Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas at Valley Forge 1777

During the American Revolution, defeats were plentiful. By September of 1777, British forces captured the United States capital which was Philadelphia. After he failed to retake the city, General George Washington led his 12,000-man Army into winter quarters at Valley Forge which is located about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Of course the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia and were about one step ahead of British troops who swore an oath to hang everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence.

With a third of his 12,000 men without shoes, their feet wrapped in rags, George Washington lead his Army into Valley Forge just before Christmas in 1777. It was in Valley Forge on December 19th that the Continental Army and George Washington would change the course of history and reverse the course of the war which was not going well for America.

Upon arriving in Valley Forge, Washington ordered his men to build wood huts as shelters for the long winter months ahead. To do this, his men cleared 16 by 14 foot square dugout to build their shelters on. They dug two feet into the ground to remove the permafrost. Using logs for the walls, they also gathered stones for makeshift fire-pits that really didn't resemble fireplaces. The dirt floors of the huts were used to sleep 12 men each. With openings but no actual doors to block the freezing cold, the men attempted to keep the frigid air out with the use of blankets and canvas placed over the doors. It is believed that 1,300 to 1,600 huts were constructed.

In 1777, the Continental Congress was seen as making all sorts of empty promises when it came to supporting the Continental Army. Support for General Washington had dwindled in Congress after a series of brutal losses that year. So much so that Congress reorganized the Board of War and stripped the Commander in Chief of some of his authority.

And while this was going on, Washington's Army lacked equipment. But worse, thanks to an indecisive Congress, the American Army was starving. It was a miserably desperate situation for General Washington. While battling the British, he was also fighting Congress, His men went hungry as promised food provisions were withheld. Knowing that Congress may let them starve before acting, Washington's men competed with the British while foraging for wild game. Of course, because of they were competing for what game was available, soon game too became scarce.

Washington used Valley Forge as a defensive position to re-group, train, and reorganize his units. It was also a place from which he was able to keep an eye on British troops. That was the number one reason that Valley Forge was selected by Washington as a place to winter his Army.

It's said that Congress either didn't care about the situation taking place at Valley Forge, or simply thought that Washington was exaggerating the horrible conditions. Fact is, what took place there was horrible indeed. Washington's men were starving, malnourished, battle weary, discouraged, and feeling betrayed by Congress.

As General Washington saw things unfold and get worse, some say that during the Christmas of 1777 that he became despondent over their fate. I really believe that those who say such things really don't understand who Washington was a man. They don't understand what sustained him through the hardest of times. He was deeply spiritual, and his faith gave him strength.

Whether merely a myth or not, there's the story about General Washington in prayer. That story has to do with the Potts family who actually owned the land at Valley Forge. It was their land which Washington choose to regroup and winter on. During his time there, Washington requisitioned the Potts family home, some say it was the Potts family business, to use as his headquarters at Valley Forge.

The story goes that while Isaac Potts was initially a British loyalist because he had felt that the British were simply too strong a power to go up against, his opinion changed after observing Washington and the other officers train the troops there. And among other things, Potts saw that Washington was a religious man, a good Christian.

Potts supposedly later recalled, "It was a most distressing time of the war. All were giving up the ship but that great and good man. In that woods, I heard a plaintive sound, as of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was a crisis, and the cause of the country, of humanity and of the world. Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home and told my wife I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before. We never though a man could be a soldier and a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington."

We are all reminded that militia were only so-so effective during the Revolutionary War. But the fact is, General Washington was not in charge of professional soldiers as was the case with the British who we were fighting. Washington's men were the militia who stepped forward to defend rights they saw as being from God and not some King atop a throne in England.

Those were American farmers, cobblers, tinkers, craftsmen, tradesmen, who left to take up arms in a cause that was new to the world. The cause of men declaring their freedom from lords and nobles. And while there were certainly those who deserted and returned home to tend to the needs of their families, others stayed the course and soldiered during the worse of circumstances that winter.

There is a story of something that took place at Valley Forge. It has to do when General Washington took pen in hand to make a plea for assistance from Congress. In his letter, he told Congress of the dire situation. Some say that letter was supposed to be his resignation. Some want to say it was when he declared the cause hopeless.

Washington supposedly wrote the following letter, "I am now convinced beyond a doubt, that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place, this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve – dissolve – or disperse, in order to obtain sustenance in the best manner they can. Rest assured, Sir, this is not an exaggerated picture, and that I have abundant reasons to support what I say."

It's said that he heard a commotion outside his tent while writing that letter. Without a hat or wearing his coat, he left his tent and went out to see what was taking place. It was there that he found his men huddled together around fires, all making merry as best they could for Christmas. They found game to feed on. Many saw their bounty as gifts from God. Many were right.

Washington himself wrote later that he was astonished at the level of good cheer among the men. He wrote how he joined in the fellowship and wished every man there a very Merry Christmas. And then and there, yes there in the worse conditions, on that Christmas, his men cheered, "Long live the United States! Hail to our Chief! May Liberty prevail!"

General George Washington is said to have been moved to tears. There, his men starved and wrapped in blankets with rags wrapped around their frostbitten feet, cheered him that snowy day. As he watched his men brave the elements, he asked if they had not suffered enough?

To his question, a lieutenant quickly replied, "Having come this far, we can but go the rest of the distance."

Washington was taken by the lieutenant's heartfelt response. But even more so, upon his return to his tent. When he returned to his tent, Washington was amazed to see, that in his absence from his tent when joining the others in fellowship, that some of his men gathered garlands of holly and cedar and decorated the outside of his tent.

How anyone knows what was in that letter that General Washington was supposedly writing to Congress is a bit of a mystery because it's said that he took the letter and burned it. Instead, he's said to have turned and said to his men, "May God relieve your sufferings, if the Congress will not. And a good Christmas to you!"

A historian noted that the "clouds did not part and the burdens were not lifted on that Christmas Day of 1777. But from the depths of that Christmas came a resurgence in the hope and confidence of George Washington."

At Valley Forge, Americans struggled to manage a disastrous supply crisis while retraining and reorganizing. They remained in Valley Forge from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. During that time about 1,700 to 2,000 American troops died due to disease and starvation.

While it was a terrible ordeal, history shows that what took place at Valley Forge was the turning point of the American Revolution. The Christmas of 1777 was the start of an incredible story of survival, self-sacrifice, and redemption. It's said that it was during that winter, during that horrible test of endurance, that General Washington retrained but also re-inspired his men to the cause. I believe it probably worked both ways. He was probably re-inspired as well.

As Americans, besides remembering that Christ our savior is the reason for the season, we should remember the sacrifices made by our forefathers this Christmas. We should remember that our liberty is preserved because we fight for it. Ensuring our liberty and fighting for our freedoms is a cause which we should all rededicate ourselves to keeping alive.

So with that, Long live the United States! Hail to our Chief! May Liberty prevail!

Merry Christmas!

Tom Correa

Monday, December 17, 2018

Army Brings Back WWII-Era Greens Uniform

What is it?

The U.S. Army is adopting the Army Greens as its new service uniform, based on the iconic "pink and green" uniform worn during the World War II. This will be the everyday service uniform starting in 2020, and it will reflect the professionalism of the Soldier.

The Army Greens Uniform will include khaki pants and brown leather oxfords for both men and women, with women having the option to wear a pencil skirt and pumps instead.

There will be a leather bomber jacket as an outerwear option.

The Army Blues Uniform will return to its role as a formal dress uniform, and the Army Combat Uniform also known as the Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP will remain the duty/field uniform.

What are the current and past efforts of the Army?

In March 2017, Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier), under direction from the Chief of Staff of the Army, prepared a "Greens" Uniform demonstration and options to support the decision-making process. Extensive polling data showed overwhelming support for this uniform.

On Veterans Day, 2018, the Army announced the new uniform, which will be made in the U.S., and have no additional cost to the American taxpayer. This uniform will be constructed of high-quality fabrics and tailored for each Soldier. This will be cost-neutral and covered under enlisted Soldiers' annual clothing allowance. The new uniform and associated materials will comply with all Berry Amendment statutory requirements for Clothing and Textiles.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned?

