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Entries in history (4)


Littourati News: Google Map of Mark Twain

If you read my posts regularly, you know that I am a fan of Mark Twain.  Recently, I was made aware of a Google Map that maps significant events in Mark Twain's life.  The map was created by Terry Ballard for the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut.  Mr. Ballard wrote me about it after visiting Littourati.  Have fun exploring Mark Twain's life interactively!

Mark Twain's America Map


Blue Highways: Hague and Ticonderoga, New York

Unfolding the Map

We pass through Hague and stop at Ticonderoga, New York because and wait for a ferry with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  While LHM tells us about Fort Ticonderoga, we notice a mistake and that leads to a large post, below, about the fort, the French and the relationship between France and the U.S.  To see the area that Hague and Ticonderoga occupy, storm the map.

Book Quote

"Route 8 dropped out of the Adirondacks to Lake George, the way lined with resort homes and summer camps that advertise in the back pages of the New York Times Magazine.  At Hague, I turned north and followed the water up a narrow valley to Ticonderoga and cut through town to the shore of Lake Champlain where, under the dark brow of the fort built by the British against French and Indian raids, I waited for the ferry."

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 7

Fort Ticonderoga store room and magazine. Photo by Mwanner and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Hague and Ticonderoga, New York

What do "freedom fries" and this area of New York have in common?  In this post I'll try to draw a narrative that links them.

But first, I feel compelled to note that LHM, in his quote above, made a mistake.  It's a minor mistake, but those who read Blue Highways might go away from the book thinking that the British built the fort for which the town of Ticonderoga is named.  In fact, the French built the fort.  It was eventually taken by the British, and then later still fell into the possession of the Americans.  Originally called Fort Carillon and finished in 1757 at a strategic point on Lake Champlain, the fort allowed about 4,000 French defenders to turn back 16,000 British troops in a major battle during the Seven Years War (more commonly known in the US as the French and Indian War).  The British eventually gained the fort in 1759 and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga.  During the Revolutionary War, the fort changed hands a few times before the U.S. was able to defend its independence.  By 1781, the fort's usefulness had declined, and it fell into ruin before being restored in the 20th century as a site of historical and tourist interest.

That mistake aside (and who of us hasn't made mistakes?) the fort has figured directly in American history, and also in literature.  I've referred before to James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, which is set in this area.  Fort Ticonderoga is part of a string of forts, including Fort William Henry which lies south on the southern end of Lake George, and Fort Edward which lies a bit further south of Fort William Henry.  In the French and Indian War, a large contingent of French based in Fort Carillon (now Ticonderoga) attacked  the British at Fort William Henry, who appealed for help from Fort Edward.  Upon receiving news that no reinforcements would come, the British negotiated a surrender to the French, who offered them safe passage out of the fort on the conditions that their weapons remain unloaded, that British combatants refrain from fighting in the war for 18 months, and that French prisoners of war be freed.  Unfortunately, the news either did not reach or was not understood by the Native American allies of the French, who attacked the British column as it left the fort.  Some French officers and troops tried to the protect the British but before the British were able to flee some 200 or so people, including women and children, were killed.  The battle and its aftermath are one of the key plot points in The Last of the Mohicans.

We don't hear a lot in American history about the French and their activities in North America before and after the U.S. gained independence.  Unfortunately, U.S. public opinion about the French in our time in history often rests upon certain political differences and stereotyping.  The French and Americans have tended to be squabbling allies.  But modern sentiments obscure what seems to me to be an important historical fact: France and the United States are inextricably linked and I don't think that either would have existed in their modern forms without the other.  And, lest we forget, France as a nation and many important French individuals have been staunch supporters of the U.S. democratic experiment.

