July 10, 2012
At the end of the 19thcentury, William Butler Yeats was a given a bedroom at Lissadell House, the majestic estate of Sir Henry Gore-Booth on the shores of Drumcliff Bay, not far from Yeats’ birthplace in Sligo County. For two years, Yeats stayed in the house amid the enchanted landscape of Ireland’s West Coast, the guest of a “very pleasant, kindly, inflammable family.” But it was clear that Yeats, who was entering his 30s, was also enchanted by the beauty of the Gore-Booth sisters, Constance and Eva. Decades later he would write:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
In 1887, Constance and Eva Gore-Booth were presented at the court of Queen Victoria, with Constance, 19 at the time and older than Eva by two years, described by some in Victorian England as “the new Irish beauty.” Moving in the aristocratic circle of the Protestant Ascendancy, under which Ireland was dominated politically and economically by great landowners like their father, the Gore-Booth sisters were seemingly destined to live lives replete with the comforts and privileges of the landed class. But both women eventually broke from their background, rejected their wealth and dedicated their lives to confrontation and the cause of the poor.
Less than two decades after she sat at Lissadell for a portrait by Yeats, Constance would be sitting in a Dublin jail cell, listening to the volleys of firing squads as she awaited her own execution for her involvement in the Easter Rising. And Eva, the “gazelle” in Yeats’ poem, would become an acclaimed poet herself, as well as a prominent voice for women’s suffrage and the leading figure in an attempt to get her sister a reprieve.
Born in London in 1868 but raised in the Irish wilderness, Constance Gore-Booth had captured the attentions of Yeats, her Sligo neighbor, at a young age. Something of a timid horseman himself, Yeats “respected and admired” the girl who was on her way to becoming known as one of the best horsewomen in all of Ireland—unmatched, it was said, at riding to hounds. She was, according to Yeats, often in trouble around the estate for “some tomboyish feat or reckless riding.”
The sisters also gained a deep appreciation for art while living at Lissadell. The noted Irish portraitist Sarah Purser, also a guest, was inspired to do an iconic painting of the Gore-Booth girls in the woods around the estate. While Constance took after her father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Arctic explorer and avid hunter in Africa, both girls clearly reflected another facet of his character. Sir Henry was reported to have suspended the collection of rents and made sure his tenants had food during 1879-80 famine, and his daughters were brought up with genuine concern for the poor.
Neither Constance nor Eva was interested in marrying within their class. Instead, Constance traveled to London in 1892 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, then to Paris, where she continued to paint and study at Académie Julian. She claimed she was “married to art” and wore a ring to show it, smoked cigarettes, made a range of friends and earned the nickname “Velo” for riding her bicycle to the studio each day. When a Parisian girl teased about her about her funny-sounding English, Constance marched her to a faucet and held her head under running water.
By 1893, the Gore-Booth sisters had begun to occupy themselves with the cause of women’s suffrage—stirrings that did not sit well with Sir Henry and Lady Gore-Booth. Constance became the president of a suffrage committee and made a rousing speech in Drumcliff, noting that the number of women who signed petitions had been dramatically increasing over recent years. One man heckled, “If my wife went to vote she might never come back!”
“She must think very little of you, then,” Constance shot back to a crowd cheering in delight.
Eva became an accomplished poet and one of Yeats’ circle, and fell in love with the English suffragist and pacifist Esther Roper. The two women would spend the rest of their lives together, working on social issues ranging from workers’ rights to capital punishment.
Constance, too, would pursue a political life. Back in Paris, after her family had given up on the prospects of her ever marrying, she met Count Casimir Markievicz, a Polish artist from a wealthy family. They married and had a daughter, Maeve, in 1901, but they left her at Lissadell to be raised by her grandparents while they moved to Dublin to pursue their art.
By 1908, Constance had turned to the movement for Irish independence from British rule. She joined Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party, as well as the Daughters of Ireland—a revolutionary women’s movement—and teamed up with Eva to oppose the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament. As the nationalist cause gained momentum, Constance founded the Warriors of Ireland (Fianna Éireann), which trained teenagers in the use of firearms. Speaking at a rally of 30,000 people opposed to King George V’s visit to Ireland in 1911, Countess Constance experienced her first arrest, after she helped stone the likeness of the King and Queen and tried to burn the British flag.
She took out loans and sold her jewelry to feed the poor and started a soup kitchen for children, around the same time she joined the Irish Citizen Army, led by James Connolly, the socialist and Irish republican leader. In 1913, her husband left Ireland to live in Ukraine—separate from Constance but not estranged, as the two would correspond for the remainder of her life.