The Army will conduct a Limited User Evaluation (LUE), using Soldiers that interact with the public. These Soldiers will wear the new uniform for a few months and then provide feedback for possible last-minute changes to the final design. The mandatory wear date for all Soldiers will be 2028.

This is the information on the uniform components:

Male Coat:
Dark drab green, four-button design with a belt and likely with a bi-swing back. Officers have ½-inch brown braid

Female Coat:
Similar to the above, but without the top pockets (PEO Soldier acknowledges the difficulty of aligning accouterments without top pockets, but struggles with how to maintain a bust line that lays well when it incorporates top pockets or flaps). The prototype coat is about 2 inches shorter than the current ASU Coat

Male Trousers:
Taupe color and similar to current design, but without trouser braid for enlisted and NCOs. Officers’ braid is still not decided

Female Slacks:
Incorporates side-seam pockets, but no back pockets. Likely will have some hidden waistband pockets to provide added utility for Class B wear. Will likely incorporate a comfort waistband

Female Skirt:
Pencil design with comfort waistband, likely cut with a “V.” Skirt will incorporate a “V” or kick pleat at back hem

Male Shirt:
Currently proposed as a poly-wool plain-weave tan cloth. Tapered design will have the similar pockets as the ASU shirt, but no creases. Enlisted will not have shoulder loops, but will wear sleeve chevrons. Officers might have shoulder loops, but may also wear collar rank (TBD)

Female Shirt:
Similar to the untuck version of the ASU shirt in general design

For both males and females, likely the same color as the coat

Unisex Service Caps with “walnut” brown leather visors and chin straps, incorporating the iconic “crushed” look of WWII. The uniform will also have garrison caps

Brown leather with brown socks

Overall CSA Guidance:
Make the uniform as functionally comfortable as possible without giving up a sharp, military appearance. Make the female uniforms as close as possible to the male uniforms without compromising female anatomical fit. Reduce the “bling” on the uniform by limiting pin-on items, perhaps incorporating subdued buttons, etc.

Why is this important to the Army?

The reintroduction of this uniform is an effort to create a deeper understanding of, and connection to, the Army in communities where awareness of the Total Army needs to increase.

The Army believes this high-quality uniform will instill pride, bolster recruiting and enhance readiness.

Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage are core Army Values, and the new uniform is at the center of demonstrating Soldiers' values, professionalism and accountability to each other and the American people.

The Army Greens will be worn by America's next Greatest Generation as they develop into the smart, thoughtful and innovative leaders of character outlined in the Army Vision.

-- end of article.

As a personal note, I think this is a great move. I really believe this is the best idea that the U.S. Army has had in more than 50 years. It will create a link to the Army's rich history and traditions of the past while building more of a sense of Esprit de Corps in today's Army. Great move!

Tom Correa

Sunday, December 16, 2018

An Unknown Place -- America’s First National Cemetery

Dear Friends,

I've talked about how during my travels while working around the country, my love of history had me stopping at Indian burial grounds, both Civil War and Indian-War battlefields of all sorts, places where stage coaches were held up, places where gunfights took place, places where vigilantes took folks out for a necktie party. I've been fortunate to have visited many small out of the way museums from Northfield, Minnesota, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Skagway, Alaska, to Virginia City, Nevada.

In Northfield, I saw first hand what took place at the Northfield Raid where the James and Youngers met their Waterloo. In the Manitowac maritime museum, I saw Earnest Hemingway's fly fishing gear and was absolutely shocked to learn that we Americans built submarines there in World War II. Yes, in Wisconsin. As for the small museum in Skagway, it was there that I found the small pistol that Soapy Smith was carrying the night that he was killed. A pistol that contradicted the claims of his gang who said that he was unarmed. And while there is still a great museum in Virginia City, sadly a smaller museum there closed.

As morbid as it may sound, I've also visited a number of graveyards over the years. I've visited the grave site we all know as the Little Big Horn, Arlington National Cemetery, Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona, and many others. I cannot count how many out of the way tiny pioneer graveyards that I walked through. The first was a pioneer graveyard out the back gate of Camp Pendleton which lead to the town of Fallbrook. It was the first time that I realized that settlers lived a long time after coming West. For some reason, I thought they all died young which wasn't the case at all. And as for those solitary graves out in some pasture or standing vigil in some patch of ground that used to be a cemetery of sorts, I cannot tell you how many lone weathered headstones that I've tried to read.

In 1992, while visiting Washington D.C. after a job ended, I had some time to explore the area. I remember finding what turned out to be America's First National Cemetery. Yes, it was established long before Arlington National Cemetery. It is a place where rests hundreds of congressmen, a few Indian chiefs, American composer and conductor John Philip Sousa, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, Elbridge Gerry who is a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as J. Edgar Hoover who was the first director of the FBI. And yes, Veterans from every American war can be found there.

It is the small District of Columbia’s Congressional Cemetery. And I'm not kidding when I say it is America's First National Cemetery.

Congressional Cemetery is a 35 acre historic burial ground located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Initially known as the Washington Parish Burial Ground, Congressional Cemetery became the first truly national burial ground as Congress bought sites, buried noted civil servants, and funded the infrastructure. While still active, there are scores of noteworthy citizens who left their mark on that city and the nation.

While it is said that to be buried there reflected no "special status," because of its location, Congressional had served for more than half a century as America’s national cemetery. Its 35 acres cover a bluff on the west bank of the Anacostia River, and it lies less than two miles from Capitol Hill. It was seen "as a place most desirable for the interment of members of Congress, any heads of departments of General Government and members of their families."

On the cemetery grounds is what looks like a round bomb shelter, but in fact is an iron-doored vault. It actually functioned as a morgue for many years. For example, it held the bodies of a few presidents before permanent arrangements were made. Believe it or not, the "storage fee" for holding a body there was $5 per month.

President William Henry Harrison take the oath of office in 1841. He died of pneumonia 31 days into his term. Yes, his was the shortest tenure in presidential history. Because he was the first president to die in office, his death sparked a Constitutional crisis regarding presidential line of succession. Harrison was the first of three Presidents to be temporarily entombed there, and his body remained for two months before being transported to North Bend, Ohio.

Ex-President John Quincy Adams died in the Speaker’s chambers and was taken to the vault prior to his return to Quincy, Massachusetts. Zachary Taylor became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War. He died in 1850 during his second year in office. Yes, just 16 months into his term.

It's said that when he was placed in the vault, that he wasn't alone. Taylor was there with none other than Dolley Madison. Here full name was Dorothea "Dolley" Dandridge Payne Todd Madison. She was the wife of President James Madison. She was noted for holding Washington social functions in which she invited members of both political parties to gather and socialize in a somewhat cordial manner. It's said that she sort of spearheaded the whole concept of "bipartisan cooperation" before the term was ever in use.

As for meeting socially to discuss political policy, Thomas Jefferson would only meet with members of one party at a time. It's said his gatherings would often turn into brawls and even result into duels.

Dolly Madison helped to create the idea that members of each party could amicably socialize, network, and negotiate with each other without things becoming violent. It's said that she did a great deal to define the role of the President's spouse. And no, the term "First Lady" came about later. As for helping Thomas Jefferson with social events, she did that after he became a widow.

Dolly Madison was in that vault for a year before Taylor arrived. She would remain there for 18 months before being moved to a family vault for six years, before finally joining her long-departed husband James Madison at Montpelier, Virginia.

In the early 1800s, congressional funerals had post-ceremony gatherings which included paying their respects while drinking free brandy and biscuits -- all paid for at government expense. Then they would join the procession to make the trek to the graveyard on foot. They were called "walking funerals" and they were known to stretch from Capitol Hill to the cemetery.

Later, coaches and carriages were included in the ceremonies. It was then that more mourners rode than walked. And here's something that must have been a sight for those watching. It's said that if the mourners who hired the coaches and carriages didn't show up for some reason, the hired carriages and coaches would simply join the funeral procession even though they were empty.

And here's something else, while we all associate black with funerals, it was customary at the time for the coach drivers to wind white bands around their stovepipe hats, and attending officials flung white linen scarfs over their shoulders as badges of mourning. And believe it or not, another strange custom was that the black bunting that was draped on buildings along the route were left in place for the wind to shred.

