February 29, 2012
John Doyle Lee was born in Illinois Territory in 1812. By the time he was 3, his mother was dead. Relatives took him in from his alcoholic father and put him to work on their farm at a young age. At 20, Lee began courting Agatha Ann Woolsey in Vandalia, Illinois, and in the summer of 1833, she became Lee’s wife—the first of 19 for John D. Lee, who would soon commit himself to the nascent Latter-day Saints movement. He professed his commitment till the day he was executed for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
The massacre, in 1857, was one of the most explosive episodes in the history of the American West—not only were 120 men, women and children killed, but the United States and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints almost went to war. The denouement of the so-called Utah War set Utah on the path to statehood and the Mormons on a long and fitful accommodation to secular authority, but the Mountain Meadows Massacre remained a focus of suspicion and resentment for decades. The church issued a statement on the role its members played in the killings in 2007, and opened its archives to three scholars—Richard E. Turley Jr., a Latter-day Saint historian, and Brigham Young University professors Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard—for their book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, published in 2008. But in the aftermath of the massacre, only one participant was brought to trial, and that was John D. Lee.
Lee and his wife joined the Mormon settlement in Far West, Missouri, in 1837. That was only seven years after Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but already the Mormons had been pushed out of Smith’s home state of New York and Ohio. Conflicts arose on grounds both religious and secular—Smith preached that other Christian churches had strayed; Mormons tended to vote as a bloc and to outwork others, concentrating both political and economic power—and the antagonism intensified to the point that the Mormons would be evicted from Missouri and Illinois, where Smith was lynched in 1844. To break a cycle of mutual suspicion, recrimination and violence, Brigham Young, who would succeed Smith, made plans to lead the remaining LDS members on an exodus to Utah, which was then part of Mexico—beyond the reach of U.S. law.
As a recent convert John D. Lee joined a secret church order called the Danites, which was charged with protecting and defending Mormons. When some Missourians opposed to Mormons’ voting started a riot at a Daviess County polling center in 1838, Lee and his fellow Danites stormed into the crowd with clubs flying. “I felt the power of God nerve my arm for the fray,” he later said. Buildings were burned, and Lee later admitted that he had participated in looting.
Lee was in Kentucky when Smith was killed in 1844, but when he returned to Illinois he learned of Young’s plan to head for Utah. Lee joined the migration through hostile and foreboding territory (which led to Young’s nickname of “the Mormon Moses”), and Young appointed him a Captain of Fifty—a ranking based on number of people under one’s command. Lee served as a clerk and purchasing agent.
In July of 1847, a contingent of Mormons arrived in the Great Salt Lake valley and began a settlement that would grow to thousands in the coming years. Just six months later, Mexico ceded that land, and so much more of the West, to the United States. The old conflicts between religious and secular power arose again. President Millard Fillmore appointed Brigham Young governor of the Utah Territory and superintendent of Indian affairs, but the Mormons kept their distance from outsiders—including officials sent from Washington, D.C.
Non-Mormon locals immediately resented the appointment of Mormon surveyors and Indian agents, one of whom was John D. Lee. The agents’ relationship with the Native Americans, to whom they supplied tools, seed and proselytizing, aroused suspicion, especially among federal soldiers in the area. Mormon men, meanwhile, took offense when soldiers tried to socialize with Mormon women. Once the Army departed, “as many as one hundred Mormon women went with them,” according to Turley, Walker and Leonard. “Everybody has got one except the Colonel and Major,” one soldier said. “The Doctor has got three—mother and two daughters. The mother cooks for him and the daughters sleep with him.” The familiar cycle of suspicion and resentment built toward violence into the mid-1850s. Rumors that the LDS church was sanctioning polygamy—which turned out to be true—only made matters worse.
In April 1857, a Mormon apostle named Parley P. Pratt was murdered in Arkansas by the legal husband of one of Pratt’s plural wives. Mormons in Utah took the news as another example of religious persecution and considered Pratt a martyr. They began stockpiling grain, anticipating a violent and apocalyptic encounter with the people they called “Americans.” The Army, they believed, was about to invade the Utah Territory, (an invasion that did not come until the following year in the Utah War) and Young tried to enlist Paiute Indians from nearby Mountain Meadows in the fight. He also warned “mobocrats” to steer clear of Mormon territory or they’d be met by the Danites, who would form a line of defense in villages near Mountain Meadows. Then he declared martial law, making it illegal to travel through the territory without a permit.
