Today in History – August 10

On August 10, 1821, Missouri entered the Union as the twenty-fourth state. Named after the Native American people who originally inhabited the land, Missouri was acquired by the U.S. as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. At that time, the territory’s occupants were mainly French settlers. After the War of 1812, American settlers poured into the region.

Bird’s eye view of Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri 1869. A. Ruger, [n.p., 1869]. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

In January 1818, the Speaker of the House of Representatives presented the first petition of the Territory of Missouri requesting statehood. The question of Missouri’s admission as a slave or free state led statesman Henry Clay to devise the Missouri Compromise of 1820, admitting Missouri as a slave state while admitting Maine as a free state, and prohibiting slavery in Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36º 30′, Missouri’s southern border.

This resolution proved temporary. Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, a series of laws that amended the Fugitive Slave Act, abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and admitted California to the Union as a free state. The Compromise of 1850 also established territorial governments in Utah and New Mexico, but left the issue of slavery in the new territories to be decided by the local residents. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act served to abrogate the Missouri Compromise. And in 1857, as a part of the Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the compromise unconstitutional by ruling that Congress had no power to bar slavery from a territory, as it had in 1820. Four years later, the slavery debate erupted in civil war.

United States Volunteers attacked by the mob, corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets, St. Louis, Missouri / sketched by M. Hastings, Esq. Illus. in: Harper’s weekly, v. 5, no. 231 (1861 June 1), p. 349. Civil War. Prints & Photographs Division

The Civil War divided Missourians. Although the state remained in the Union, some of its citizens chose to fight for the Confederacy. John Franklin Smith, the son of a Missouri slave owner, recalls early tensions and violence in the state, including an 1861 incident when a vigilante group opposed to slavery, called the Jayhawkers, visited Smith’s house and threatened to kill his father:

I can remember as well as if it happened yesterday, one of the men spread his arms out and said, “stand back men I’ll kill the rascal” and raised his gun to shoot when we heard a shout and looked up the road to see what it was and saw Judge Myers coming as fast as his horse could run, shouting as loud as he could. The man dropped his gun to his side, when Judge Myers rode up be was shaking his head and his eyes were blazing fire. He turned around in his saddle and pointed back toward town and said you men get out from here and do it…quick…All the Jayhawkers turned around and sulked off like a whipped dog.

J. F. Smith.” William E. Smith, interviewer; Palestine, Texas, ca. 1936-39. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Smith’s father and his rescuer, Judge Myers, remained best friends despite their conflicting views on slavery, but the two ended up fighting on opposite sides in the Civil War.

Missouri was the westernmost state in the Union until Texas was granted statehood in 1845. St. Louis, located at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the southeastern part of the state, was called the “Gateway to the West” because it served as a staging area for wagon trains in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city captured the world’s attention while hosting the much celebrated Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World’s Fair) of 1904.

General view of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, photographed from the top of Festival Hall. Reproduced in Collier’s Weekly, April 23, 1904, pp. 14-15; Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, 1904. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition is etched in the minds of many Americans because of the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Less fanciful, yet authentic to the fair, are a number of items in the Library’s digital collections. Read a pamphlet, distributed at the fair by Bell Telephone Companies, which declared the telephone was becoming “as necessary as the mowing machine.” Examine maps of the fairgrounds. Zoom in on the latter to find fountains, pavilions, walkways, the fair’s intramural-railway, the ferris wheel, and other fine details.


Today in History – August 9

On August 9, 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson ending the Creek War. The agreement provided for the surrender of twenty-three million acres of Creek land to the United States. This vast territory encompassed more than half of present-day Alabama and part of southern Georgia.

Major General Andrew Jackson…. Thomas Sully, artist; James Barton Longacre, engraver; Philada.: Wm. H. Morgan, c1820. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

The war began on August 30, 1813, when a faction of Creeks known as the Red Sticks—because of their red war clubs—attacked American settlers at Fort Mims, near Lake Tensaw, Alabama, north of Mobile. This attack is considered a primary cause of the Creek War. In response, Jackson led a force of militiamen in the destruction of two Creek villages, Tallasahatchee and Talladega. On March 27, 1814, Jackson’s forces destroyed the Creek defenses at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. More than 800 Creek warriors were killed defending their homeland.