Why are we inextricably linked with France?  First, French explorers, like Spanish explorers, paved the way for the U.S.'s own acquisition and subsequent exploration of the interior of North America.  French explorers, through their wanderings, were the first Europeans to set eyes on many of America's geographical wonders.  These explorers included Jacques Cartier, the first European to see the St. Lawrence River; Samuel de Champlain, who explored much of the Great Lakes and New England; Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, the first Europeans to see the Mississippi River - they sailed on it as far south as the mouth of the Arkansas River; Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit priest who traveled extensively through the middle of the present day United States and provided some of the earliest known writings on North America; Robert de LaSalle who sailed the Mississippi to its mouth and discovered the site of modern day New Orleans; Julian Dubuque who founded the city of Dubuque; Jean-Baptiste-Point du Sable, who founded the city of Chicago; Jean Baptiste Bernard de la Harpe, who explored much of the South and established settlements near the Red River; Jean-Francoise la Perouse, who mapped much of the west coast of North America; Pierre de la Verendrye, who came very close to discovering the Missouri River; Jean Nicollet, who was the first European to travel through the Great Lakes area; and Pierre Esprit Radisson, who was the first European to see Minnesota.

When the U.S. bought the Louisiana Territory from France (another link!) and more than doubled its land area, Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the new territory.  They relied heavily on the information from past French explorers and current knowledge from French hunters and trappers along with Native American knowledge from Sacagawea and others to travel through the territory to the Pacific Ocean and thereby increase the U.S. government's knowledge of the territory it had purchased.  Of course, Louisiana plays another ongoing role in our linkage with France as the home of thousands of descendents of Acadian exiles who settled its swamps and became known as Cajuns.

In the Revolutionary War, French moral and military support for the American colonists was essential to the U.S. victory.  France first aided the colonists with shipments of arms, and entered the war on the side of the Americans in 1778, first with her fleet and then with troops.  Key to this cooperation was the influence of the Marquis de Lafayette, who joined the American cause early in the war, was made a major-general under Washington and participated in and won many battles for the Americans.  The victory of the Americans over the British restored French pride as a nation, and served as an inspiration for the French RevolutionAlexis de Toqueville, a French political thinker, legitimized the growth of American democracy (with warnings) in his book Democracy in America after extensive travels through the U.S. in the 1830s

Relations between the two countries have undergone many ups and downs since.  France and the U.S. fought a quasi-war at sea during in the 1790s, and Jefferson considered going to war against Napoleon for control of the Mississippi before Napoleon surprised him by offering the whole territory for sale.  In the mid-1800s, France and Britain conspired to check American expansionism by supporting a free republic in Texas and limiting U.S. access to California.  The government of Lincoln was concerned that France would support the Confederacy, though France stayed neutral in the U.S. Civil War.  France did install a French emperor in Mexico, though he was defeated by rebellious Mexicans shortly after.  By World War I, however, world politics had moved France back into position as a U.S. ally.  U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War started after French control in Vietnam began to crumble.

Which brings us back to freedom fries.  In 2003, the French government opposed the U.S. effort to get U.N. authorization for an invasion of Iraq.  When authorization was granted, the French aided the U.S., particularly in espionage and intelligence gathering.  However, the American public was outraged and there were attempts to boycott French goods.  Anything associated with France, such as french fries and french toast, were subject to symbolic renaming. 

Eventually, passions cooled and freedom fries became french fries again.  It's true that since the American Revolution, France and the U.S. have often been uneasy bedfellows.  However, those that excoriate the French forget that without France, the U.S. might never have existed at all.  Fort Ticonderoga, once the French Fort Carillon, on the shores of the French-named Lake Champlain reminds us of the deep and lasting French influence in our history.

Note: Hague was not mentioned, but is named after The Hague in the Netherlands.  The Dutch were some of the first settlers in New York, which was originally named New Amsterdam.

Musical Interlude

As a co-host of a local global music show, I find myself quite taken by songs in French.  I find this interesting, because unlike many people I know, I have never been truly taken by the French language.  It's a fine language, but I haven't fallen in love with it as others have.  But for some reason, when it's sung, regardless of the musical genre, I like it a lot!  Try some French hip-hop sometime - it gives it a whole new flavor for me.  France is a major crossroads of musical styles, and some really interesting music is created there.  Here's a song in French that captured me a few months ago, Destins et Desirs by Toufic Farroukh featuring Jeanne Added on vocals.  It's jazzy and sexy!