At the same time, several groups of emigrants from northwest Arkansas, mostly families that in total numbered between 100-200 people, were making their way to California by wagon trains. Joining up in Salt Lake City, the Baker-Fancher party restocked their supplies, but for the rest of their trip, Mormons were prohibited from selling any goods to wagon trains. Lee and another Mormon man, apostle George A. Smith, met with the Paiutes, a a tribe of Native Americans in the region, and warned them that the encroaching Americans threatened both them and the Mormons; rumors circulated that members of the Baker-Fancher train might poison water and cattle along their way.
The Baker-Fincher party was most likely unaware of the new requirement for a permit to cross Utah. They grazed their cattle on Mormons’ land as they passed through, stoking anger. Lee later said that members of the train “swore and boasted openly…that Buchan[a]n’s whole army was coming right behind them, and would kill every… Mormon in Utah.” Others reported that the men of the Baker-Fancher party were respectful.
Throughout the summer of 1857, the Mormons’ sense of impending invasion only deepened. Parades through Cedar City included young men bearing banners reading, “A terror to evil doers,” according to Turley, Walker, and Leonard. Along the southern settlements, Mormons were urged to “shore up alliances with local Indians.” When Lee came into the vicinity of the Baker-Fancher train, he said, he saw a large group of Paiutes “in their war paint, and fully equipped for battle.” Lee claimed that he had orders from Isaac C. Haight, a leader of several Mormon congregations that formed the Iron County Militia, “to send other Indians on the war-path to help them kill the emigrants.” Haight and Lee gave weapons to the Paiutes.
The Baker-Fancher party was camped at Mountain Meadows on September 7 when Paiutes (and some Mormons dressed as Paiutes to conceal their Mormon affiliation) attacked. The emigrants circled the wagons, dug trenches and fought back—but as the siege continued for five days, they began to run out of ammunition, water and provisions. The Mormon attackers concluded that the emigrants had figured out their ruse—and feared that word of their participation would hasten an assault by the Army. It was then that militia commander William H. Dame ordered his men to leave no witnesses. The emigrants were to be “decoyed out and destroyed with the exception of the small children,” who were “too young to tell tales,” according to another militia commander, Major John H. Higbee, who relayed the orders to Lee.
On September 11, John D. Lee and a group of militiamen approached the camp under a white flag and offered a truce, with assurances that Lee and his men would escort the emigrants to safety in Cedar City. All they’d have to do is leave their livestock and possessions to the Paiutes. Having no good options, the emigrants, about 120 men, women and children, laid down their weapons and followed Lee and the militia away from the camp in three groups—the last comprising adult males. It was over quickly. The Arkansas men were shot at point-blank range; the women and children ahead were slaughtered by bullets and arrows in an ambush party. No one over the age of seven survived. The victims were hastily buried. Locals auctioned off or distributed their possessions and took in the surviving 17 young children.
The Army did arrive in Utah, in 1858, but no war ensued—Young and the Buchanan administration negotiated an agreement in which Young would give way to a new governor. The following year, troops led by Major James H. Carleton went to Mountain Meadows to investigate the killings and found the bones of “very small children.” The soldiers gathered skulls and bones and erected a cairn with the words, “Here 120 men, women, and children were massacred in cold blood early in September, 1857. They were from Arkansas.” They marked the site with a cross inscribed, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Lee and the other leaders swore that they would never reveal their parts in the massacre, and Lee himself told Brigham Young that the Paiutes had been responsible for it—an explanation that became the official position of the LDS church for generations. In a report to Congress, Major Carleton blamed Mormon militiamen and church leaders for the massacre. Young excommunicated both Lee and Haight for their roles, but only Lee faced charges. After a first trial ended in a mistrial, Lee was convicted in 1877 and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Lee claimed that he was a scapegoat, and that other Mormons were more directly involved in the planning and in the killing. And although he maintained at first that Young was unaware of the massacre until after it took place, Lee would later state, in his Life and Confessions of John D. Lee, that the massacre occurred “by the direct command of Brigham Young.” And on the morning of his execution, Lee would write that Young was “leading the people astray” and that he was being sacrificed “in a cowardly, dastardly manner.”
