Roseville Lutheran Church, November 11, 2015
Part 2 – FASCISM
Part 8 – CLOSING
Part 2 – FASCISM
Part 8 – CLOSING
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Arturo C. Gonzalez has a favorite saying: “Life is very simple. Thinking good and doing good.” He has been at it for a long time. The man is 104 years young (as he refers to his age) and he exudes wisdom.
I first met Mr. Gonzalez ten years ago while I was researching an article on the 1952 minor league baseball season in my hometown of Decatur, Illinois. 1952 was not just any baseball season. Decatur had had a baseball team since the beginnings of the sport in the Civil War era. In 1952, the people of Decatur realized that their beloved Commodores team was integrated – just like that. Players of color occupied the entire infield, one outfield position and included the star pitcher. The town had been seeking a new owner to keep the franchise going. Arturo Gonzalez was an attorney in Del Rio, Texas with a love of the game and some experience in owning minor league franchises. It was down to the wire before the deal was signed – just in time for Gonzalez to pull together a squad. Everyone in Decatur was elated to have found not just a new owner, but also one who knew the business of the game. The city fathers, no doubt, checked out the financial position of Mr. Gonzalez. They did not realize he was a man with a mission – changing the social fabric of America. Baseball is so American that baseball is interwoven with the social fabric of the nation. Of course, no one had to explain this to Arturo Gonzalez.
I was delighted to discover Mr. Gonzalez was still alive. So many of the players and coaches of the 1952 Decatur Commodores had passed on. I came to know some amazing individuals like Mr. Gonzalez and Negro League star Jimmie Freeman in the process of researching and writing my story. The Illinois State Historical Society published ONE GLORIOUS SEASON: How Baseball Helped to Integrate Decatur, Illinois in its well-respected journal in 2003. You can read the article in its entirety on my author website www.freedomhistory.com. American sports history is about far more than sports. It is about the evolution of the social fabric of American. Central to that story is the history or race relations.
There was far more to Arturo Gonzalez than baseball. Recently, he and I began a dialogue on his relationship with the legendary rock and roll DJ Wolfman Jack. Yes, the same Arturo Gonzalez.
Del Rio, Texas is situated on the United States/Mexico border. Just across the line is Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. US troops were deployed in the area from 1900 to 1919 during the Mexican Revolution and General Blackjack Pershing’s expedition into Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa in 1916-1917. Del Rio also has been the home of Laughlin Air Force Base since 1942. U-2 spy planes once flew out of Laughlin. Their recon photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba led to the famous Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Despite this colorful history, some might argue that Del Rio’s biggest claim to fame is Wolfman Jack.
Long before his national popularity as a DJ in the 1960s and his movie role, playing himself, in the classic movie American Graffiti, Wolfman Jack was simply Bob Smith. He was a young man from Brooklyn struggling to build a career in radio broadcasting – chasing his dream. Smith worked as a daytime DJ at a small station in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1962. That is where Arturo C. Gonzalez comes into the story.
The first radio stations appeared in the 1920s. In the early days of radio, the United States and Canada divided up all of the long-range high frequencies between themselves, leaving none for Mexico. The US government limited the power of radio transmissions through its licensing. An infuriated Mexico accommodated so-called border radio stations by allowing operators to transmit with power far in excess of the maximum power of 50 kilowatts allowed in the US.
XERF-AM in Del Rio, Texas and in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico came into existence in the 1920s. XERF was one of a number of border blaster stations just across the river in Mexico. The station closed down in 1939. In 1947, Arturo C. Gonzalez and a partner resurrected XERF-AM with a new 250-kilowatt transmitter located in Ciudad Acuña. The clear channel signal on AM 1750 (on the far end of the dial) could be heard nightly across the United States and Canada and beyond into Europe and Asia. In fact, later findings revealed that the overseas audiences for XERF even included the KGB in the Soviet Union. Ironically, while the US government was not happy with the border blaster stations and worked to force the Mexican government to put them out of business, the US was using the same approach to broadcast through the Iron Curtain to the people under Soviet rule. So while the Soviet people listened to the carefully selected programming of ultra-conservatives in the US government through Voice of America, KGB agents experienced the leading-edge music of XERF!
Paul Kallinger moved to Del Rio and went online on XERF in 1948. He played country music – then known as hillbilly music – and bluegrass. Legendary musicians like Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb, Porter Waggoner, the Carter Family and Eddie Arnold performed live on the station with Kallinger. Up-and- coming musician Elvis Presley called to inquire about being on the station in 1954. Kallinger told Elvis that they did not do rock-and-roll music.