If you want to know more about Hague and Ticonderoga (Ticonderoga and area online newspaper)
Hague Chamber of Commerce
Ticonderoga Chamber of Commerce
Town of Hague
Town of Ticonderoga
Wikipedia: Hague
Wikipedia: Ticonderoga

Next up:  Somewhere on Lake Champlain


Blue Highways: Lewiston, New York

Unfolding the Map

As we cross over into New York with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), Lewiston is his first stop in the state.  We are also returning to one of the original thirteen colonies for the first time since we left Georgia many posts ago.  It's hard to imagine a time when western New York was a frontier, and I'll reflect a little on what that meant and how it played out in literature, especially James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.  If you are lost in New York, get your bearings on the map.

Book Quote

"I was in New York: land of Texas hots, beef-on-a-wick, and Jenny Cream ale, where hamburgers are hamburgs and frankfurters frankfurts.  I was also within minutes of running out of gasoline.  I took a guess that Lewiston would be a left turn; if not, I was in trouble again.  But it was there, looking a century older than the Michigan towns I'd come from.

In fact, Lewiston was two centuries older, although the oldest buildings now standing were ones built just after the British burned the town in 1813.  I filled up next to an old stone hotel where, the gas man told me, James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Spy.  'It's some book, they say.  Understand,' he added, 'our station wasn't here then.'"

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 1


Lewiston Opera House. Photo by "Dougtone" and hosted at Flickr. Click on photo to go to host page.Lewiston, New York

I've only read one book by James Fenimore Cooper - The Last of the Mohicans.   It's amazing how, once LHM (and us, as we read) travel over three-hundred miles of territory, we get into an area of the country that is significantly older than the rest of the United States.  While the Midwest, being a territory and relatively free of European settlement except for trappers and explorers, the state of New York was one of the original thirteen and had been fought over between British and French, British and Americans, and Americans and Natives already.

The book of Cooper's, which he wrote in Lewiston, to which LHM refers in his quote has been unknown to me.  The Spy is set during the Revolutionary War, a time period I have already admitted in a previous post that I know little about beyond what was taught to me in primary school.   The Last of the Mohicans is set in an even more dim historical setting for me, the pre-Revolutionary time of the French and Indian Wars when Britain fought an alliance between France and Natives for control of Canada and the northern colonies.  Cooper's writings fit into the Romantic genre, and The Last of the Mohicans creates a juxtaposition between the might of the armies of Britain and France and the fading and disappearing cultures of the Natives of upper New York.  If you read The Last of the Mohicans, after getting used to the writing you'll find beautiful descriptions of New York as the untamed wilderness it once was.  Of course, this fits into Cooper's Romantic view - the Mohicans are the untamed, noble savages and his main character hero, Natty Bumppo, also known as Hawkeye for his tremendous aim with a flintlock rifle, is a man who is prefers the company of his Mohican companions rather than the French and British settlers and soldiery with whom he has more genetically and culturally in common.  The Indians themselves are being corrupted by contact with the Europeans, dramatically in the person of Magua who, as chief of the Huron tribe has thrown his lot in with the French.  There are also descriptions of the various Native tribes of the area who either side with the French or the British or try to remain neutral.  At the end of the novel, Cooper's Romanticism is completely front and center with a Native Mohican, Uncas, accompanied by his love Cora, killed in battle and then buried together leaving Uncas' father Chingachgook the last Mohican.  A Native wise man then proclaims:

"The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again...."

It's hard to envision New York state as it once was.  It's greatest city, then commanding only the southern part of Manhattan Island, now covers that entire island, Staten Island and the boroughs to its east.  The mighty forests and fearsome wilderness of the area, once full of Natives as well as beasts, ghosts, mysteries and terrors that fueled a generation of early American writers, have been brought to their knees under the axes and industry of the European settlers and have yielded to farmlands growing fruits, vegetables and grains.  In the New York state of 250-300 years ago, the frontier once began right outside the edge of the town or village, and sometimes right outside the front door.  In modern New York state, the frontier is something read about in books, seen on television or in movies, or defined as a different type of frontier - a non-tangible thing whose terrors, treasures and opportunities are more of a financial, business or electronic nature.