In April 1916, Irish republicans staged an insurrection; Constance was appointed staff lieutenant, second in command at St. Stephen’s Green, the park in central Dublin. With her troops responsible for barricading the park, fighting flared after Connolly shot a policeman who had tried to prevent him from entering City Hall. Rumor had Constance shooting a British army sniper in the head, but she was never charged in such a death. Pinned down by British fire at St. Stephen’s Green, she pulled her troops back to the Royal College of Surgeons, where they held out for nearly a week before surrendering.
Taken to Kilmainham jail, Constance Markievicz was isolated from her comrades and court-martialed for “causing disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty”; she was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison because of her sex.
A few days later, she heard a volley from a firing squad at dawn and was informed that her mentor, James Connolly, had been executed.
“Why don’t they let me die with my friends?” she asked.
Transferred to a prison in England, she was sentenced to hard labor and fed limited rations. Eva Gore-Booth, a highly skilled activist, saw her sister’s failing health, lobbied for more humane treatment of prisoners, and in 1917 helped to get her sister included in an amnesty for participants in the Easter Rising.
Constance returned to Ireland a hero and was practically carried by a welcoming crowd to Liberty Hall in Dublin, where she declared herself back in politics. As Sinn Fein’s new leader, Eamon de Valera saw Constance Markievicz elected to the 24-member executive council. But in 1918, she was back in jail after the British arrested Sinn Fein’s leaders for working against the conscription of troops for World War I, yet she managed, from prison, to become the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.
Then she announced that she would refuse to take her seat, in accordance with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy. After all, she declared, she was “imprisoned by the foreign enemy.” She was then elected to the Dáil Éireann, the parliament established by unilateral declaration in the drive for Irish independence. After the drive secured freedom for 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, she was re-elected to the Dáil—but then jailed in 1923, during the Irish Civil War, which was fought over the degree of independence Ireland had achieved. In prison Constance organized a hunger strike with nearly 100 female prisoners and was released a month later.
Constance remained in touch with Eva and even managed to reunite with Casimir in London. He was said to have been shocked by the sight on his bride, now in her mid-50s, gaunt from the hardships of incarceration. Eva, frail from cancer, died in June of 1926. Constance, heartbroken, did not attend the funeral. “I simply cannot face the family,” she said.
Re-elected in the Irish General Election along with de Valera in June of 1927, Constance, too, was quite ill, possibly with tuberculosis. She was hospitalized the next month in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. Casimir arrived, with roses, for a deathbed visit that Constance would describe as the happiest day of her life. She’d been long estranged from her daughter, and there would be no reunion before Constance died, on July 15.
De Valera spoke at her funeral and carried her coffin; thousands lined the streets to see the procession. And though she is remembered fondly in Ireland, both politically and with a bust at St. Stephen’s Green, the words of her old friend Yeats were less than kind. In “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz,” the poet famously observed, “The innocent and the beautiful/have no enemy but time” and continued:
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams—
Some vague Utopia—and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Books: Anne M. Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary, New York University Press, 1988. Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Articles: Constance Marcievicz (nee Gore-Booth) and the Easter Rising, Sligo Heritage, http://www.sligoheritage.com/archmark2.htm
Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland, Lissadel Online, http://www.lissadellhouse.com/index.html A St. Pat’s Toast: The Rebel Countess, by Aphra Behn, Daily Kos, March 17, 2007, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/03/17/312918/-A-St-Pat-s-Toast-The-Rebel-Countess#comments Constance Georgine Gore Booth, Countess Markievicz, The Lissadell Estate, http://www.constancemarkievicz.ie/home.php Constance Markievicz: The Countess of Irish Freedom, The Wild Geese Today, http://www.thewildgeese.com/pages/ireland.html#Part1
June 6, 2012
In April of 1915, Allied forces were battling the German Army for control of Ypres, a Flemish town in western Belgium. Months before, fighting with many young and untested soldiers, the Germans had taken heavy casualties there in a battle they called the Massacre of the Innocents of Ypres. This time, they were determined to launch their first major attack on the Western Front. With thousands of French, British, Belgian and Canadian forces dug in around the town, the Germans turned to Fritz Haber.
In 1918, Haber would be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in developing a method of synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen in the air—the process that enabled the production of fertilizer in quantities that revolutionized agriculture worldwide. But in the winter of 1915, Haber’s thoughts turned to annihilating the Allies. For his efforts directing a team of scientists on the front lines in World War I, he would become known as the father of chemical warfare.
Fritz Haber was born in Breslau, Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland), in 1868, and educated at the St. Elizabeth Classical School, where he took an early interest in chemistry. After studying at the University of Berlin, he transferred to the University of Heidelberg in 1886 and studied under the famed German chemist Robert Bunsen. Haber was ultimately appointed professor of physical chemistry and electrochemistry at the Karlshruhe Institute of Technology. When scientists warned that the world would not be able to produce enough food to feed its growing human population in the 20th century, he listened.