Kallinger was both a DJ and a pitchman. In 1959, Gonzalez and his partners formed Inter-American Radio Advertising, officing in Del Rio. They did not sell airtime to advertisers. Instead, they split revenues when the orders for products advertised online came in. They sold nearly anything you could imagine … and then some.
Bob Smith worked as a daytime disc jockey at KCIJ-AM in Shreveport, Louisiana. Larry Brandon, who owned another AM station in Shreveport, lost his station. He approached Gonzalez in Del Rio and bought up XERF’s late night hours. Smith, while retaining his day job at KCIJ, began moonlighting for Brandon, recording radio shows. The personality, which Smith developed at this time, was the beginnings of white-guy Smith’s transformation to the howling, very ethnic Wolfman Jack persona. Brandon mailed pre-recorded radio programs from Shreveport to Del Rio and Gonzalez played the tapes. Ultimately, Smith and Brandon had a falling out. Smith traveled to Del Rio to see Gonzalez.
Arturo Gonzalez was not just an entrepreneur; he had an eye for talent … and beyond baseball. He brought the Wolfman to Del Rio. From that point on, Smith traveled nightly to Ciudad Acuña and became Wolfman Jack from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The howling Wolfman played anything he wanted to play and that included the hottest music of the day – “forbidden” race music not allowed on the Top 40, like doo-wop, blues, R&B, zydeco and jazz. From 1962 to 1964, Wolfman Jack broadcast his nightly show out of Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. The Wolfman’s distinctive voice, his energy and on-the-air antics and the racy music he played made him nationally known to young Americans all across the nation.
In 1964, there was a shootout (or was it two?) near the transmitter in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico while Wolfman Jack was doing his nightly show. Violence south of the border is not a recent phenomenon. Wolfman Jack moved to a safer border station in Tijuana, Mexico, just south of San Diego. Tijuana safer? It is all relative.
It was from Tijuana that Wolfman Jack became the mainstay of all the cruisin’ guys and chicks in the Valley of California, including young George Lucas in Modesto. When the budding film director made his second film in 1972, Lucas approached Wolfman Jack to play himself. The wonderful 1960s coming-of-age film, American Graffiti, released in 1973, was a colossal success – one of the most profitable films of all time. Wolfman Jack’s reputation soared and he became an icon of the 1960s era. He also did well financially. Lucas gave Wolfman a fraction of a point and the resulting income allowed him to live comfortably until his death by heart attack in 1995 (He was only 56).
Because of George Lucas’ American Graffiti, people tend to associate Wolfman Jack with the Valley in California.
In fact, Arturo Gonzalez and Del Rio, Texas played a key role in an American rock icon.
“Hey, baby, when you love you live!” “Come on down and party with the Wolfman!”
Steve Chicoine is the author of many books, including the young adult novel BUZZ, a coming-of-age story set along the Texas-Mexico border. The book is available through Amazon. The author’s website is www.freedomhistory.com.
What do football’s Tim Tebow, basketball’s Jeremy Lin, baseball’s Josh Hamilton all have in common – besides sports? They all love and publicly honor Jesus. They are considered to be the modern day advocates of what historians and scholars refer to as Muscular Christianity.
Muscular Christianity is a long-forgotten movement of the Victorian era, which emphasized a Christian commitment to not only morality, but also to fitness and manliness. The argument was that the body is a gift from God, that it is one’s responsibility to maintain the body in prime shape and, accordingly, that exercise and athletic competition leads to not only physical health, but strong morals and the proper overall orientation in one’s life. While not intended, there was the emphasis on an active and cheerful life, versus a quiet, meditative and (perhaps) gloomy existence.
The movement began in England. Historians attribute Muscular Christianity to the Victorian era writers Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes. Even prior to the Victorian era, The Duke of Wellington was said to have remarked, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. Whether or not Wellington actually uttered the famous quote, the British and embraced the sense that self-sacrifice, discipline, teamwork and competitive spirit in athletic participation led to military excellence and a nation’s rise to global power.
The Muscular Christianity movement first appeared in the United States in private schools and spread through the preaching of prominent evangelical Protestants, such as Dwight L. Moody.