Tensions between the frontier settlers and the Creeks had been brewing since the Revolutionary Era. During the years preceding the Creek War, the Continental Congress received numerous reports on the status of Indian affairs in the South. The following excerpt, from a 1787 report, identifies settler greed as a major cause of the conflict:

An avaricious disposition in some of our people to acquire large tracts of land, and often by unfair means, appears to be the principal source of difficulties with the Indians…various pretences seem to be set up by the white people for making those settlements, which the Indians, tenacious of their rights, appear to be determined to oppose.

The committee consisting of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Carrington, Mr. Bingham, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Dane, to whom was referred the report…relative to Indian affairs in the Southern Department….” [New York 1787]. Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. Rare Book & Special Collections Division


Today in History – August 8

Journalist, short-story writer, and novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born on August 8, 1896, in Washington, D.C. Rawlings is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling (1938), the story of young Jody Baxter’s coming of age in the big scrub country which is now the Ocala National Forest in Florida.

As she answered the door, she held in her hand a copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s “The Yearling.” “That’s a great book,” she remarked, as she laid the volume on the library table in the front hall — “So true to the ‘cracker’ life and customs. And I remember the storm she tells about.”

Ruby Beach.” Mrs. (Sloaner) Scull, interviewee; Rose Shepherd, interviewer/writer; Jacksonville, Florida, April 11, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division.

Portrait of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 18, 1953. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

Rawlings began her career as a journalist, working for the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Rochester Journal. In 1926 she began writing a daily poetry column, “Songs of a Housewife,” for the Rochester Times-Union. The column was soon syndicated by United Features and ran in approximately fifty newspapers.

Rawlings settled at Cross Creek, near Gainesville, Florida, in 1928, in order to write fiction. Cross Creek, published in 1942, tells of her enchantment with this part of rural Florida. Her association with Cross Creek continued until her death in 1953 at the age of fifty-seven.

Florida, sunset on the Ocklawaha [i.e. Oklawaha]. William Henry Jackson, photographer, c1899. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division.


Today in History – August 7

Revolutionary war hero Nathanael Greene was born on August 7, 1742, at Potowomut in Warwick, Rhode Island. Before the Revolution, Greene managed his father’s iron foundries and is said to have served in the Rhode Island colonial legislature. Self-trained in military tactics and science, he was instrumental in the formation of a unit known as the Kentish Guards in October 1774, serving as a private until his commission in May 1775 as a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Army of Observation. In June of the same year he was commissioned with the same rank in the Continental Army with command of troops during the siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776.

Gen. N. Greene/Edwin sc. Between 1800 and 1850 (?). From the original painting by C. W. Peale in the Philadelphia Museum. Prints & Photographs Division.

After taking command of the troops on Long Island in 1776, he was commissioned by George Washington as major general in August 1776 but saw little action due to a severe illness. For the next four years, General Greene participated in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, endured the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, and served as quartermaster general while continuing to serve in the field.

Prior to taking command of the southern campaign of 1780-82, General Greene was commander of West Point, replacing the disgraced Benedict Arnold. During this period, he presided over the trial and execution of Major John André.

Plan of the operations of General Washington, against the Kings Troops in New Jersey…. William Faden; London, 1777. American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750 to 1789. Geography & Map Division.

In January 1781, Greene contributed significantly to the defeat of British General Lord Cornwallis at Cowpens, South Carolina. Greene forced Cornwallis, whose army far outnumbered the Americans, to divide his troops and defend his territory on two fronts. The British subsequently retreated to Charleston, where they remained until Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781.

Statue of American Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene…
. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, 2010. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Prints & Photographs Division

Greene and Washington remained close friends after the Revolutionary War. Upon Greene’s death in 1786, Washington expressed his deep admiration and affection for Greene by offering to raise his son, George Washington Greene:

I would fain hope…that upon a final settlement of his affairs there will be a handsome competency for Mrs. Greene and the children. But should the case be otherwise, and Mrs. Greene, yourself, and Mr. Rutlidge would think proper to entrust my namesake G: W: Greene to my care, I will give him as good an education as this country (I mean No. America) will afford; I will bring him up to either of the genteel professions that his friends may chuse, or his own inclination shall lead him to pursue, at my own cost and charge.