Scientists knew nitrogen was crucial to plant life; they also knew the earth’s supply of usable quantities was quite limited. But Haber discovered a way to convert the nitrogen gas in the earth’s atmosphere into a compound that could be used in fertilizer. According to Vaclav Smil, a global agricultural historian at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, the Haber–Bosch process of synthesizing and manufacturing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen (and later industrialized by Carl Bosch, Haber’s brother-in-law) was likely the most important technological innovation of the 20th century. It sustains the food base for the equivalent of half the world’s population today.
In 1901, Haber married the brilliant chemist Clara Immerwahr, the first woman to receive a doctorate from Breslau University. Years before, she’d spurned a marriage proposal from him to focus on her studies and career. Like Haber, she converted from Judaism to Christianity, and the couple settled in Karlsruhe. But it wasn’t long before Clara Haber’s research took a back seat to the demands of being a homemaker and, after the birth of their son in 1902, a mother.
To keep her mind stimulated, she began collaborating with her husband on a textbook on the thermodynamics of gas, and tried to continue her own research, writing and speaking. As her husband’s reputation spread, she was incensed to learn that her audiences assumed that he had written her lectures. Meanwhile, Haber’s career flourished, and around the start of World War I, the German Army requested his help in the development of replacing explosives in shells with poison gasses.
Haber, unlike his friend Albert Einstein, was a German patriot, and he willingly became a uniformed consultant to the German War Office. During World War I, he began drawing on experiments he’d done on using chlorine gasses as a weapon. Finding an effective delivery system was challenging—one test resulted in the deaths of several German troops. But by 1915, defeats on the front lines hardened Haber’s resolve to use gas weapons, despite Hague Convention agreements prohibiting chemical agents in battle.
Haber had a difficult time finding any German army commanders who would agree even to a test in the field. One general called the use of poison gas “unchivalrous”; another declared that poisoning the enemy “just as one poisons rats” was “repulsive.” But if it meant victory, that general was willing to “do what must be done.” Haber, according to biographer Margit Szollosi-Janze, “said if you want to win the war, then please, wage chemical warfare with conviction.”
Clara Haber, however, condemned her husband’s weapons work as a “perversion of the ideals of science” and “a sign of barbarity, corrupting the very discipline which ought to bring new insights into life.” Publicly, she pleaded with him to end his experiments in chemical warfare. Privately, Haber said her statements amounted to treason. Their marriage suffered further as Haber traveled frequently and philandered.
In 1914, as Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry, Haber placed his laboratory at the service of the German government, and by April of 1915, he was on the front lines in Ypres, in uniform, smoking cigars and calculating the timing of what he hoped would be a lethal gas attack. Thousands of steel cylinders containing chlorine gas had been transported to German positions. There would be no launching or dropping of the gas on Allied troops; instead, Haber calculated, the best delivery system was the prevailing winds in Belgium. After weeks of waiting for ideal winds—strong enough to carry the gas away from the German troops, but not so strong they would dissipate the gas weapons before they could take effect against the enemy—the Germans released more than 168 tons of chlorine gas from nearly 6,000 canisters at sunrise on April 22. A sickly cloud, one witness told the New York Times, “like a yellow low wall,” began to drift toward the French trenches.
The cloud settled over some 10,000 troops. More than half were believed to have died by asphyxiation within minutes.
Lance Sergeant Elmer Cotton, a Canadian soldier who was gassed at Ypres and survived, described the attack as “an equivalent death to drowning only on dry land. The effects are there—a splitting headache and terrific thirst (to drink water is instant death), a knife edge of pain in the lungs and the coughing up of a greenish froth off the stomach and the lungs, ending finally in insensibility and death. It is a fiendish death to die.
As thousands of French troops fled, blinded and stunned, the Germans opened fire. Then, after the cloud had dissipated, they captured 2,000 prisoners of war, confiscating rifles and urging the afflicted French to lie down “to die better.”
In the confusion, initial reports said the Germans were launching “chloride bombs” that were “thrown by means of a hand sling, such as boys use for throwing stones.” The Washington Post reported that British and French troops were “Crazed by Gas Bombs,” and that those who survived “fought like demons,” but to no avail.
Haber’s gas weapons were so effective that German troops were actually rattled by the Allies’ rapid retreat. They advanced slowly, believing that they were walking into a trap, and missed an opportunity for a breakthrough.
Two days later, however, they attacked Canadian positions with another chlorine dose and followed it up with heavy bombardment. That assault led to nearly 7,000 Canadian casualties, including 1,000 fatalities.
The Second Battle of Ypres saw casualties of nearly 70,000 Allied troops, but only half as many Germans, owing largely to what is considered the first large-scale use of chemical weapons. Fritz Haber was soon after given the rank of captain, and on May 2, 1915, he returned to his home in Berlin to attend a party in his honor. The next day, he was to travel to the Eastern Front to initiate another gas attack, against the Russians.