The long-forgotten William B. Curtis served in the Civil War as a lieutenant and aide to General John Basil Turchin. In the post-war period, Curtis became a famous bodybuilder and amateur athlete. He was a founder of the New York Athletic Club in 1868, one of the organizers of the Amateur Athletic Union and president of the National Skating Association. Curtis died climbing New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington in 1900 at the age of 63. His funeral service in New York City at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church was a veritable celebration of Muscular Christianity.
Muscular Christianity was an important force in America from 1880 until 1920. It is no coincidence that Teddy Roosevelt’s adulthood overlaid the period during which Muscular Christianity was at its peak. Roosevelt, a man dedicated to physical fitness, who promoted the ideals of manliness to Americans, graduated from college in 1880. He was president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He died in 1919.
Teddy Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Sr., known as Thee, was an ardent disciple of Muscular Christianity. He was concerned about the negative influences of modern society and felt strongly that the rediscovery of masculinity was important to restore America’s moral fiber. Thee Roosevelt’s native New York City epitomized industrialization and urban decline. Living conditions in the overcrowded tenements of New York City were horrific. Drinking, prostitution and disease were rampant. Moral decay and corruption was pervasive. Thee Roosevelt took an active role in the intellectual, moral and physical development of his children. He imprinted his deep convictions on the psyche of his children. This had a profound impact on Theodore, the oldest son who was devoted to his father. Teddy learned to box, lifted weights and went camping. Teddy’s patrician classmates at Harvard judged him harshly for his religious conviction and moral character. He refused to back down.
Thee Roosevelt used his considerable wealth and influence to promote the ideals of Muscular Christianity. The founding meeting of the American Museum of Natural History was held in the Roosevelt parlor. He contributed considerable sums of money to the city’s medical, educational and religious institutions, in particular the Young Men’s Christian Association.
The Young Men’s Christian Association, better known as the YMCA or the Y, was among the most prominent social institutions of the period. The federated organization, made up of local organizations in voluntary association, which established in urban settings to offer alternatives to taverns and brothels for Christian males. Character building was a core value. With the rise of the Muscular Christianity movement, the Y began introducing athletic activities. Muscular Christianity and the YMCA are intricately linked.
Handball in the United States dates to the 1880s and was well established at the Y by the early 1900s. Robert Roberts, who led serious exercise classes at the Boston YMCA, coined the term “bodybuilding” in 1881. James Naismith was a physical education instructor at Springfield College in Massachusetts, the YMCA training school. Program Director Luther Gulick tasked Naismith in 1891 with coming up with an indoor sport to keep the Y staff in shape during the winter. Naismith hung 2 peach baskets in a gym and basketball was born. William Morgan, a YMCA instructor in Holyoke, Massachusetts modified basketball and wove in elements of tennis and handball in an effort to come up with a less strenuous sport in 1895. The result was volleyball. George Corsan of the Detroit YMCA in 1909 was responsible for a nationwide explosion of group swimming lessons.
The Playground Association of America was established in 1906 in a meeting at the Washington, D.C. YMCA. Luther Gulick of the Y was the first president. The public playground movement had its origins in the recognition of the importance of healthful outdoor recreation in the urban setting, as well as the socializing effects of playgrounds. There are groups today that now recognize this and are attempting to revive the movement.
The YMCA was also an important early influence on Boy Scouts of America, which formed in 1909. The Boy Scouts encouraged participation in outdoor activities and camping. Edgar Robinson, a Chicago YMCA administrator, became the Boy Scouts’ first national director.
In 1910, the YMCA built twenty-five Y’s to serve the African American communities in twenty-three US cities in response to a challenge grant by Sears and Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald. The Y became the launching pad for the successful lives of many African Americans, including Jesse Owens (1936 Olympic medal winner), Jackie Robinson (first baseball player in modern professional baseball in 1947), and Martin Luther King (famous for leading the Civil Rights movement and being assassinated for doing so). Others who “got game” at their local Y were basketball Hall of Fame legends Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
Teddy Roosevelt, as Police Commissioner in New York City from 1895- 1897, befriended social reformer Jacob Riis in 1895 after reading his book How The Other Half Lives. Roosevelt’s actions led to considerable reform in New York City. He and Riis became friends for life. In a 1906 speech at a New York City YMCA, Riis offered his audience President Theodore Roosevelt as their role model.
Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned in 1898 to form the Rough Riders on the eve of the Spanish American War. The Rough Riders were an amalgam of cowboys, Ivy Leaguers, Texas Rangers and American Indians. Roosevelt had gone west to raise cattle in the Dakotas in the mid 1880s after the death of his mother and wife and his split from the Republican Party. Teddy became enamored with the culture of the West and determined that was what America needed to restore itself.