In 1812, newspaper reports of the funeral of Vice President George Clinton described his funeral as "a concourse of people greater than has ever been gathered in this city on any similar occasion."

When Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts succeeded to Clinton’s office, he was only there for two years before he died in his carriage on the way to the Senate. President James Madison had first lost Vice President Clinton and then Gerry back to back.

Vice President Gerry's precession was the same as Clinton's on the route to the Congressional Cemetery. But unlike Clinton who was removed from the vault to rest in his home state of New York, Gerry was interned in Congressional Cemetery. His memorial is a marble pyramid capped with urn and flame, with the inscription, "It is the duty of every citizen, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country." By the way, he is what "gerrymandering" is name after.

In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts. The resulting district apportionment is known as a "gerrymander" but the word can also refer to the process.

Near Gerry’s grave is the grave of Tobias Lear who was George Washington's personal secretary. During the Barbary Wars, Lear served as consul who negotiated the release of American prisoners. It was his decision to pay the pirates for their release. It was a decision that would destroy his life. Because of that decision, his career was over and he had to take minor government positons, once as an accountant, to feed his family. It's said that he was so disliked for bowing to the Muslim pirates, that people crossed the street to avoid him. He was shunned and later committed suicide.

Among those buried there is Sergeant-Major John W. Hunter, who was a drummer boy in the Revolution. Annie Royal is buried there. She was sentenced to a ducking in the Potomac for ranting in court. David Herold is buried there. He was hanged for helping John Wilkes Booth escape after Booth shot President Lincoln. For a long time the parish had regulations which prohibited the burial of "persons of color," but that rule was broken when a former slave became a member of the church.

According to sources, there is at least one request inscribed in stone in the cemetery. That inscription is on the monument of Choctaw Chief Pushmatahaw. It reads, "When I am gone, let the big guns be fired over me."

Chief Pushmatahaw died while in Washington negotiating payment for tribal lands. I read where his Choctaw delegation charged the government about $7,500 for "living expenses" while in Washington. It's said that a great deal of that money was spent on liquor and cigars. False reports later said that the Chief had died because he drink himself to death but that was just a vicious rumor. Fact is, Chief Pushmatahaw's death was medically diagnosed as being the result of Croup.

Croup, also known as laryngotracheo-bronchitis, is a type of respiratory infection that is usually caused by a virus. The infection leads to swelling inside the trachea, which interferes with normal breathing and produces the classic symptoms of "barking" cough and a hoarse voice. Fever and runny nose may also be present. These symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe. Often it starts or is worse at night. It normally lasts a few days.

The croup is still a relatively common condition that affects about 15% of children at some point. Back in the day before antibiotics and vaccination, croup was frequently caused by diphtheria and was often fatal.

As for Chief Pushmatahaw, it's said that over two thousand mourners attended his funeral. It was led by Andrew Jackson himself. As per his dying request, it was granted. His funeral was held on the day after Christmas in 1824. And on that day, Andrew Jackson ordered cannon fire which roared from Capitol Hill and three musket volleys echoed at Chief Pushmatahaw's graveside.

Why such honor you ask? It was Chief Pushmatahaw and his braves that had fought beside Jackson and the American forces during the Battle of New Orleans. It was Chief Pushmatahaw and his braves who helped stop the British Invasion during the War of 1812. Some believe his help was the factor that turned the tide of that battle.

Of course not all of the Indians seeking redress of abuses were treated as well. The story of Chief Scarlet Crow, a Santee Sioux chief from Minnesota, is one of those stories. Chief Scarlet Crow was actually accosted on a Washington D.C. street and kidnaped. Sadly, even though the federal government paid his kidnappers the ransom that they demanded for the Chief’s release, his kidnappers killed Scarlet Crow anyway. His body was interned at Congressional Cemetery. Chief Scarlet Crow's funeral was well attended and given military honors befitting the respect given to fellow warriors.

That wasn't the case for Taza who was son of Cochise. Taza succeeded his father Cochise as Chief of the Chiricahuas when his father died in 1874. That was two years after the Chiricahua Reservation was established by General Howard. In 1876, the tribe was removed from the Chiricahua reservation and relocated to San Carlos. In September of the same year, Chief Taza was one of a delegation of Apaches taken to Washington D.C. for a visit. During that visit, he fell ill and died there of pneumonia on September 26, 1876. He had only been Chief for about two years.

After his burial in Congressional Cemetery, an Indian agent being too interested in leaving Washington D.C. to get married made the mistake of forgetting to order Chief Taza's headstone. Since that Indian agent didn't order one before leaving the city, because of that horrible mistake, Taza’s grave remained unmarked until the 1970s when a granite headstone bearing his likeness was donated. Yes, almost 100 years later, Taza's grave finally received a proper marker.

Of course, there were those who didn't want to be buried in Congressional Cemetery. Some were very vehement about not being buried there. For example, one congressman once stated, "I would not die in Washington, be eulogized by men I despise and buried in the Congressional Burying Ground. The idea of lying by the side of so-and-so! Ah, that adds a new horror to death!"

In modern times, it's said homeless would break into the vault to sleep or get out of the weather. From about 1930 to 1976, the cemetery went into decline. It's disrepair during that period has been described as follows: "... like the neighborhood in which the cemetery lies, and except for the government owned areas and the few privately maintained sites, the old burial ground deteriorated sadly. Waist-high weeds and climbing vines obscured modest stones such as those marking the graves of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and his family. Stray dogs roamed the grounds and snakes slithered through the tall grass. Broken stained glass littered the turn-of-the-century stucco chapel that stands in the center of the cemetery. Toppled stones and sunken graves bore witness to the years of neglect, and vandals recently damaged more than a hundred of the tombstones."

As shocking as it may sound, the expense of maintaining the private part of Congressional Cemetery actually had their administrators considering a plan to remove the remains of thousands of graves. The land would then be sold to developers. But fortunately, in 1977 a group of concerned citizens joined together to save the neglected landmark.

They formed the non-profit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery and assumed the growing financial burden for the old burial ground. The group raises funds from various civic and patriotic groups and from individuals. Events are also scheduled to help as fund raisers.

The Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery is strives "to maintain the historic, cultural, and aesthetic qualities of this natural landscape along the Anacostia River." To do that, each year the Association has over 1,000 volunteers to help maintain and promote the cemetery. The association has over 500 members and is also well staffed with preservation experts.

The future preservation of that important place appears in good hands.

Tom Correa

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Doug Cox Custom Saddles -- An Old World Artist


Dear Friends,

Every once in a while, while researching something on the Internet, I stumble on something that I really want to share with others. In this case, I was looking up leather working when I found saddles made by Doug Cox.

Doug Cox is a saddle maker. But more so, he's a true artist. While he makes handcrafted custom designs for clients and collectors throughout the world, he also has saddles on display in museums.

In fact, the saddle pictured above, Silver Mounted Saddle #1, has been on display at the Carriage House Museum in Santa Ynez, California, The Museum in Paso Robles, California. It was one of the only two contemporary artist works on display at the Art of The Western Saddle exhibit held at the Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in Amarillo, Texas for 16 Months in 2009.

Silver Mounted Saddle #1 above is built on a Will James Stockman style tree, with a semi quarter horse gullet on Doug Cox bars. It has a 13 1/2 inch wide swell, a number 4 dally horn 3 ½ inch high with a 4 ¼ inch cap, a shovel cantle 4 inches high. It has 7/8 flatplate double rigging, medium square skirts, regular fenders with half double stirrup leathers, and quick change buckles. It has slideloop billets with regular 4 1/2 inch wide back cincha with tunnel loops, 2 1/2 inch Visalia monel stirrup in side 20 inch one piece taps.

He also used a Number 4 Mixed flower hand carving with dyed background and borders, and all parts are doubled and stitched, and lined with Number one carving leather. All of the silver mounting are heavy gauge solid sterling silver. The overlaid trim is 12 karat rose gold. 