We occasionally catch wisps of the old frontier.  Jack Kerouac, in the guise of his avatar Sal Paradise at the Bear Mountain Bridge in On the Road, comes face to face with the loneliness and the fear of the remnants of the old frontier and quails, turning his back on his dream to hitchhike along Route 6.  He instead flees back to New York and catches a bus that takes him all the way to Illinois before he attempts hitchhiking again.  One can probably find echoes of the old frontier in the Adirondacks and perhaps get far enough away from civilization that a small twist of imagination will bring Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas striding around the corner, rifles at the ready.

Yes, as we move into the original thirteen colonies one can find history.  One can also find titanic struggle as settlers fight against the elements, the Natives, other Europeans and their own fears and shortcomings.  When you step foot into New York, you can see this history and even feel the difference of this colonial and revolutionary past and, let's say, the Midwest, Old West, South and other areas that would eventually become the United States.  It's a history that, except for some limited exposure, I am not familiar with and therefore, when I read about it or have experienced it in my own travels through the region, it impresses itself upon me in a powerful way.

Musical Interlude

I'm putting up some music from the 1992 movie version of The Last of the Mohicans.  I guess that because they got a younger Daniel Day-Lewis to play Hawkeye, he had to have a love interest (Cora), so they switched things around a bit from the book.  While Uncas still dies at the end, in the movie Cora lives.  Instead in the movie, the younger blonde sister dies for love of Uncas.  In the book, the younger sister lives and marries the gallant American officer.  So, if you watch the movie, you should know that it is not completely the story that Cooper told in his novel.

That being written, it is good music and the theme was composed by Dougie MacLean.

If you want to know more about Lewiston

Historic Lewiston
Lewiston Art Festival
Lewiston Jazz Festival
Niagara County Peach Festival
Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce
Wikipedia: Lewiston

Next up: Cheshire, New York


Blue Highways: Fort Stockton, Texas

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapTopping mesas, we see a golden light in the distance.  Is it a golden city of Cibola, such as we discussed a couple of posts past?  No, it's Fort Stockton, but if you've driven a long time it could just as easily pass as a golden place when you're hungry and tired.  To see where Fort Stockton, and its history of the West you've probably never heard of, is located click on the thumbnail of the map at right.

Book Quote

"From the top of another high mesa:  twelve miles west in the flat valley floor, the lights of Fort Stockton blinked white, blue, red, and yellow in the heat like a mirage.  How is it that desert towns look so fine and big at night?  It must be that little is hidden.  The glistering ahead could have been a golden city of Cibola.  But the reality of Fort Stockton was plywood and concrete block and the plastic signs of Holiday Inn and Mobil Oil.

"I found a Mexican cafe of adobe, with a whitewashed log ceiling, creekstone fireplace, and jukebox pumping out mariachi music.... At the next table sat three big, round men: an Indian wearing a silver headband, a Chicano in a droopy Pancho Villa mustache, and a Negro in faded overalls.  I thought what a litany of grievances that table could recite.  But the more I looked, the more I believed they were someone's vision of the West..."

Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 8

Paisano Pete, the official mascot of Fort Stockton. Photo by spacemanspiff at Click on photo to go to site.

Fort Stockton, Texas

About two years ago, I made the 5-6 hour drive each Sunday evening from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas.  I was working in Lubbock at Texas Tech teaching political science, but my wife was living in Albuquerque.  It was part of my weekly ritual of driving home on Friday night, staying the weekend with her, and then driving back to be to work on Monday.  It was tiring, but also nice.  The drive was long but easy, with about a third of it on Interstate 40 and the rest through mostly uninhabited areas of New Mexico, and then sparsely inhabited areas of upper West Texas.

I especially liked driving at night after turning off the interstate toward Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  On nights before the moon had risen, or nights of no moon, it was almost completely dark save for the occasional car headlights coming at me.  When I reached an area where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks paralleled the road, train headlamps shone for miles ahead of me and I would see them coming at me for at least 10 minutes before the train actually reached me.  And, like LHM says above, the lights of a town like Fort Sumner or Clovis would set the sky aglow for miles - a beacon toward which I would aim my vehicle, promising riches like a bathroom, road food like sodas, chips, candy or something else to keep me awake.  As the miles between me and these oases in the desert dwindled, I'd listen to music on my IPod, which sometimes would surprise and even scare me a little when the perfect song would pop up at the perfect time.  Once, I saw a freight train making an emergency stop on tracks paralleling the road between Fort Sumner and Clovis.  I though for a moment that I saw water pouring from the side of the train, and realized that I was actually seeing sparks from the locked up wheels of the train showering out from underneath the rail cars.  It was pretty amazing.