After the war and his much-touted leadership in Cuba, Teddy Roosevelt became Governor of New York. He pressed his agenda for national fitness while in that office. In a speech he delivered in 1899, Roosevelt championed “the strenuous life”. Roosevelt went on to become president of the United States from 1901 to 1909 and the American people of the time embraced Teddy Roosevelt and his ideals. Roosevelt was a naturalist and conservationist, who doubled the national park system during his presidency. While unable to establish Grand Canyon as a national park, he managed to protect the natural treasure as a national monument until the nation was able to finally secure it as a national park.
In the aftermath of World War I, the pacifist movement and general concern with the impact of the ideals of manliness upon nationalism led to the sharp decline of the Muscular Christianity movement. The subsequent Roaring Twenties and Great Depression had similar effect. The intense commercialization of America in the boom following World War II and the introduction of television led to the overall inactivity of Americans. Athletics, once envisioned by forward-thinking men like William B. Curtis as a means to healthy and healthy competition, became spectator-oriented and money-focused.
Vestiges of Muscular Christianity remain to the present day. Local YMCAs continue to be important institutions in the American city. However, the Christian aspect is now downplayed. The Y has become secularized to an extent unimagined by its founders. The vaunted football program of Notre Dame and its vast feeder system of Catholic schools is a relic of the Catholic Church’s version of Muscular Christianity. The essence of the Muscular Christianity movement in Evangelical Protestantism manifests itself through such programs as Athletes in Action, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Promise Keepers.
Sports in America in the final decades of the 20th century shifted away from broad amateur athletic participation. There has been a colossal corporatization of athletics in America. It is no longer about health and fitness, but about money. The elite train for the opportunity to play in the big game and the rest are relegated to the role of spectator. Sports in 21st century America is, by and large, a vast spectator event. Billions of dollars from lucrative television contracts dominate professional sports. Ironically, with money playing such a huge role, most Americans cannot even afford a seat at a professional event or even at major collegiate sporting events. Athletics for most Americans has moved from the gymnasium and the playing field to the television room.
The influence of money permeates down even to youth athletic programs with the however unlikely possibility of a college scholarship in an era of astronomical tuitions. There is a tendency for youth to specialize at an early age in order to have a competitive advantage. High school athletics has become an activity of the elite, gifted athlete in the pursuit of college scholarships. High school systems expend vast amounts of money to develop talent for the semi-professional system that collegiate sports has become. In the mad scramble for the almighty dollar and the American fixation with win-at-any-cost, sportsmanship at all levels is becoming a rare phenomenon. Competitive spirit has almost completely displaced character in the American athlete.
Personal health has become an issue of monumental proportion in America. The decline from lack of fitness to obesity places a sense of urgency on the nation. A recent study showed that over a ten-year period the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults overweight or obese went from 1 to 39. Meanwhile, the all-consuming drive to win has caused many young people to choose to not participate in school sports. Commercialization has subverted the very purpose of athletics – overall physical and mental health and well-being.
Many people acknowledge that now is the time for a renewal of America in every respect. That must start with the American people, each and every individual. Exercise, if not the strenuous life, would be one step in improving the health and character and getting the nation back on track. A little more emphasis on the outdoors could not hurt. Recent studies have shown Americans to be extremely deficient in Vitamin D, the obvious source being sunshine.
A 21st century version of Muscular Christianity would not exclude women in our enlightened modern time. Nor would an emphasis on the strenuous life need to correlate with aggression and imperialism. Broad athletic competition would improve socialization among the many different ethnicities, which now comprise the American people.
There is a sense among many Americans that the nation has lost its way. The unwavering principles that once defined this once great nation have been compromised. Moral clarity is blurred and often debated, while basic freedoms slip away. It may take a national leader.
Meanwhile, few have ever even heard of Muscular Christianity beyond historians. The secularization of American history washed this era from the textbooks. Threads of this story, which remain, leave out the context, as so often happens with Jesus Christ and Christianity. Jesus Christ and Christianity have become politically incorrect. Nonetheless, God and Jesus Christ are very real. They exist and are a force in our universe, whether or not people choose to ignore them. It remains for Christians, in whatever form, to maintain their presence in the modern-day world. Men like Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin and Josh Hamilton are determined to make the effort.
by Stephen Chicoine © 2013
Long before Lambeau and the Packers, Wisconsin was the forest primeval and home to the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and Menominee peoples. The French from far down the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City engaged in the fur trade from 1608 onward. The first fur traders to Wisconsin were Huron and Ottawa, who were middlemen for the French.