The saddle comes with matching Bridle and Martingale as seen above. It can also be had with a glass museum case for the collectors out there.

Of course his work also includes saddles with beautiful carvings in the old world style of craftsmanship and artistry, but with less silver. Take for example this saddle in his collector series, The Old California, below.

The Old California was made for the Saddle Show at the 25th Anniversary of the Elko Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada. It was one of twenty-one on display there for months. It's a saddle made on one of the two most famous styles of buckaroo trees, the 3B. This saddle was patterned after the most popular styles of saddles during the peak of the buckaroo heyday. 

It's tree is a 3B, 9 inch fork, shovel cantle 4 inches high, a wood post horn 3 1/2 inches high with a 4 inch cap. It has 5/8 single ring rigging, with hand forged stainless steel rings over laid with sterling silver and hand engraved rigging leathers are closed with Spanish lace in true California fashion.

It's California round skirts, California half double stirrup leathers and fenders that lace at top of fenders, all add to it's beauty. It has the old Visalia Grandee style of stirrups with sterling silver bolt heads and large concho at the bottoms on bell bottom style 4 inch wide stirrups. All leathers are doubled and stitched. It has sterling silver sting conchos flower carving is the Number 5 Mixed Flower, and all were free-hand drawn and carved. This is a classic copy of a 1930-40 vintage Visalia buckaroo saddle.

As for his saddles, his patterns are still drawn free-hand and carved deep and lifelike. They are hand set on properly cased leather. Because of that, he never creates two saddles alike. As for his headstalls, they are handmade with No. 1 Bridle leather, the very best quality sewn with waxed linen thread, edged and rubbed smooth by hand to ensure a top quality finish, then oiled and either lacquered or a soap-oil finish put on, his work is always with high quality standards in mind. That includes his hard service headstalls, which are oil and soap finished to maintain a supple nature and turn sweat for extended periods of time.

While his saddles are owned by collectors worldwide, his custom saddles are also for the working cowboy, the rancher, trail rider, and the arena competitor. 

So who is saddlemaker Doug Cox?

He grew up on an Idaho ranch. As with many who grow up on ranches, that experience gave him first-hand knowledge of riding, training horses, and working cattle. As he got older, he gained a great reputation of being a good hand and soon hired out for day work at other ranches there in Idaho, as well as in Utah, Wyoming and Montana. One's reputation is always helped along with hard work and a great work ethic. Yes, both elements of which Doug Cox still has. 

That's pretty evident considering during those days he is known to have started his own colts, and he entered reining cow horse and cutting competitions. Of course, as with many young cowboys, he did his share of rodeo bronc riding. 

In the early 1970s, he took an interest in saddlemaking and trained under saddlemakers Bob Kelly and Ray Holes. He feels his skills were mostly influenced by his early instruction by Bob Kelly and Ray Holes from 1976 to 1981. The late Ray Holes was well known around the world. In the 1930's, Idaho saddle maker Ray Holes crafted Visalia style saddles which are very well known.

If saddlemaker Ray Holes sounds familiar, it should since he developed a product used by many. The story goes that he needed a conditioner and waterproofing to put on new saddles to help repel rain and the elements. The "dubbin" that he developed also restored life to older leathers. The first Ray Holes Leather Care Product was developed which he called SADDLE BUTTER.

In 1981, Doug Cox put down roots in Montana where he opened his very successful saddlemaking shop. In 2000, he was looking for easier winters when he decided to relocate to Nevada. Today, Cox Custom Saddles is still located in Gardnerville, Nevada. It's where he maintains his workshop and studio with the help of his wife Deb.

I was so taken by his work that I called him to tell him so. We talked for a little bit and I found that he is a very nice man. Very pleasant and willing to talk about the history behind his work. Frankly, when talking to such people who thoroughly impress me, I'm sometimes amazed at how down to earth they are. That's the case with Doug Cox. There is nothing pretentious about him. He's a cowboy at heart.

Though an extremely talented saddlemaker and absolutely gifted leather carver, as I said before "a true artist," he is very humble about the fact that owes what he knows to others who have influenced his work. He makes no bones about having a debt of gratitude to many early masters. He feels blessed to have had the opportunity to work with those masters. They gave him the opportunity to develop his expertise and he has not forgotten that fact. Besides Bob Kelly and Ray Holes, he also thanks Bill Knight and Stanley Diaz, as well as all of the old Visalia and Hamley catalogs for inspiration in his development. 

Of course having ridden horses for years, he understands the feel of a well made saddle. Knowing that, he also credits his inspiration and construction skills to several very competent horsemen such as A.D. Grandchamp, John Baeta, Sam Meads, and Jim Roser.

Doug Cox shipping calves in Yellowstone Valley, Montana circa 1998
Doug Cox's cowboy background, his knowledge both in the saddle and at the workbench, his artistic talent, can all be seen in the gorgeous works he creates. And while he certainly builds saddles and gear for collectors, he also builds saddles, headstalls, breast collars, beautiful standing martingales, spur straps, and chaps for the working cowboy, stockman, and ranchers. From the competitor, to the trail rider, to the working cowboy, to the fine art collector, his beautiful flower carvings are deep distinctive and available to all.

His work is "Old School." And frankly, I really see him as part of a small group of saddlemakers whose artistry and attention to detail while putting out a great saddle will be missed when he retires. Thankfully, that's not yet.

While I don't usually plug someone's product on here, if you're someone looking for a one of a kind saddle made with the finest quality leather, an investment, a piece of work that's has no duplicate, then give him a call at (775) 783-8991 at Cox Custom Saddles in Gardnerville, Nevada. 

Like me, I'm sure you will absolutely appreciate his work. 

Tom Correa 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Size of Ranches In America Today

Dear Friends,

This post is an effort to answer a couple of questions put to me regarding the size of an average ranch in the United States. When it comes to ranching in America today, what's the average size ranch? How many head of cattle does the average ranch run each year?

But before we get into that, I need to ask a favor. While I don't expect him to be reading my blog since he had nothing good to say to me, if you're that big rancher who says he owns half of Montana and obviously looks down your nose on others who only have a few acres -- please don't write me again.

The last time you wrote me, you said, "you have to own a thousand acres and run a working cattle ranch of a thousand head before you have the right to write about ranch work or the cowboy lifestyle."

Yes, I was actually told that by a rancher in Montana. With his attitude toward others, we can all thank God that he's not representative of American ranchers, big and small.

A few years ago, I more or less stopped writing about horses and cattle and ranch work simply because I got really tired of people writing me nasty letters. And frankly, like most folks who I know, I have a real hard time dealing with people who act like that snobby rich kid in high school whose parents bought them everything and who never had to worry about any real problems because they had their money handed to them. They'll treat you like dirty trailer trash because your family doesn't have what theirs does.

That was about the time when I was contacted by that rancher in Montana who told me that I have no right writing about horses and cattle because I've never made my "living" in horses and cattle. Even after my telling him that I have worked to help save a few ranches of very close friends, worked without pay from families needing help, have gathered cattle and worked roundups and brandings for years, and I've been around cattle and horses since I was just a kid. None of that mattered to him. To him, that didn't matter at all. Unless you "owned" a big cattle operation with large acreage with a large herd -- you don't know what you're talking about.

As for addressing my small piece of heaven that I call home, he made how he feels about anyone with less land than a thousand acres very clear. As he put it, "unless you make your living on a cattle ranch of a thousand acres or more, you just have a hobby and don't know what you're talking about. You don't matter and should shut up!"

So now, let's talk about size.

I've known a few breeders who have raised champion livestock on fairly small breeding facilities. I know of a horse breeder who only has 80 acres. That includes a racetrack and workout facility for racehorses. I know a bull breeder who was raising a champion bloodline of Limousin cattle. I believe he had 20 acres. Before he passed away, I believe his stock won all sorts of awards and was known for its quality genetics. There's a cowgirl in Nebraska who is working hard trying to start up her own herd. I believe she has 40 acres. I know a family that started up a feedlot with only a few acres and ended up expanding over the years.

The point being is that someone has to start somewhere, and they shouldn't have wealthy jerks who claim to own half of Montana looking down their nose at them. No one should be looking down on others no matter how big their farms and ranches are compared to others. Folks are working hard and should be respected for that.

