes that wiped out the “The Innocents”, a gang led by Henry Plummer, who also happened to be the town marshal.
 
Being interested in cattle, and seeing the lush grasslands in Montana, Granville helped start the cattle industry there. By 1883, things were not going well for the cattlemen. Because of rustling, cattle attrition was considerable. So Granville, using his earlier experience, help organize the Montana Vigilantes, who were known as “The Stranglers”, the result of their frequent use of the rope… And supposedly as many as 70 men ended up with hemp around their necks.
 
The harsh winter of 1886 all but wiped out Montana’s cattle, and Granville left the cattle industry behind for…an appointment as Minster to Uruguay and Paraguay. For five years, he lived in South America, only to return to Montana to become the Butte, Montana… librarian.
 
Granville Stuart has been described as an intellectual, a fine writer and a wise man with an engaging sense of humor. Although he had no formal training, Granville was an excellent artist. He wrote and illustrated three books. One was a geographical description of Montana. Another was a narration of the discovery and early settlement of Montana.
 
Granville was commissioned by the state of Montana to write a history of the state. But unfortunately, he died on October 2, 1918 before he could finish it.
 
I think you can agree that Granville Stuart was truly a renaissance man. 

The Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny

President James Monroe

Two speeches, each delivered on December 2, that happened to be 22 years apart, resulted in affecting the development of the west more than any other single action during the 1800’s.

On December 2, 1823, during his seventh speech before Congress, President James Monroe introduced the concept that, for reasons of national security, all European influence should be removed from the areas immediately surrounding the United States.  So, the United States started peacefully acquiring territories owned by European countries.  This policy came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine.

On December 2, 1845, 22 years later, President James Polk made his first address to Congress.  During that speech he reasserted the Monroe Doctrine.  But President Polk went one step beyond, by stating his willingness to use force, if necessary, in removing European influence from areas determined for the expansion of the United States.  President Polk felt that the expansion of the United States was its “manifest destiny.”

President James Polk

President Polk wanted the United States to annex Texas, acquire California and gain total control of the Oregon territory.  Standing in the way of our doing this were just the countries of Mexico, Great Britain and France.

Fortunately, Great Britain peacefully surrendered its claim on the Oregon territory south of the 49th parallel.  With the annexation of the Republic of Texas into the United States, Mexico declared war.  As the United States entered into the war, President Polk was afraid that Great Britain and France would come in on the side of Mexico.  But that never happened.

In 1846, with the defeat of Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hadalgo, the vision of President Polk’s speech of December 2, 1845 was realized.  The final pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.  The United States now controlled the areas that one day would become the Pacific Northwest, Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Tough Texas Town Is Killed

December 24, 1884 began like any other day in the small town of Helena, Texas. Helena was known as the toughest town on earth… and the town was filled with cowboys waiting for the spring cattle drives going north, Civil War veterans, highwaymen and gunmen.

Meanwhile, at one of the bars, a drunken cowboy shot off his pistol, a normal occurrence at the bars in Helena… But this bullet accidentally killed a 23-year-old Emmett Butler. Now, typically an accidental killing was given little notice. But Emmett Butler was the son of William G. Butler, the wealthiest rancher in the area.

Upon hearing of his son’s death, William Butler came to town demanding his son’s killer be turned over to him…And when the town refused, he left vowing to, “Kill the town that killed my son.”

Around Helena, little was thought of his remarks. No one, no matter how wealthy, could kill a town as prosperous as Helena, Texas. Besides, it was the county seat.

A year after Emmett Butler’s death, the San Antonio Railroad was laying track through the area. William Butler offered the railroad free right of way and $35,000 on one condition… And that was that the railroad would build its tracks seven miles southwest of Helena, Texas.

The railroad agreed, and after the track was laid, the new town of Karnes City, Texas sprang up next to the railroad tracks… and Helena businesses started moving to Karnes City.

The final blow came nine years later, almost to the day, after the death of Emmett Butler… when on December 21, 1893, the citizens of the county voted to move the county seat to Karnes City.

And Helena, Texas, true to the promise of William Butler… died.

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