Samuel Champlain heard of the Ho-Chunk in the pays d’en haut (the upper country) and sent Jean Nicolet as his emissary to meet them. In 1634, Nicolet traveled more than a thousand miles up the St. Lawrence River and across the Great Lakes. He met with natives near the site of present-day Green Bay. Champlain died in the following year and for a time there was no official travel into the pays d’en haut.
In 1642, the establishment of a settlement on the island of Montreal, one hundred and fifty miles west of Quebec City, deepened the French involvement in the fur trade. This presence forever changed the way of life of the native peoples, who became dependent upon European trade goods for the necessities of existence 1. The powerful Iroquois Confederation in upstate New York fought for their share of the trade in what is known as the Beaver Wars. In the late 1640s and early 1650s, the Iroquois destroyed the Huron homeland in Ontario, as well as that of the Erie, the Neutrals and the Susquehannock. The result was widespread panic and mass migration of the native peoples. The remnant survivors of these and other nations, including the Potawatomi, Fox, Sac and Kickapoo, fled westward to the far end of the Great Lakes. Many settled in Green Bay, overwhelming the Winnebago and Menominee.
The Iroquois in the mid 1650s targeted the Ottawa for their role as middlemen for the French. The Ottawa repulsed the Iroquois over a two-year period. In the aftermath, an Ottawa flotilla brought furs to Montreal. Two Frenchmen, Radisson and Groseilliers, joined the Ottawa when they returned home. The Frenchmen continued on into Green Bay, where they encountered refugees from all the different nations.
The Iroquois next directed their attention to pays d’en haut, the source of the furs. They made a major assault on Green Bay in 1657 with an estimated 1200 warriors. Scouts picked up their approach. Huron and Ottawa warriors on Rock Island at the northern tip of present-day Door County met and decisively defeated the Iroquois invasion.
Radisson and Groseilliers made a second voyage up the St. Lawrence in 1659-1660. This time they followed the southern shore of Lake Superior along what would become the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Apostle Islands of present-day Wisconsin and south into Chequamegon Bay. This region also had attracted a large number of refugees from the various native peoples.
Green Bay and Chequamegon Bay were the two most prominent sheltered bays on the Great Lakes in the Wisconsin region. More importantly, major riverways flowed into each bay from the interior of present-day Wisconsin. In both cases, by crossing a single reasonable portage, travelers could canoe from that bay to the Mississippi River valley. The French in the earliest days were not yet aware of the routes into pays d’en haut.
Radisson and Groseilliers returned to Montreal and brought word of the refugees at Chequamegon Bay. The Jesuits sent Father Rene Menard there in 1661. Menard disappeared – his fate unknown. In 1663, Jesuit Father Claude Jean Allouez traveled to Chequamegon Bay and established Mission La Pointe du Saint Esprit.
The Iroquois assault on Montreal increased in the 1660s to such an extent that the French King finally responded to calls for military assistance. In 1665, the Carignan-Salieres Regiment – a total of 1,200 soldiers – arrived in Canada. In autumn 1666, the regiment with militia and Indian allies invaded Iroquois territory. They burned five villages and vast stores of grain. The Iroquois sued for peace – a peace that was to last for twenty years 2. The campaign opened the pays d’en haut to travel and trade.
Fearless French voyageurs in seek of adventure and fortune streamed into the Great Lakes region to engage in the fur trade. Nicolas Perrot and Toussaint Beaudry formed a trading company in 1667 and began traveling to Wisconsin to establish contacts with the native peoples. They spent the summer of 1667 at Chequamegon Bay and wintered there. In the following summer, they moved on to Green Bay, which would become Perrot’s major base. They returned to Montreal in the fall of 1668 with a huge load of furs.
Father Jacques Marquette traveled to Chequamegon Bay in 1668. Father Allouez proceeded to Green Bay. He wintered there in 1668-1669, ministering to the numerous tribes. In 1669, Father Allouez set up a mission among the Menominee people near present-day Oconto, Wisconsin. He established Mission St Jacques for the Mascoutin people on the Fox River near present-day Berlin, Wisconsin. In 1671 at the last set of rapids, about five miles upstream from where the Fox River empties into Green Bay, Father Allouez erected a bark chapel and established Mission St Francois Xavier. That site, known as Rapides Des Peres, in modern times became De Pere, a Green Bay suburb 3.