Sometimes it's hard to keep an operation going. 

That goes for beef cattle operations, horse ranches and rescues, and dairies. For example, while most know really well how horse ranches and rescues have good years and bad years depending on the economy, the cost of hay, and other operating costs, most know how a bad year can almost kill an operation and how they are always fighting to stay afloat no matter how hard folks work. Well, the same goes for dairies.

January 2018's milk production report from the Department of Agriculture showed that the number of licensed U.S. dairy farms dropped by 1,600 farms to 40,219. That’s a decline of 3.8%. Over the past decade, the report stated that America has lost nearly 17,000 dairy farms. That's a decline of about 30%. Since our population is growing, that's a huge concern. 

With 9.4 million dairy cows in the U.S. dairy herd in January of this year, the average herd size is now 234 cows. The average herd size in 2008 was about 163 cows. Those numbers are absolutely true.

The January 2018 report reflected what was going on around the country in 2017. Wisconsin still has the most licensed dairy farms, with 9,090 farms producing and shipping milk. But we should be concerned since Wisconsin lost 430 farms in 2017. Pennsylvania came in second with 6,570 farms, down just 80 operations. New York reports 4,490 licensed operations, down 160 farms. And believe it or not, Minnesota has 3,210 dairy farms remaining. That's down for that state by 140 farms from 2016. As for California, this state is still the largest dairy-producing state. This is the case, even though this state is down 30 licensed farms with just 1,390 continuing still in operation. 

Why is California the leading dairy producer with 1,390 dairies? It's because of cow numbers. Based on the January 2018 cow numbers, Wisconsin, which is the Number 2 dairy state, has an average herd size of 140 cows. In California, the average herd size is 1,250 cows. That's a huge difference.

Of course, even though the average herd is large in California, the state's desire to over-regulate is driving this state's dairy producers to relocate to other states or shut down completely.

As a piece of trivia, the largest dairy farm in the United States is Fair Oaks Farms. They are out of Indiana and have 25,000 acres of land. That's 40 square miles of land. They also run 32,000 cows to produce 2.5 million pounds of milk every day. That's enough milk from that one farm for all of the 8 million residents in Chicago and Indianapolis. 

As for beef cattle operations in America, the stats may surprise you. My research shows that the average size of a farm and/or ranch in the United States today is under 442 acres. In the United States, this is according to the USDA, small family farms average 231 acres and under. A large family farm actually averages 1,421 acres. The fact is, like very large farms with an average acreage of 2,086, these are not the norm. Small family farms and ranches make up 88 percent of the farms and ranches in America.

Let's take a look at Texas. According to the 2012 Ag Census data for Texas, data shows there are roughly 178,000 operations claiming a total of 90.3 million acres of permanent pasture in Texas. That breaks down to an average of 507 acres per cattle operation. But that figure is not realistic since many ranches in Texas fall in the large to very large category. So why the discrepancy? Well, it's because there are more small cattle operations than large and very large operations.  

This is the same reason that data regarding the average number of cattle per outfit in Texas is so misleading. That 2012 Ag Census report puts the number of Texas beef cattle inventory of 4.33 million head on 134,000 cattle operations.

If we do the math, that breaks down to an average of 32 head of cattle per outfit. Since we know that can't be right considering the fact that some Texas ranches in the very large category run thousands of head, we have to note that 36% of the Texas cattle inventory is in herds smaller than 50 head. 

So now you're asking, how can the average herd be only 32 head of cattle in Texas? Here's why. According to that 2012 report, there are 30 ranches that have 2,500 acres or more. Of those 30 ranches, they run a total of 134,000 beef cows. There are 161 ranches with 1000 acres or more that run a total of 220,888 beef cows. 

Now, compare that to the very small family cattle operations where they may be raising cattle for sale and self-consumption. According to the report, there are 54,414 family cattle operations that have less than 10 acres. Yes, less than 10 acres. How many head of cattle could that amount to? Well, at 5 cows apiece on average, combined, they add up to more than those 161 ranches with 1000 or more acres. We know this fact because that same report shows that 256,162 head of cattle are raised on less than 10-acre parcels in Texas.  

If we take all of the more than 54 thousand Texans who own 9 acres and under, and add their numbers to the more than 30 thousand ranchers who own from 10 to 19 acres, and then add them to the more than 30 thousand ranchers who have 20 to 49 acres, they add up to 115,205 beef operations having under 50 acre each in Texas. Of that, believe it or not, they raise 1.65 million beef cows are produced. Yes, 1.65 million head! That's a lot of cattle.

When you consider that 4.33 million head is produced in Texas, that 1.65 million head of cattle raised on ranches with under 50 acres is a big deal. That means there are a lot of Americans in Texas who are producing for their families and for sale. While some are start-up operations building their own herds, all are being more self-sufficient and less dependent on others.

Here's another thought, if we look at all of the 4.33 million beef cattle produced in Texas, of that, 3.64 million are produced on ranches with under 499 acres. These ranches are the majority of who's producing beef in Texas. But also, from the research that I can find, they are representative of what's going on across America.

Another point, if we combine the 528 ranches of under 999 acres in Texas, with the 161 ranches with 1,000 to 2,499 acres there, and the 30 big ranches with more than 2,500 acres each in that state, while they have an incredible amount of cattle on each ranch, they only produce 681,241 head of cattle combined. So, in other words, those big ranches are the minority and not the majority of beef producers, as one would think.

As for the largest cattle ranch, the King Ranch has 911,215 acres of South Texas land. Yes, that's larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is home to 35,000 head of beef cattle and over 200 Quarter Horses. 

So now, while I'm not a cattle rancher and instead have created a home for a few "rescue" horses that would have otherwise been lost to killer auctions, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm retired. I worked in the private sector, and I've been self-employed. Yes, in several different trades. For those of you who had the good fortune to fall into a job and stay there all your life, I'm glad for you. But that wasn't what happened to me. After serving our country in the Marine Corps, I worked in several different occupations before retiring. I retired to the Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills, the California Gold Country, here in tiny Glencoe. I came here with the intention of doing some team roping, get into pennings, and of course, trail riding in the thousands of acres of backcountry BLM land near my place.

For those who want to know, there are those properties on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas that folks refer to as "ranchettes." According to research, a "ranchette" is supposedly any "ranch" of 40 acres or less. But frankly, I was always under the impression that "ranchettes were 5 acres and under. While most "ranchette" properties are large home lots, most of them consist of a few acres, a large house, and most likely have a barn or stable and other outbuildings. For me, since many of those "ranchettes" near metropolitan areas are raising a few head of cattle, I really would consider them "ranches." 

How can I call a small acreage a ranch? A "ranch" is defined as "an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle and sheep most often applies to livestock-raising operations." 

While I know that definition is laughable to some big ranchers, the definition factually applies to any property producing livestock, no matter how small the operation.  

Statistics show us that you don't have to own half of Montana or thousands of acres to raise cattle for yourself or for sale. And while real working ranches are really big operations, as I said before, the definition of a ranch factually applies to any property producing livestock no matter how small the operation. 

The average size ranch in the United States is 442 acres. As with Texas, the average number of cattle on those ranches is about 300 head of cattle. That is a lot of work. While it might not be one of those 30 Texas ranches that are running 4,000 head of cattle, that's still a full-time cattle ranch operation. Those 300 head operations are the bulwark of what's going on in America today. 

While I have a few acres, my place is not a "ranchette" because Calaveras County is rural America. We don't really have what one would consider a "metropolitan area" anywhere in this county to speak of. Surely not like Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area, which are a few hours away from here. Much like most of the Gold Country, our county is not really like the rest of California.

What do I mean when I say that we're not really like the rest of California?

Well, for example, just the other morning when the weather was clear, while I was sitting at my computer attempting to write something, anything since I've been fighting a case of writer's block lately, I heard a neighbor doing some target shooting over at his place about 200 yards away. At the same time, my next-door neighbor was on his tractor doing some work at his place on his fields between us. 