“I did everything in my power to save that people, but I am the one that must suffer,” Lee wrote. He closed by asking the Lord to receive his spirit, and then he was taken to the massacre site. As many as 300 onlookers had gathered. On March 28, 1877, John Doyle Lee, wearing a coat and scarf, took a seat atop the coffin where his body would lie. A photographer was nearby. Lee asked that whatever photograph was made be copied for his last three wives. The photographer agreed. Lee posed. And then an hour before noon, he shook hands with the men around him, removed his coat and hat and faced the five men of the firing party.
“Let them shoot the balls through my heart!” Lee shouted. “Don’t let them mangle my body!”
On U.S. Marshal William Nelson’s command, shots rang out in the ravine where so many shots had rung out twenty years before, and Lee fell back onto his coffin, dead.
On April 20, 1961, a joint council was held with the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “After considering all the facts available,” the Church authorized “reinstatement to membership and former blessings [temple marriages] to John D. Lee.” The reinstatement puzzled many. But four decades later, the church claimed full responsibility for the incident that led to Lee’s execution. At a memorial ceremony on September 11, 2007, the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, LDS Apostle Henry B. Eyring read the church’s official statement to gatherers:
“We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today, and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time. A separate expression of regret is owed the Paiute people who have unjustly borne for too long the principal blame for what occurred during the massacre. Although the extent of their involvement is disputed, it is believed they would not have participated without the direction and stimulus provided by local church leaders and members.”
Books: Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Oxford University Press, 2008. Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Doubleday, 2003. Sally Denton, American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, Alfred A. Knopf., 2003.
Articles: “The Brink of War,” by David Roberts, Smithsonian magazine, June, 2008. “Books: A Blot on the Mormon Faith, Church’s History Fraught with Violence, Bloodshed,” by John Freeman, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 13, 2003. “New Perspectives on The West: John Doyle Lee, (1812-1877) PBS—The West—John Doyle Lee, http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/i_r/lee.htm. “John D. Lee,” Utah History Encyclopedia, http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/l/LEE,JOHN.html. “Shining New Light on the Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Transcription of 2003 FAIR Conference presentation by Gene Sessions, FAIR: Defending Mormonism, http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2003-fair-conference/2003-shining-new-light-on-the-mountain-meadows-massacre. “Last Words and the Execution of John D. Lee, March 28, 1877,” As reported by his attorney, William W. Bishop in Mormonism Unveiled; Or the Life and Confession of John D. Lee (1877). Mountain Meadows Massacre Trial Homepage: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mountainmeadows/leeexecution.html
February 24, 2012
The Colonel always was a mystery. But that was very much the way he liked it.
It was, of course, a tough trick to pull off, because the Colonel’s name was Tom Parker, and Tom Parker managed Elvis Presley. Since Elvis was the biggest name in the entertainment industry, his manager could hardly help appearing in the spotlight, too. For the most part that was not a problem, because Parker had showman’s instincts and enjoyed publicity. But, even so, he was always anxious to ensure that attention never settled for very long on two vexed questions: exactly who he was and where he came from.
So far as the wider world knew, the Colonel was Thomas Andrew Parker, born in Huntingdon, West Virginia, some time shortly after 1900. He had toured with carnivals, worked with elephants and managed a palm-reading booth before finding his feet in the early 1950s as a music promoter. Had anyone taken the trouble to inquire, however, they would have discovered that there was no record of the birth of any Thomas Parker in Huntingdon. They might also have discovered that Tom Parker had never held a U.S. passport—and that while he had served in the U.S. Army, he had done so as a private. Indeed, Parker’s brief military career had ended in ignominy. In 1932, he had gone absent without leave and served several months in military prison for desertion. He was released only after he had suffered what his biographer Alanna Nash terms a “psychotic breakdown.” Diagnosed as a psychopath, he was discharged from the Army. A few years later, when the draft was introduced during the World War II, Parker ate until he weighed more than 300 pounds in a successful bid to have himself declared unfit for further service.