Even with the Iroquois subdued, at least temporarily, there were still troubles. The Meskwaki (or Fox) destroyed the chapel at Rapides Des Pere at the end of 1672. Father Allouez with the assistance of Nicolas Perrot re-built the chapel. And there were the Sioux in the far west, that being present-day Minnesota. They were traditional enemies of the Ojibwe with whom the French were allied. The Dakota (Sioux) drove Father Marquette and his Indian allies from Chequamegon Bay in 1671. Marquette re-settled at Mackinac. The loss of access shifted all of the French efforts in the fur trade to Green Bay 4. The eminent American historian Frederick J. Turner wrote of the Sioux and Iroquois threats,” There was therefore a pressure on both sides of Wisconsin, which tended to mass together the divergent tribes. And Green Bay and the Fox and Wisconsin route was the line of least resistance.” 5
In the summer of 1673, Marquette and Joliet traveled to Green Bay to make their epic journey down the Mississippi River. They were not he first Europeans to travel the river. The Spanish explorer De Soto did so more than a century earlier. However, in traversing the great river from present-day Wisconsin to present-day Arkansas, Marquette and Joliet demonstrated that, in fact, the Gulf of Mexico was accessible from the Great Lakes. Most importantly, Marquette and Joliet discovered the key portages that made the journey possible. These portages allowed the travelers access from one river to another with a minimal amount of carrying their canoes, as well as their baggage and trade goods, on their shoulders across land.
Marquette and Joliet made their way down the western shore of Lake Michigan along the Wisconsin shoreline. They stopped at the Menominee village on the western shore of Green Bay, traveled on down to the southern end of the bay and then inland up the Fox River. They reached the large Mascouten and Miami village near Berlin, Wisconsin, where Allouez had established Mission St Jacques. Miami guides escorted Marquette and Joliet across the Fox-Wisconsin Portage near the present-day city of Portage to the Wisconsin River. The two French explorers traveled down the Wisconsin and into the Mississippi River and down the Mississippi to present-day Arkansas before turning back.
On their return, Marquette and Joliet traveled up the Illinois River. They stayed at a large village of the Kaskaskia, one of the tribes in the Illinois Confederation. A group of Kaskaskia escorted Marquette and Joliet to the Des Plaines River and showed them the way across the Chicago Portage to Lake Michigan. From this point on, the French authorities recognized the delineating portages – the Fox-Wisconsin and the Chicago – the keys to the continent’s interior. Marquette and Joliet’s 1673 expedition opened the interior of the continent to travel and commerce.
Over time, it became apparent that Wisconsin was the gateway by virtue of the much easier portage. The Fox-Wisconsin portage was one-and-a-half miles across a marsh that separated the Fox River and the Wisconsin River. In contrast, the Chicago portage was much more physically daunting. The Chicago portage might not be more than a mile in the wet season. However, no other portage was subject to as much seasonal variation. The portage could be as much as four to nine miles in the dry season 6. Further, the Chicago portage did not end when travelers from Lake Michigan crossed the portage and reached the Des Plaines River. The Des Plaines in times of drought was a succession of pools and might require a portage of twenty or even fifty miles. The great French explorer Robert De La Salle noted that the Des Plaines was often not navigable for canoes and that it might be easier to transport goods to Illinois country by land using horse-drawn wagons 7. One aspect did cause Marquette and Joliet and other travelers returning from the Mississippi Valley to favor the Chicago portage. The current of the Illinois River, against which one paddled when heading to Lake Michigan, offered less resistance than that of the Wisconsin River 8.
Just as the French recognized the riverways into the interior, the Iroquois emerged once again as a threat. In September 1680, a large force of Iroquois appeared on the Illinois River and attacked the great village of the Illinois Confederation near present-day Peoria. Many of the Illinois warriors were away and the Iroquois had numerical superiority, as well as greater firepower. The Iroquois slaughtered men, women and children. The survivors fled south. The Illinois made a heroic stand, but, in the end, were overcome. The Fox-Wisconsin portage seemed much safer than the Chicago portage with the Iroquois in the mix once again.
The Meskwaki (Fox) never accepted French dominance. With the renewal of Iroquois attacks on the French, the Fox made overtures to the Iroquois. French trading with Fox enemies intensified the Fox dislike of the French. Of considerable concern to the Fox was the French supplying their enemies, the Ojibwe, with weapons in exchange for furs. In 1680, Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, traveled Lake Superior to Chequamegon Bay and beyond and negotiated a peace between the Ojibwe and Dakota people. Through this effort, the French opened direct trade with the Dakota, also enemies of the Fox. Fox warriors began confronting travelers along the Fox-Wisconsin riverway, exacting a toll from some, attacking others.