I did not arrive here with the intention of raising a few head of beef, although there's nothing stopping me from doing so. My neighbor grows hay and runs a few cattle each year. How many head of cattle does he run? Well, like the many folks who have less than 10 acres in Texas, my neighbor only averages 5 to 6 head each year. Yes, for personal use by his family and his extended family. Of course, he also sells a couple of head to help pay his taxes each year. Obviously, a small acre place with 5 or 6 cows is not going to make for a sustainable business. But in reality, it will supplement a family's freezer and pay a bill or two -- including one's property taxes. As with my neighbor, efforts of raising a few heads each year feeds a few families and stave off the taxman.

While the Montana rancher who owns half of Montana may look down his nose at such small family operations, it is a fact of life in America that small family operations are the majority of what's going on in America. Looking at the changes in beef production in the United States, one can't help but notice that there are very few big family cattle operations left. Most very large cattle operations today are owned and run by big corporations.

While that Montana rancher feels that unless you own a thousand acres and have thousands of head of cattle, then "all you have is a hobby," as he put it, that's not the case in America today. And while I have all sorts of admiration for the large outfits that run those thousands of cattle and have the huge sections of land that make up some of the greatest ranches in America, there are a lot of people who would disagree that anything smaller than a thousand acres is a hobby. It all takes hard work.

Since posting this, a few of you have written to tell me that I shouldn't take jerks like that Montana rancher to heart. Well, let me just say this about that. As I was telling a friend on Facebook, sadly, I have to admit that, as I've gotten older, I do take some things too much to heart at times. I find that I have a lot less patience with snobs and condescending jerks.

Whether it's that Montana rancher telling me how all of my time helping friends didn't matter, or some pompous self-proclaimed "historian" who thinks he knows it all when writing to tell me that the information that I've learned on my own for myself and actually seen with my own eyes can't be correct, I absolutely hate it.

I don't deal with snobs very well at all. Never have. I hate people who look down their nose at others. Besides it being a sign of poor character, it shows folks how weak you are. Frankly, as for people thinking they are better than others, I've never dealt with braggers very well. Pretentious folks who send me snide comments and look down their nose at others have never impressed me. Folks who think they know-it-all aggravate me. And yes, I've met a few. 

I'll tell you who does impress me. People who believe in hard work and taking care of one's family. Those who protect and provide for those they love. Those who have genuine respect for others. Those folks who treat others as they themselves want to be treated. Americans who have pride in being Americans and who love our great nation. Folks who take the time to thank God for all of one's blessings. They impress me. 

Some classless jerk who looks down on others because he owns half of Montana does not impress me.

That's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving History Odds & Ends

Happy Thanksgiving.  Here's just some odds and ends that I found interesting, I hope you do as well.

Let's start with the question, when was the first day of thanks in North America? Why the debate? Well, it appears that there may have been people giving thanks other than the Pilgrims in 1621.

In May of 1541, Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, led 1,500 men in a thanksgiving celebration at the Palo Duro Canyon. Coronado's expedition traveled north from Mexico City in 1540 in search of gold. The group camped alongside the canyon, in the modern-day Texas Panhandle, for two weeks in the spring of that year.

In June of 1546, French Huguenot colonists celebrated in solemn praise and thanksgiving in a settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. The colony was destroyed by a Spanish raiding party in 1565. This "first Thanksgiving," however, was later commemorated at the Fort Carolina Memorial on the St. Johns River.

On August 9th, 1607, English settlers led by Captain George Popham joined Abnaki Indians along Maine's Kennebec River for a harvest feast and prayer meeting. The colonists, living under the Plymouth Company charter, established Fort St. George around the same time as the founding of Virginia's Jamestown colony. Unlike Jamestown, however, this site was abandoned a year later.

In the spring of 1610, Colonists in Jamestown, Virginia held a thanksgiving prayer service after English supply ships arrived with food. The harsh winter of 1609-1610 generated a famine that decimated the settlers. The group was reduced from 490 members to only 60 survivors who were forced to dire measures such as eating their horses. The colonial celebration which followed the arrival of the ships with food has also been considered the "first Thanksgiving."

In October of 1621, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the autumn harvest with a three-day feast. Governor William Bradford invited the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, Massasoit, to join the fifty colonists who had survived the harsh winter. The Native American leader brought ninety of his tribesmen to the feast.

The celebration included athletic contests, a military review led by Miles Standish, and a feast on foods such as wild turkeys, duck, geese, venison, lobsters, clams, bass, corn, green vegetables, and dried fruits. In 1841, Dr. Alexander Young contended that this harvest celebration was the "first Thanksgiving," and the origin of an American tradition. This interpretation gained such widespread acceptance that other contenders for the distinction faded into obscurity.

While the Native Americans actually showed up with five deer for the three day feast on the First Thanksgiving, here's America's traditional Thanksgiving menu today:
  • Oven roasted turkey, 
  • Stuffing cooked inside the turkey,
  • Potatoes and/or yams; mashed, scalloped, baked, roasted, and/or candied,
  • Turkey gravy made with freshly roasted turkey-drippings,
  • Cranberry sauce wither jellied or whole berries,
  • Pumpkin pie.
On November 13, 1775, The Boston Gazette and Country Journal published a proclamation for a public thanksgiving from the Massachusetts Council-Chamber in Watertown:

"Altho' in Consequence of the unnatural, cruel and barbarous Measures, adopted and pursued by the British Administration ... We have thought fit ... to appoint THURSDAY the Twenty-third Day of November ... to be observed as a Day of public THANKSGIVING, throughout the Colony ....

That such a Band of Union, founded upon the best Principles, unites the American Colonies; That our Rights and Priviledges ... are so far preserved to us, notwithstanding all the Attempts of our barbarous Enemies to deprive us of them. And to offer up humble and fervent Prayers to Almighty GOD, for the whole British Empire; especially for the UNITED AMERICAN COLONIES ..."

Of course, less than a year later, Britain's American colonies ultimately severed all ties with the British with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

After the U.S. victory over British forces in October of 1777 at the Battle of Saratoga, the Continental Congress recommended that the colonies observe a day of thanksgiving. On November 30, 1777, the commander-in-chief of the Continental forces, George Washington, issued General Orders setting aside Thursday, December 18 "for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise."

All thirteen colonies celebrated on December 18 while Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont sponsored additional thanksgiving observances on separate days. The tradition of thanksgiving days sponsored by the Continental Congress continued through 1784 with proclamations such as the October 1782 decree.

On October 3rd, 1789, the first President of the United States, George Washington, proclaimed November 26th to be a day of national thanksgiving and prayer after receiving Congressional requests for such a decree.

He wrote in his November 26th, 1789, diary entry: "Being the day appointed for a thanksgiving I went to St. Pauls Chapel though it was most inclement and stormy -- but few people at Church." 

President Washington later provided money, food, and beer to debtors spending the holiday in a New York City jail.

Thanksgiving failed to become an annual tradition at this time. Only Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison declared national days of thanks in their terms. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams considered the practice to infringe upon the separation of church and state. Governors, on the other hand--particularly in the New England states, regularly issued proclamations of thanksgiving.

On April 13th, 1815, President James Madison proclaimed a national day of prayer and thanksgiving after the end of the War of 1812. U.S. and British emissaries effectively ended the conflict with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814 in Belgium. The treaty restored the pre-War of 1812 boundaries of the U.S. and Canada, but it did not address British violations on the high seas and the imprisonment of American seamen. A joint commission was appointed to address those other concerns.

During the war, President Madison proclaimed three days of fasting and prayer in response to Congressional requests (August 20, 1812, September 9, 1813, and January 12, 1815). He was the last president to call for a national thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Sarah Hale, who was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, began a letter-writing campaign to establish the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day. She began writing essays calling for the national celebration of the holiday as the editor of Boston's Ladies' Magazine in 1827. Godey's merged with Ladies' Magazine in Philadelphia a decade later and Hale's editorials reached an audience of approximately 150,000 people. 

In 1846, Sarah Hale moved beyond her readership and for the next 17 years directly petitioned state and federal officials. Her perseverance yielded increasing response from state governors and other politicians such as Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward.