George Washington to Jeremiah Wadsworth, October 22, 1786, partial manuscript. Series 2 Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 13. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division.

After the war, Greene returned to Rhode Island to find his foundry business neglected and his general financial situation precarious. When the state of Georgia honored him for his service to the state with the gift of a plantation, Mulberry Grove, the retired general moved his family south. He also built a cottage at Cumberland Island in Camden County, Georgia. General Greene died of a stroke after walking in the hot sun on June 19, 1786.


Michael Brown is killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

Month Day
August 09

On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in the street of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Protests and riots ensue in Ferguson and soon spread across the country.

There are many different accounts of the incident, including the testimonies of Wilson and of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time. Many details differ, but most accounts agree that Wilson saw Brown and Johnson walking in the street, demanded they get on the sidewalk, then stopped his police SUV in front of them in order to confront them. He and Brown had an altercation through the open window of the car, during which Wilson fired twice. Brown and Johnson tried to leave, Wilson exited his car to pursue them, and at some point Brown turned back around to face Wilson, who then fired 12 shots, six of which hit Brown. Wilson claimed he fired in self-defense as Brown charged him, which Johnson denied. Many have claimed that Wilson warned Brown he would open fire, and that Brown responded with “Don’t shoot!” before he was killed.

The community immediately reacted with rage at the news of 18-year-old Brown’s death. The shooting ignited long-simmering tensions between the majority-Black population of Ferguson and the local police, who were mostly white. Though public opinion was sharply divided, the protests and riots and the response by Ferguson’s heavily militarized police demonstrated the extent to which the relationship between racial minorities in America and the police had frayed. 

Brown’s name, the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” and the very mention of Ferguson quickly entered the lexicon of the growing Black Lives Matter movement. 


Today in History – August 6

On August 6, 1890, baseball great Cy Young pitched his first professional game, leading the Cleveland Spiders past the Chicago Colts. Over the course of his 22-year career, Young won at least 508 games (511 is the generally accepted number) and averaged more than 23 victories per season. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

“Cy” Young, Cleveland’s veteran pitcher, has had a long and successful career. Among his greatest individual feats are a game of May 5, 1904, when not one of the hard-hitting Athletics reached first base, and another June 30, 1908, against the Highlanders, when only one man got “on” in nine innings. Prior to 1910 he failed only three times in his many years pitching to turn in a majority of victories. In 1910 he won his 500th game, an unsurpassed record. August 12, 1908, “Cy” Young Day was celebrated in Boston. He was presented with the entire receipts of the game, and more silverware and floral designs than he could carry.

Cy Young, Cleveland Naps, baseball card portrait (reverse side). American Tobacco Company, 1911. Baseball Cards. Benjamin K. Edwards Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

Cy Young, Cleveland Naps, baseball card portrait. American Tobacco Company, 1911. Baseball Cards. Benjamin K. Edwards Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

Born Denton True Young in Gilmore, Ohio, on March 29, 1867, Young earned his nickname when he tore off several fence boards with his pitches, leading a bystander to observe that the fence looked like it had been hit by a cyclone. He played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1890 until 1898, spent the next two years with St. Louis, and then signed with the Boston Americans (renamed the Red Sox in 1908) in the American League. Young’s final season was 1911, which he split between the Cleveland Naps and the National League’s Boston Rustlers. The Cy Young Award, instituted in 1956, is given annually to the best pitcher in each professional league.

League Park, Cleveland, Ohio. between 1900 and 1910. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division.
Group of Cleveland Base Ball Players. Haines Photo Co., c1910. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division.


Today in History – August 5

On August 5, 1858, Julia Archibald Holmes became the first woman on record to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. She, her husband James Holmes, and two others began their trek on August 1. For the ascent, Julia Holmes wore what she called her “American costume” — a short dress, bloomers, moccasins, and a hat. In a letter written to her mother from the summit, she said:

“I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself…Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed…”

A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak, 1858: Julia Archibald Holmes, First White Woman to Climb Pike’s Peak. Agnes Wright Spring, ed.; Denver: Western History Department, Denver Public Library, 1949), 39.