My trips through West Texas some many miles south of Lubbock, in the general area where LHM is traveling, was a lot like my trips through eastern New Mexico on my way to Lubbock.  Largely uninhabited and sparsely vegetated.  Few trees.  The main challenge driving such areas is to maintain ones attention as the miles of road blur together.  An event like topping a mesa and seeing the glittering lights of a city provides a little rush of excitement, a little bit of adrenaline, and is a welcome relief from the miles of loneliness and boredom that may have set in.  At least I had an IPod so I could maintain my attention through music.  At the time LHM wrote, IPods were still in a distant future - the desktop computer was only just being conceived as a possibility.

I have been through Fort Stockton twice.  The first time I blew through on the freeway with my wife after a camping trip at Big Bend.  The second occasion was a gonzo trip I made with a 70 something neighbor lady who needed to deliver a van to a non-profit organization in Guanajuato, Mexico that she helped direct from the U.S., and I jumped at the chance to make that trip.  On that trip, we drove through downtown Fort Stockton and I think we stopped for some lunch at a local restaurant.  I did not see a similar diverse group there - mostly Hispanic Americans - and I don't remember anything overly remarkable about the town in my brief time there.

However, I have become aware that Fort Stockton was largely garrisoned in the years after the Civil War to protect settlers from the Indians.  The garrison in Fort Stockton was, at its peak, 87 percent African-American.  These were the famed Buffalo Soldiers that Bob Marley immortalized in his reggae tune.  Known for their bravery and as fierce fighters, their stories have largely been lost in the annals of the history of the western U.S.  We don't think of the West as being more than the white cowboys, ranchers, and even lawless and dangerous citizens that gave the West its enduring popular legacy.  But in fact, many African-Americans went West to escape slavery, and to carve out new lives away from the overt racism of the South and the implicit racism of the North.

I wonder if the man LHM describes as "a Negro in faded overalls" was a descendant of one of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Stockton, or descendant of slaves brought to Texas, or if his heritage was of a later arrival in Texas?  It's an interesting snapshot that LHM presents - the first inhabitants of Texas represented by the Indian, the men brought in to not only till the land for the masters but also to fight the Indians represented by the Negro, and the group supplanting both of them, as well as whites, as the biggest population of the Southwest in the Chicano.  They may recite a litany of grievances of the past, and perhaps they will address those grievances as the face of our country's future. 

That minority groups might recite those grievances loudly from a position of greater power drives a lot of the extreme political discourse and punitive policies toward immigrants and government redistribution of wealth in our country today.  I was reading an article by Kathaleen Roberts in the Albuquerque Journal on February 23, 2011 which profiles the Buffalo Soldiers and their pivotal role in securing New Mexico and helping it become stable enough for statehood.  The article makes the case that if New Mexico hadn't had these African-American soldiers in its territory, all trying to prove themselves in the wake of slavery, and who evidently often fought when white soldiers fled from overwhelming numbers (their ferocity earned them their nickname from the Cheyenne, who considered an angry buffalo the most fierce thing they could face), New Mexico might not be celebrating its centennial next year.  The article makes the argument that the West was a lot more colorful than we are led to believe by our understanding and depictions of history.  Perhaps we should remember the debt America owes to peoples of many different ethnic heritages in its creation and expansion, and not sanitize history in political attempts to uphold ideological biases to meet certain ends.

Musical Interlude

It's not a Texas music video, but it seems appropriate given my topic above - Bob Marley's tribute to the Buffalo Soldier.

If you want to know more about Fort Stockton or Buffalo Soldiers

City of Fort Stockton
Fort Stockton Historic Site
Fort Stockton Pioneer (newspaper) Fort Stockton
Tour Texas:  Fort Stockton
Wikipedia:  Fort Stockton

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
Wikipedia: Buffalo Soldiers
Youtube: History of Buffalo Soldiers

Next up: Balmorhea, Texas