In 1850, the Territory of Minnesota celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day on December 26 of that year. The whole territory, including all of what is now the State of Minnesota, plus the Dakotas as far west as the Missouri River, contained approximately 6,000 settlers. Territory Governor, Alexander Ramsey, proclaimed the day of thanks:

"Young in years as a community, we have come into the wilderness, in the midst of savage men and uncultivated nature to found a new empire in aid of our pursuit of happiness, and to extend the area of enlightened republican Liberty...

Let us in the public temple of religion, by the fireside and family altar, on the prairie and in the forest, join in the expression of our gratitude, of our devotion to the God who brought our fathers safely through the perils of an early revolution, and who thus continues his favors to the remotest colonies of his sons."

Such sentiments were echoed throughout states and territories as Thanksgiving became a national tradition even before it became a national holiday. 

In 1856, Puritan leader William Bradford's 1650 manuscript, Of Plimoth Plantation, was published after being lost for about eighty years. The document briefly mentions the Plymouth colony's famous 1621 harvest celebration:

"And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion.Another colonial publication, Mourt's Relation, was rediscovered in the 1820s and included Edward Winslow's detailed first-hand account of the feast:

At which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst vs ... with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed fiue Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed upon our Governour, and upon the Captaine, and others."

The documents fueled 19th-century interest in the Puritan colony and influenced the eventual association of the colony with Thanksgiving Day.

On November 28th, 1861, Union and Confederate troops celebrated Thanksgiving Day away from their families during the first year of the Civil War. The conflict threatened to permanently divide the nation. Both the Union and Confederate Congresses called for days of thanksgiving after key military victories throughout the war.

On September 28th, 1863, editor Sarah Hale then wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln encouraging him to proclaim a national Thanksgiving Day. This was part of Hale's 17 year campaign to establish Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.

Sarah Hale included an editorial she wrote for her Lady's Book magazine and explained that a "national feeling of Thanksgiving" would benefit the country in the midst of the Civil War:

"The influence of these state seasons of sacred remembrances, high aspirations, and tender . . . rejoicings would not only be salutary on the character of our own citizens, but the world would be made better . . . . If the germ of good feeling be ever so deeply buried under 'the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life,' it may be brought out by sympathy and vivified by culture and effort."

In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the 26th, the final Thursday of November 1863. The document, written by Secretary of State William H. Seward, reads as follows:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1876, The American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game. The sport resembled something of a cross between rugby and modern-day football, but the tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day developed with the evolution of the sport itself.

By the 1890s, Yale and Princeton drew upwards of 40,000 fans for the collegiate championship games. Fact is, by then more than 5,000 clubs, colleges, and high school football games were played on the Thanksgiving holiday.

In 1917, Americans celebrated the holiday in the midst of World War I. The war in Europe had begun in 1914, but President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany in April 1917 after the sinking of the Lusitania.

At the time, Director Herbert Hoover of the newly established Food Administration, asked farmers to increase food production and compelled civilians to ration consumption by observing certain days of the week as "wheatless," "meatless," or "porkless." This slightly altered traditional Thanksgiving meals as families relied upon the foods available in their "war gardens." To help Americans, guides such as 1917's "Best War Time Recipes" provided methods for making foods such as corn bread and muffins while adhering to the necessary rations.

In 1921, the community of Plymouth, Massachusetts erected a statue memorializing the Wampanoag Indian leader, Massassoit, 300 years after he and 90 of his tribesman joined the 57 Puritans at Plymouth Colony for a three-day feast of thanksgiving. The inscription on the statue reads, in part, "Massasoit, great Sachem of the Wampanoags, Protector and Preserver of the Pilgrims, 1621."

In 1920, Gimbel Brothers Department Store in Philadelphia sponsored the first Thanksgiving Day parade when fifteen cars, fifty people, and a fireman dressed as Santa Claus paraded through the streets. It concluded when Santa scaled a ladder into Gimbel's toy department. 

In 1924, employees, friends, and families of Macy's sponsored the store's first annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade became the standard that commemorated the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

In 1927, puppeteer Tony Sarg created the first giant balloons for the Macy's parade. The event was later featured in films such as A Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Each year, millions of people line New York City's streets during the parade while millions more tune into national television coverage.

In 1934, over 26,000 fans watched the Detroit Lions face the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit Stadium. Radio executive George Richards had purchased the Portsmouth Spartans, moved them to Detroit, and renamed them the Lions after the 1933 football season. That was the first National Football League game held on Thanksgiving Day. 

It was broadcast on the NBC radio network by 94 stations to a nationwide audience. Other than between 1939 and 1944, the Detroit Lions game became an annual event. Television broadcasts of the game began in 1956.

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared November 23rd, the next-to-last Thursday of the month, to be Thanksgiving Day. 

This break with tradition was prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season by one week. Roosevelt had rejected the association's similar request in 1933 on the grounds that such change might cause confusion. The President's 1939 proclamation proved him more right than he probably would have liked.

As always, the president's 1939 proclamation only directly applied to the District of Columbia and federal employees. While governors usually followed the president's lead with state proclamations for the same day, on this year, twenty-three states observed Thanksgiving Day on November 23rd, twenty-three states celebrated on November 30th, and Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays to be holidays. 

Football coaches scrambled to reschedule games set for November 30th, families didn't know when to have their holiday meals, calendars were inaccurate in half of the country, and people weren't sure when to start their Christmas shopping. The nation was again divided over the date of Thanksgiving Day in 1940.

The day was November 26th, 1941, after two years of confusion and complaint, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. Calendars and holiday plans were already set for the third Thursday in November, 1941 so the legislation took effect in 1942.

Roosevelt, recognizing the problems caused by his 1939 decree, had announced a plan to return to the traditional Thanksgiving date in 1942. But Congress introduced the legislation to ensure that future presidential proclamations could not impact the scheduling of the holiday. Their plan to designate the fourth Thursday of the month allowed Thanksgiving Day to fall on the last Thursday five out of seven years.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1942, London's Westminster Abbey held its first secular service in nine centuries when it hosted a Thanksgiving event for U.S. troops stationed in England during World War II. More than 3,500 people filled the church for a program featuring patriotic songs such as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful."

The U.S. officially entered the war on December 8th, 1941, one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Food rations, troop deployments, and fierce battles dampened many holiday celebrations until the end of the war in August 1945.

On November 28th, 1963, just six days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation on Thanksgiving Day. He announced that Florida's NASA Launch Operation Center would be renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center and he asked the public to remain "determined that from this midnight of tragedy we shall move toward a new American greatness."

On November 22nd, 2001, the nation was still reeling from our being attacked on September 11th when Muslim terrorists high-jacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York City.

Because of the tragic loss of life and the deployment of U.S. troops overseas. Citizens maintain daily routines but remained vigilant of potential risks in this country and abroad. Instead of being fragmented and divided as hoped by our enemies, Americans united for a time. 

Just a year earlier, the longest Presidential Election in U.S. history took place and among the questions being asked, besides who would be president, who would pardon that year's Thanksgiving turkey? 

While some like to point to President Harry Truman's "pardon" of a turkey the day before it was scheduled to be a main attraction at the White House Thanksgiving dinner in 1947. That tradition was actually started by President Lincoln after his son Tad asked that the turkey meant for their Thanksgiving feast to be pardoned.

The pardoning of one lucky bird is now an annual Thanksgiving event at the White House. It's a tradition featuring poultry humor, holiday history, and the commutation of a trip to the chopping block into a life-long stay in a Herndon, Virginia petting zoo.

I compiled this information from various sources including a timeline history of Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoyed this. 

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving and God bless!

Tom Correa

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Day When God Stepped In To Help America

I found myself in a debate with someone. While that won't surprise too many who know me and how I feel about celebrating the goodness of America, or my defense of Conservatism, it may surprise you that our debate was about God and America.

While I pointed out how Christian values have always been part and parcel of our nation, I have to admit that I was sort of surprised that he really believed, as he stated, "God has never helped America. That is if God really exists."

It was at that point that I laughed out loud. And friends, if there's one thing that pseudo-intellectual Atheists hate, it's someone laughing at their one-liners. 