For the most part, these details did not emerge until the 1980s, years after Presley’s death and well into the Colonel’s semi-retirement (he eventually died in 1997). But when they did they seemed to explain why, throughout his life, Parker had taken such enormous care to keep his past hidden—why he had settled a lawsuit with Elvis’ record company when it became clear that he would have to face cross-examination under oath, and why, far from resorting to the sort of tax-avoidance schemes that managers typically offered to their clients, he had always let the IRS calculate his taxes. The lack of a passport might even explain the single greatest mystery of Presley’s career: why the Colonel had turned down dozens of offers, totaling millions of dollars, to have his famous client tour the world. Elvis was just as famous in London, Berlin and Tokyo–yet in a career of almost 30 years, he played a total of only three concerts on foreign soil, in Canada in 1957. Although border-crossing formalities were minimal then, the Colonel did not accompany him.
Although it took years for the story to leak out, the mystery of the Colonel’s origins had actually been solved as early as the spring of 1960, in the unlikely surrounds of a hairdressers’ salon in the Dutch town of Eindhoven. There a woman by the name of Nel Dankers-van Kuijk flicked through a copy of Rosita, a Belgian women’s magazine. It carried a story about Presley’s recent discharge from the U.S. Army, illustrated by a photo of the singer standing in the doorway of a train and waving to his fans. The large figure of Elvis’s manager, standing grinning just behind his charge, made Dankers-van Kuijk jump.
The man had aged and grown grotesquely fat. But she still knew him as her long-lost brother.
February 21, 2012
It was, by all accounts, a glorious Wednesday morning on June 15, 1904, and the men of Kleindeutschland—Little Germany, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side–were on their way to work. Just after 9 o’clock, a group from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on 6th Street, mostly women and children, boarded the General Slocum for their annual end-of-school outing. Bounding aboard what was billed as the “largest and most splendid excursion steamer in New York,” the children, dressed in their Sunday school outfits, shouted and waved flags as the adults followed, carrying picnic baskets for what was to be a long day away.
A German band played on deck while the children romped and the adults sang along, waiting to depart. Just before 10 o’clock, the lines were cast off, a bell rang in the engine room, and a deck hand reported to Captain William Van Schaick that nearly a thousand tickets had been collected at the plank. That number didn’t include the 300 children under the age of 10, who didn’t require tickets. Including crew and catering staff, there were about 1,350 aboard the General Slocum as it steamed up the East River at 15 knots toward Long Island Sound, headed for Locust Grove, a picnic ground on Long Island’s North Shore, about two hours away.
February 16, 2012
Late in November 1927, an elderly Greek man sat in his mansion in Paris and tended a fire. Every time it flickered and threatened to die, he reached to one side and tossed another bundle of papers or a leather-bound book into the grate. For two days the old man fed the flames, at one point creating such a violent conflagration that his servants worried he would burn the whole house down. By the time he had finished, a vast pile of confidential papers, including 58 years’ worth of diaries that recorded every detail of a most scandalous career, had been turned to ash. Thus the shadowy figure whom the press dubbed “the Mystery Man of Europe” ensured that his long life would remain, for the most part, an impenetrable enigma.
Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer—a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.
In his prime, Zaharoff was more than a match for the notorious Aleister Crowley in any contest to be dubbed the Wickedest Man in the World. Still remembered as the inventor of the Systeme Zaharoff—a morally bankrupt sales technique that involved a single unscrupulous arms dealer selling to both parties in a conflict he has helped to provoke—he made a fortune working as a super-salesman for Vickers, the greatest of all British private arms firms, whom he served for 30 years as “our General Representative abroad.” He expressed no objection to, and indeed seemed rather to enjoy, being referred to as “the Armaments King.”
Zaharoff’s youth remains shrouded in mystery and rumor, much of it put about by Zedzed himself. He was born in the Turkish town of Mughla, the son of a Greek importer of attar of roses, and soon proved to be an astonishing linguist—he would later be described as the master of 10 languages. At some point, it is supposed, the family moved briefly to Odessa, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, where they Russified their name. But remarkably little proper documentation survives from this or any other period of Zaharoff’s career. As one early biographer, the Austrian Robert Neumann, put it:
You ask for his birth certificate. Alas! a fire destroyed the church registers. You search for a document concerning him in the archives of the Vienna War Office. The folder is there, but it is empty; the document has vanished…. He buys a château in France and—how does the story of the editor of the Documents politiques go?—”Sir Basil Zaharoff at once buys up all the picture postcards… which show the château, and strictly prohibits any more photographs being taken.”