Hours after the party for her husband, Clara Immerwahr wandered into the garden with Haber’s Army pistol. She pointed the gun to her heart and pulled the trigger, taking her life. His wife’s suicide did not delay his deployment to the Eastern Front. The unpredictability of the wind’s effect on chlorine gas released from cylinders prompted the Germans to eventually develop gas-filled shells that could fired over distances. By the end of the war, the Germans were using mustard gas on Allied troops, but improvements in gas masks and filters for various chemicals enabled the Allies to adapt.
Despite his Nobel Prize, Haber’s postwar life was hardly filled with honors. He was despondent over the German defeat, and felt responsible for the debilitating German war debt. As Hitler rose to power, Nazis attacked both him and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for harboring Jewish scientists. The Christian convert became “Haber the Jew” in the eyes of the Nazi regime, and rather than fire his staff as requested, Haber resigned and fled Germany for England. But scientists there shunned him for his work with chemical weapons. He traveled Europe, fruitlessly searching for a place to call home, then suffered heart failure in a hotel in Switzerland in 1934. He passed away shortly thereafter at the age of 65, but not before repenting for devoting his mind and his talents to wage war with poison gasses.
Praised for his work that still enables agriculture around the world, yet condemned for his work on chemical weapons, Fritz Haber personified the extremes of technological innovation in the 20th century. It was, however, a kind twist of fate that Haber never lived to see Zyklon B, a poisonous gas developed in the 1920s at the laboratory that he ran, used on some of his own relatives who had were ultimately sent off to Nazi concentration camps.
Books: L.F. Haber, The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War, Oxford University Press, 1986. Daniel Charles, Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare, Ecco, 2005.
Articles: Germans Gain; Big New Battle On Near Ypres, New York Times, April 24, 1915. Bomb Fumes Reach 2 Miles, New York Times, April 25, 1915. Asphyxiating Gas Used by Germans, Declares French, Atlanta Constitution, April 24, 1915. Crazed By Gas Bombs, Washington Post, April 26, 1915. Effects of Poison Bombs, New York Times, April 24, 1915. German Press Admits Use of Gaseous Bomb, Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1915. Fritz Haber: Chemist and Patriot, The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, http://www.woodrow.org/teachers/ci/1992/haber.html Clara Immerwahr, 1870-1915, by Jutta Dick, Jewish Women Encyclopedia, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/immerwahr-clara The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1918: Fritz Haber, Nobelprize.org, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1918/haber-bio.html The Tragedy of Fritz Haber: Nobel Laureate Transformed Wold Food Production, War, by Dan Charles, NPR, http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/jul/fritzhaber/ The Second Battle of Ypres, 1915, FirstWorldWar.com, http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ypres2.htm Gas Warfare During the First World War, http://www.webmatters.net/history/ww1_gas_03.htm Chlorine Gas, Spartacus Educational, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWchlorine.htm
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 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
December 29, 2011
The 84th Congress (1955-1957) included 16 women—the most ever to serve at one time in Congress. Some were incumbents—well-to-do women like Katherine St. George, a Republican from New York, who was born in England, married a Wall Street broker and ran on a platform of small government and fiscal conservatism to differentiate herself from her cousin, former president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Others rode into Congress on their husbands’ coattails or were widow successors who would serve out their deceased husband’s terms. But then there was Coya Knutson, freshman Democrat from Minnesota. The daughter of Norwegian immigrants, she came out of nowhere to win election by promising to help the struggling farmers of her district. But Knutson had a secret, which she kept even as she was undone by her vindictive husband and the political operatives who used him.
She was born Cornelia Genevive Gjesdal in Edmore, North Dakota, and raised on a small farm. Her father was an active member of the Nonpartisan League, a socialist organization aimed at farmers who sought state control of agriculture to reduce the power and influence of corporate farming. Coya graduated from Concordia College in Minnesota in 1934, then moved to New York City and studied at the Juilliard School, hoping to pursue a career in opera. But after a year, she realized she wasn’t going to succeed in music and returned to Minnesota. In 1940, she married Andy Knutson, who ran a small inn and café in Oklee. The birth of a son, Terry, soon followed. She taught school just across the state line in North Dakota, but in June 1942, she heard a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt. “It was as if the sun burned into me that day,” Knutson recalled, and she became more and more active in civic affairs—particularly on behalf of small farmers.
Years passed, however, as her husband, an alcoholic, turned abusive. Coya Knutson quietly plotted an escape through politics. The Democratic Farmer Labor Party recruited her to run for a seat in the state House of Representatives, and in 1950 she won. But Knutson, seeking a way out of Minnesota, defied the DFL party’s endorsement of a more experienced politician for Congress and launched a run for that seat in 1954. (More…)