The French subsequently took steps to begin a network of forts along the key riverways of what would become Wisconsin and Illinois in the 1680s. The French colonial administration made Nicolas Perrot Commandant of the West in 1685. Perrot operated out of his fortified outpost at the southern end of Green Bay. In the summer of 1685, Perrot built Fort St. Nicholas near the confluence of the Wisconsin River with the Mississippi River – the predecessor of the settlement of Prairie du Chien. Perrot then moved eighty miles upriver on the Mississippi and built Fort Trempealeau north of present-day Lacrosse, Wisconsin. In the following year, Perrot abandoned Fort Trempealeau and built Fort St. Antoine fifty miles upriver where the Chippewa River flows into the Mississippi 9.
The Iroquois onslaught continued in Illinois. Robert de LaSalle built Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock in the heart of the Illinois country in 1682. That fort withstood an Iroquois invasion in 1684. Three years later, a large Iroquois raiding party massacred a Miami village just south of Chicago Portage. Again, traders recognized the relative advantage of the Fox-Wisconsin portage when considering marauding Iroquois coming out of the east 10. Even more exposed to the Iroquois than the Chicago portage was the St. Joseph-Kankakee portage further east in northwestern Indiana, which also led to the Illinois River 11.
The French finally responded to the Iroquois, as they had twenty years earlier. Denonville led a large expedition of French soldiers and militia into Seneca country in the summer of 1687. Nicolas Perrot traveled from Green Bay, bringing with him over five hundred warriors from the pays d’en haut 12. Denonville’s campaign devastated Seneca country. There also were other victories on Lake Erie and in present-day Ontario. The Iroquois did not sue for peace, as they had following the 1666 invasion. As early as November 1687, an Iroquois raiding party killed ten Frenchmen at Montreal. Their greatest blow took place in August 1689 when fifteen hundred Iroquois warriors descended on the French settlement of Lachine on the western end of Montreal Island. They burned the settlement and killed or took captive many of the residents. War between the French and the Iroquois was as never before from 1687 to 1700. Both sides launched one expedition or war party after another and both sides suffered serious losses. Iroquois war parties roamed the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, constantly threatening trade with the pays d’en haut.
Nor were the Iroquois the only problem for the French. While Perrot and his Indian allies were away fighting the Seneca in 1687, the Meskwaki (Fox) destroyed the Jesuit mission and fur trading post at De Pere 13. The loss of furs ruined Perrot financially. Perrot still had the respect of the native peoples of Wisconsin. In 1690, a Miami chief presented Perrot with a gift – a chunk of galena, a lead-bearing mineral 14. He told Perrot of the source and Perrot followed with a visit to what is now known as the Tri-State region, where the state lines of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin meet. Perrot built a post on the east side of the Mississippi River opposite the site of present-day Dubuque, Iowa (named for the Frenchman who exploited the mines after Perrot’s passing). Subsequent maps of the Mississippi River valley marked the location as the “Mines of Nicolas Perrot”. The exploitation of lead in southwestern Wisconsin in the 1820s would replace fur as the most important resource of the region’s economy.
The Wisconsin fur trade became further complicated in 1696 when King Louis XIV of France, tired of unlicensed trading by coureur de bois, revoked fur-trading privileges and closed down the forts/trading posts in the West. Meanwhile, the losses imposed on the Iroquois by repeated expeditions by French soldiers and militia and their Indian allies eventually forced the Iroquois to parley. The outcome was the Great Peace Council of 1701 at Montreal. Forty native nations, including those of the Iroquois Confederation, were party to the treaty signed.
That same summer, Cadillac set forth into the west and established Fort Ponchartrain on the site of present-day Detroit. This military post on the river that connected Lake Erie with Lake Huron, became the official French base to control the coureur de bois and also to protect the fur trade and pays d’en haut from the English and Iroquois. The Montreal treaty allowed for the settlement at Detroit to be safe from the ravages of the Iroquois for the next sixteen years.
With the Iroquois situation, at least temporarily, resolved, the French turned to the matter of continued Meskwaki attacks along the strategic Fox-Wisconsin riverway through their territory. During the winter of 1706-1707, a French expedition entered Green Bay and moved up the Fox River. They attacked and killed many Fox on the north shore of Lake Winnebago near present-day Neenah. The military approach, rather than resolving the issue, only deepened Fox hatred for the French.