February 14, 2012
Ulysses S. Grant was fresh out of West Point when he reported for duty with the Army’s 4th Infantry Regiment at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in 1844. The 21-year-old second lieutenant found his work as a quartermaster, managing equipment and supplies, to be dull. He was eager to escape the monotony of peacetime, and when his West Point roommate Frederick T. Dent invited him to his family home just ten miles from the barracks, Grant jumped at the opportunity. It was at Dent’s White Haven home that Grant first laid eyes on the woman of his dreams.
Young and lean, Grant was a promising officer from the prestigious military academy in New York. Julia Dent was plain, squat and cross-eyed, and she didn’t have much in the way of a formal education. But she was warm and self-aware, and with young single women few and far between west of the Mississippi, Grant became enamored of her. Before long, he was visiting Julia daily, and just weeks into their courtship, he had marriage on his mind.
The time they spent together in Missouri, riding horses and reading poetry to each other, cemented Grant’s commitment to the teenage girl. At one point her pet canary died, and Grant crafted a small yellow coffin and summoned eight fellow officers for an avian funeral service. But Grant had been raised in a Northern household that looked down on slave owners, and Julia’s father had purchased his eldest daughter her own personal slave, known as “Black Julia.” Still, he wanted to be around the woman he had fallen for.
By 1844, tensions between the United States and Mexico over the territory of Texas were heating up, and Grant was soon serving under General Zachary Taylor, the future U.S. president, on the front lines in Mexico. But before he headed south, he pulled off his West Point ring and handed it to Julia, securing their engagement. They held this in secret, as Julia’s father did not approve of his daughter marrying a military man, especially a disapproving one from the North. Julia gave the departing soldier a lock of her hair in return.
As soon as he was away, Grant began writing love letters to Julia Dent. They portray a tender, sensitive and insecure young man, overly concerned that his fiancée did not share the intensity of his longing for her. She did not write as frequently as he did, causing him great despair, but when she did compose and send letters, Grant would read them over and over.
“My Dear Julia,” he wrote. “You can have but little idea of the influence you have over me Julia, even while so far away…and thus it is absent or present I am more or less governed by what I think is your will.”
One letter arrived in return with two dried flowers inside, but when Grant opened it the petals scattered in the wind. He searched the barren Mexican sands for even a single petal, but in vain. “Before I seal this I will pick a wild flower off of the Bank of the Rio Grande and send you,” he wrote. Later, from Matamoras, he wrote, “You say in your letter I must not grow tired of hearing you say how much you love me! Indeed dear Julia nothing you can say sounds sweeter…. When I lay down I think of Julia until I fall asleep hoping that before I wake I may see her in my dreams.”
Grant admitted to her that the time between battles was burdensome. “I have the Blues all the time,” he wrote. She had moved to St. Louis with her younger sister, Nell, and attended school, and her social life had become far more active. Grant assumed the worst. “I believe you are carrying on a flirtation with someone, as you threaten of doing,” he wrote her. In truth, it was Nell who had brought the young men of St. Louis into Julia’s orbit. But none of them seemed interested in the plump, cross-eyed woman who was the focus of Grant’s obsession.
In July of 1848, after they had been apart for four years, Grant’s regiment returned to the United States, and he took leave so that he might make wedding arrangements in St. Louis. By then, Julia’s father, Frederick Dent, had fallen on hard times, which Julia attributed to his being “most kind and indulgent” toward the slaves he owned. (The fact of the matter is that Dent had simply dragged his family into poverty by mismanaging his farm.) Suddenly, he could overlook his future son-in-law’s Northern arrogance and he blessed his daughter’s choice of him as husband. Grant’s father refused to attend their August wedding, objecting not to Julia, but to her family’s owning slaves.
After the Grants were married in August 1848, Ulysses was back in the Army. Julia gave birth to Frederick Dent Grant in May of 1850, and Ulysses Simpson Grant followed while his father was dispatched to the West Coast for several years. The separation was agonizing for Grant, and he resumed his drinking. He resigned from the Army in 1854, and while some historians have suggested that in lieu of a court-martial for being intoxicated while off-duty, he may have been given the choice to resign, it didn’t matter: The young officer was now free to return East to his wife and boys, and it was in St. Louis that he built a log cabin and attempted to live off the land with his family.