Pikes Peak Panorama. H. (Henry) Wellge; Milwaukee, Wis., American Publishing Co. [1890]. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

Pikes Peak takes its name from Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who, fifty years prior to Holmes’ ascent, led an expedition to reconnoiter the southwestern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. In November 1806, Pike, with a small party, began an ascent of the peak. Weather conditions forced them to abandon their frustrating attempt to climb to the summit.

A Pike’s Peak Prospector. William Henry Jackson, photographer, ca. 1900. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1820, during the administration of President James Monroe, another party, under Major Stephen H. Long, was sent to explore this area. Dr. Edwin James, historian of Long’s expedition, led the first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak in July of that year.

When gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858, the phrase “Pikes Peak or Bust” entered American parlance. Pikes Peak was used as verbal shorthand for a vast area in the general range of the peak presumed to be rich in gold. In 1891, the year of the discovery of the great gold field at Cripple Creek, the Pikes Peak cog railroad began operating.

Katharine Lee Bates’ 1893 climb to the top of Pikes Peak inspired her to compose a poem. Her text, later set to music, is the beloved American hymn, “America, the Beautiful,” which vied with “The Star-Spangled Banner” to become the national anthem:

The mountain of the Holy Cross, Colorado. Thomas Moran, artist: L. Prang & Co., c1876. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The advent of the automobile brought more visitors to Pikes Peak. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, Spencer Penrose built a toll road, completed in 1915, for auto travel to the top of Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, started in 1916 to commemorate the opening of the highway, continues to be a grueling challenge to race car enthusiasts.

Today, Pikes Peak is easy to access by trail, railroad, or car. Located in the southeastern corner of the Pike National Forest, it is one of more than 50 peaks in Colorado that are at least 14,000 feet high.


Today in History – August 4

On August 4, 1753, George Washington became a Master Mason, the highest rank in the Fraternity of Freemasonry, in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The twenty-one-year-old young man would soon hold his first military commission.

Washington as a Freemason/Strobridge & Gerlach lithographers, Pike’s Opera House, Cincinnati, O. c1866. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division.

Derived from the practices and rituals of the medieval guild system, freemasonry gained popularity in the eighteenth century, particularly in Great Britain. British Masons organized the first North American Chapter in 1731. Masons aroused considerable suspicion in the early American republic with their mysterious rites and closely held secrets. These fears mushroomed in response to the suspicious death in 1826 of William Morgan, who was said to have been murdered on account of his threat to reveal the secrets of freemasonry.

Masonic Lodge, Fredericksburg, Va. [between 1910-1930] Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

For George Washington, joining the Masons was a rite of passage and an expression of civic responsibility. Members were required to express their belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. Masons also were expected to obey civil laws, hold a high moral standard, and practice acts of charity.

George Washington…the Glasgow Portrait. Photograph of painting; c[between 1900-1920]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division.


5-day long Russo-Georgian War begins

Month Day
August 08

On August 8, 2008, a long-simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia boiled over into a shooting war between the small Caucasian nation and the superpower of which it was once a part. The brief Russo-Georgian War was the most violent episode in a conflict that began more than a decade before.

Georgia declared independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as the latter was breaking up in 1991. A short time later, pro-Russian separatists took control of two regions composing a combined 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A stalemate ensued. In 2008, American President George W. Bush announced his support for Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that Russia viewed as tantamount to putting a hostile military on its borders. Relations between Russia and Georgia had already been tense, with the aggressive Vladimir Putin in power in Russia and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declaring his intent to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under Georgian control.

After accusations of aggression from both sides throughout the spring and summer, South Ossetian troops violated the ceasefire by shelling Georgian villages on August 1. Sporadic fighting and shelling ensued over the coming days, until Saakashvili declared a ceasefire on August 7. Just before midnight, seeing that the separatists would not, in fact, cease firing, Georgia’s military launched an attack on Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Russian troops had already entered South Ossetia—illegally—and responded quickly to the Georgian attack. As Georgian troops seized Tskhinvali, the fighting spilled over into Abkhazia. The initial Georgian advance was repulsed, however, and within a few days Russia seized most of the disputed territory and was advancing into Georgia proper. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in the early hours of August 13.

In the aftermath of the war, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia subsequently occupied them, in violation of the ceasefire. Russia conducted a similar maneuver in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula and backing separatists in the west of the country. The Russo-Georgian War displaced an estimated 192,000 people, many of whom fled ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist territories.