He became angry when I laughed, so much so that he then said that my believing in God shows how uneducated I am. He then went on to quote one of his professors who said, "A belief in God shows how uneducated a person is. Education will lead people to be less dependent on God."

I told him that I'm not dependent on God. In fact, I'm hoping to lead such a life that God can depend on me. 

While guys such as that jerk enjoy saying "God doesn't exist," my argument is that God allows us free will with the hopes that we do the right things, with the hope that we show good intentions toward our fellow man and woman, that we demonstrate an ability to persevere, that we show a desire to get off our ass and work for what we want, that we defend ourselves and those we love, that we care for others, show compassion, be just, and stay on the straight and narrow with the Lord.

I've met God at sea on nights when I missed home, in horrible summer heat trying to ink out a living in construction, in the thick brush while trying to ferret out cattle on gatherings, while mending fences, while treating a horse with colic, as well as when sitting on the tops of mountains on trail rides. I've been inspired when least expected and surprisingly comforted when needed. 

OK, so I did let it go on too long. But really, this guy was really full of himself. He didn't like America, our flag, our laws, our culture, and the fact that almost 8 out of every 10 Americans are Christians of some denomination. He then asked me to show him proof of God and where God has ever helped America?

My reply was, "Do you want big or small examples?"

He said, "Pick one time when it was obvious that God helped the United States of America." 

I said I would. Of course, I was going to say "God has given us Donald Trump" just because I knew it would've made his head explode. But I didn't, even though I believe that's the case. 

Instead, I told him that for me, I've seen God's helping hand here and there over my more than 60 years. When I was a youngster, I remember my grandfather preparing me to not lose faith because a foal was dying. That night, out of the blue, it made an unexplained 180-degree turn for the better when it wasn't supposed to make it through the night. 

While overseas as a young Marine, I saw people flee for their lives with only what they could carry on their backs during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Just as I feel that God helped that foal make that 180-degree turnaround, I believe that those who made the effort to flee Vietnam were helped by God in their efforts to escape murderous Communism. Ten years later in 1985, it was reported that Communists killed 2.5 million South Vietnamese in their "Re-Education Camps". 

For me, I remember very well a situation that took place one night when a man in Oakland shot someone and then turned his gun on me. I lived because the killer's gun had jammed. Some say I was lucky. I say God was looking after me.

As for helping us in history, we know that on the Trail of Tears that thousands of Native Americans died along the way. Fact is, so did the Black slaves which they owned. Slaves that they took with them on their way West. But, the majority made it. What could have been worse didn't happen. We can thank God for his help that not all were lost during that horrible march across the nation.

We know that of the American pioneers who came West, thousands died along the way and two-thirds of the homesteaders couldn't make it and returned East. We know that faith in God helped strengthen most and gave faith to those in need of inspiration to help them through the hard times.

We know that 47 members of the Donner Party survived that horrible ordeal. Not all died after they left Springfield, Illinois, on that 2500 mile journey to California. Actually just over half of their party died after fighting 22 feet of snow and starvation in a situation where cannibalism was reported to have taken place. I've always found it interesting that people say those who survived such a tragedy "were lucky," instead of saying they "were helped by God." 

We know that there were people with tuberculosis who died and didn't live full lives in the Old West, as such was the case of Doc Holliday. But the fact is that others did live long lives with TB back in the day. 

A great example of that was John B. Stetson who invented the Cowboy hat. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis at a young age and doctors told him that he wouldn't have long to live. He went West and made his mark inventing the Cowboy hat, and in the process created a business that employed thousands of Americans.

John B. Stetson is known for providing a clean and safe work environment, and a hospital and homes for his over 5,000 employees. He did that while giving back to his community by donating his money to charitable organizations, building schools, and colleges. Unlike others who died early from tuberculosis, he lived to be 75 years of age. I believe God had a reason to keep him around.

Atheists may refuse to accept the possibility that God helped America by keeping John B. Stetson alive to help Americans live better lives, but I don't. I believe that God uses some folks as tools to help others. I believe that Abraham Lincoln was God's gift to us. He was God's way of helping save the nation and recover from the horrors of the Civil War. I believe Franklin D. Roosevelt was God's way of helping America have strength during the horrid days of the Great Depression. And yes, I believe God helped FDR enable America to be victorious during World War II. It was pure providence that they were our presidents at that time in our history.  

God has helped America by giving us people who have turned deserts into flourishing farms, people who have built dams and railroads and highways, just as he gave us people who penned a Constitution the likes of which is the envy of the rest of the world. It was with God's help that we broke away from the greatest military power of its day. It was with God's help that we have grown stronger and better. It's with God's help that we'll become even better than we are.   

While these are just a few instances of when God has put people in the right place to help America, over the years, we have had God's help to weather hard times and trials, tests, and our ability to prevail. And while there are most likely many other days when the Lord has stepped in to act, this next story is about a day when God took a hand to help the United States directly. Yes, it was a day when God decided to help America in a more direct manner. 

During the War of 1812, the Battle of Bladensburg was fought on August 24, 1814. Bladensburg is only 8 and a half miles northeast of Washington, D.C. Today, that battle is called "the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms."

The American forces included U.S. Army regulars, U.S. Navy sailors, U.S. Marines, and state militia troops. American Sailors from Washington's Navy Yard were pressed into service at Bladensburg to help stop the British forces marching on Washington. So was a volunteer militia rifle company of civilian workers from the Washington Navy Yard which was organized in 1813. Those volunteers were designated the "Navy Yard Rifles" and joined in the fight. They effectively used rifle fire, artillery, and fought hand-to-hand with cutlasses and pikes against the British regulars. Sadly, they were no match for the better-armed British forces who overwhelmed the American defenders with superior numbers. 

As soon as the word reached Washington that the defenses had failed and the British defeated American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg, President James Madison and officials of the U.S. government picked up and fled the city. The president and the rest of the government were one step ahead of being captured by the British when they left the city and took refuge for the night in the small town of Brookeville. The town of Brookeville, which is in Montgomery County, Maryland, is about 20 miles due north of Washington, D.C. 

After a force of British Army regulars and British Royal Marines completely routed a combined force of U.S. Army regulars, U.S. Marines, Sailors, and state militia troops at Bladensburg, Maryland, the British marched into Washington. What happened next was savagery. 

When the British invaded Washington, the British sacked the city and burned down its buildings. In order to "lay waste to the city," the British forces set fire to our capital.

They actually burned down the White House and many other government buildings, including the Capitol, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Treasury, War Office, and the Arsenal building. As for the Washington Navy Yard, since smoke from the burning Capitol was seen, the American defenders at the shipyard realizing that weapons, ships, and stores, were all prizes that the British wanted. So yes, the yard was ordered set afire to prevent its capture by the enemy.

Its flames could be seen for miles. Then God stepped in. 

Less than a day after the sacking of Washington D.C. began, out of nowhere a sudden hard-hitting thunderstorm came about. That storm has been described as devastating, a storm with instant hurricane conditions. Along with the torrential rain, a tornado was witnessed passing through the center of the capital before setting down on Constitution Avenue. The tornado is said to have lifted at least two British cannons and gun carriages, then dropping both of them several yards away. In the process killing British troops. Panic ensued and soon the British, who were not fairing well against the storm, retreated from the city. They returned to their ships which were battered and badly damaged in the instantaneous hurricane.

The deluge of rain put out the fires. In fact, it is said that the hand of God ended the British occupation of Washington. It only lasted about 26 hours. The storm was soon called the "Storm that saved Washington." After the storm passed, Americans, including the President and other government officials, returned to the city.

While there are those who would debate the effect of this storm on the occupation, one simply cannot disregard the fact that the storm which appeared out of nowhere forced the British to retreat from Washington. Fact is, it was a storm without explanation other than there being a part of divine intervention. 

So you, too, can now tell someone about the time that God rolled up his sleeves and said he'd do this one himself. It was the day God saved Washington D.C. from complete destruction. And while there are other days when God's helped us all, when his blessings have been given to our great and kind nation, God saved our nation's capital on that day back in 1814. 

And that's how I see it.

Tom Correa