He named their home “Hardscrabble,” and it fit; Grant’s cleared trees from the land by himself, then peddled firewood on the streets of St. Louis. At one point, he purchased a slave from Julia’s brother Fred, his old West Point roommate. Yet without explanation, when he was in debt and barely able to put food on his family’s table, Grant appeared in court on March 20, 1859, and emancipated his slave rather than selling him.
With four children now, Grant became ill with malaria, and he couldn’t run his farm; he had to give up Hardscrabble and move in with Julia’s parents in White Haven. Once he recovered he took a job collecting rents for a real estate firm in St. Louis, but he couldn’t earn enough money. By 1860, Grant was out of options, and he asked his father for help. He was offered a job in the family leather business, working under his two younger brothers. Earning $600 a year, he could go a long way toward getting his family out of debt, so he moved Julia and the children to Illinois.
Ulysses S. Grant was 38 and living a settled life with his family when Southerners fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861. His father-in-law tried to persuade him to fight for the Confederacy, without luck. (Even Dent’s own West Point son chose to support the Union.) Grant helped organize volunteers, but it wasn’t long before, by dint of his Army experience, he took command of the Illinois troops. This time around, he found that military life suited his temperament, and he was promoted to brigadier general. He vowed never to return to the leather store, and with renewed energy and confidence he led 15,000 troops into battle at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, and trapped the Confederates inside the fort. His message of “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender” earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to major general.
Yet the monotony between battles once again began to wear on Grant, and again he began to drink. He concluded that he was a better man and a better commander when he was around Julia, and so he sent for her. She would leave the children with relatives to travel to his encampments, at times at considerable risk, and over the course of the Civil War she would stay with him during campaigns at Memphis, Vicksburg, Nashville and Virginia. Her presence lifted her husband’s spirits and buoyed his confidence; in 1864, when Lincoln appointed Grant commander of the Union armies, the president sent for Julia to join her husband, aware of the positive effect she had on him.
Three years after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Grant on April 9, 1865, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia, Grant was elected president of the United States. Julia worried that her strabismus—the condition that gave her her cross-eyed appearance—might be an embarrassment to her husband. She considered surgery, but, as she wrote in her memoirs, “I never had the courage to consent, but now that my husband had become so famous I really thought it behooved me to try to look as well as possible.”
When the surgeon told her that it was “too late” to correct the condition, she expressed her regret to her husband. “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?” he asked.
“Why, you are getting to be such a great man, and I am such a plain little wife,” she replied. “I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain.”
Grant pulled her close. “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes?” he asked. “I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”
Julia Grant never considered surgery again. But she did take care to pose for portraits in profile, so her crossed eyes would not appear in photographs.
After Grant’s tumultuous two terms in the White House, he and Julia traveled the world, and were welcomed by great crowds in Ireland, Egypt, China and Russia. They spent most of their savings on the trip, and when they returned to New York an investment banking firm defrauded Grant of his remaining funds, and he was forced to sell his Civil War mementos to cover debts.
In 1884, Grant learned that he had throat cancer and set about writing his memoirs. When Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) learned of Grant’s intent, he brokered a publishing deal that guaranteed higher-than-standard royalties and an aggressive marketing plan. Julia remained by her husband’s side as he finished his writing only days before he died, on July 23, 1885, at Mount McGregor in upstate New York.
Grant’s Memoirs, published shortly thereafter, were critically acclaimed and commercially successful. The book’s sales left Julia with enough wealth to live out the rest of her life in comfort. After she died, in Washington in 1902, her body was laid to rest in a sarcophagus beside her beloved husband’s in New York.
Books: Julia Dent Grant, The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant, Putnam’s, 1975. Ulysses S. Grant, Mary D. McFeely, William S. McFeely, Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant/Selected Letters, 1839-1965, Library of America, 1990. Geoffrey Perret, Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier & President, Modern Library, 1998. Edward G. Longacre, General Ulysses S. Grant: The Soldier and the Man, First DeCapo Press, 2007. Kate Havelin, Ulysses S. Grant, Lerner Publications Company, 2004. Patricia Cameron, Unconditional Surrender: The Romance of Julia and Ulysses S. Grant, BookSurge Publishing, 2010.
Articles: “Julia Dent Grant,” Marie Kelsey, http://faculty.css.edu/mkelsey/usgrant/julia.html