When Du Lhut traveled to Chequamegon Bay in 1680, Ojibwe guides took him southward up the Bois Brule River. They introduced Du Lhut to a short portage between the Bois Brule River and the St. Croix River near present-day Solon Springs, Wisconsin. The St. Croix flowed southward into the Mississippi River at present-day Prescott, Wisconsin, south of Hudson. The route became critical to commerce through Wisconsin by allowing travelers to circumvent the hostile Fox. French authorities in Quebec City, recognizing the likelihood of war with the Fox, had sent Pierre Charles le Sueur in 1693 to build a fort to protect the Bois Brule portage.
In 1712, the Fox took the offensive. They attacked and laid siege to the French fort at Detroit. The French Indian allies, led by the Illinois, relieved the siege and saved the French. The close relationship between the French and the Illinois led to war between the Fox and the Illinois. This impacted the safety across the Chicago portage, further enhancing the importance of the Bois Brule portage.
There followed a series of French expeditions into Wisconsin in an attempt to crush the Fox and re-open the strategic Fox-Wisconsin portage. In 1716, a French army, supported by Indian allies, laid siege to the important Fox village on Little Lake Buttes des Morts, just north of Neenah. This led to a temporary peace, but war began again in the 1720s. When efforts to subdue the Fox failed, the French resorted to genocide. The conflict raged across Wisconsin for years, draining French resources and slowly eliminating the brave Meskwaki people. There were a number of major French expeditions into the Fox homeland from 1724 until the final campaign of 1733. The French eventually forced the few remaining Fox into submission, but not before the French Indian allies were pleading with them to show some mercy. The damage to the French position in the West was considerable.
The British defeated the French in 1763 and assumed control of Quebec and the Great Lakes region. Thus ended one hundred and thirty years of French involvement in Wisconsin. The American Revolution, twenty years later, led to Wisconsin becoming a territory and then a state of the United States.
The success of the New York State’s Erie Canal, completed in 1825, caused everyone to consider the improvement of waterways for commerce. Efforts began in the 1830s to deepen and widen the Fox-Wisconsin route into a commercial thoroughfare that would allow steamboats and barges to move wheat, corn and cattle to Green Bay and on to markets in the eastern United States. This required far more than digging a canal across the mile-and-a-half of marsh that constituted the actual portage. The Wisconsin was shallow with shifting sand bars and the Fox had rapids, which would require locks.
Private investors failed in every attempt to construct a canal along the old Fox-Wisconsin riverway. There was never enough money and there were always formidable technical challenges. One group after another abandoned the project after beginning with high hopes. Major floods in 1838 and 1845 damaged what progress had been made. In 1848, the United States Congress offered the new state of Wisconsin sections of land along the Fox River to aid in the construction of the canal and associated locks. The effort gained momentum, but it too was eventually abandoned and the banks crumbled and what little there was of the canal fell into decay. Extensive flooding in 1851 wiped out what remained. The Army Corps of Engineers became involved in 1874 and considerable activity led to modest success. The first steamboat passed through the new waterway in 1876 with much celebration. Steamboats and barges did move down the constructed waterway. However, this was twenty-eight years after the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal established Chicago as the boomtown of the Midwest. Also, by 1876, the railroads were replacing canals as the main thoroughfares.
There was still the matter of the natural processes of the river. The record-breaking flood of 1880 destroyed much of Portage and the region around it. The 1881 flood was nearly as high. There was extensive flooding in 1905. All of these previous floods paled in comparison to the devastating flood of 1911 15. The commercial canal never became a reality. The noted Wisconsin historian Reuben Gold Thwaites wrote in 1900, “ … although much money has been spent on these schemes, from that day to this, the Fox-Wisconsin route is still impracticable … almost wholly abandoned.” 16
The Chicago portage had the advantage of being located closer to the Great Lakes than the much further inland Fox-Wisconsin portage. The Fox-Wisconsin Portage was over one hundred and sixty miles (by river) from Green Bay. The Chicago portage also was at the extreme southern tip of the Great Lakes and, as such, served as a vantage point from east and west.
In any case, Chicago had a population of 350 in 1833. The land immediately west of the settlement on Lake Michigan was a dismal swamp. This was the Chicago portage across Mud Lake that was the reason for the settlement’s existence. Construction commenced in 1832 on a canal across the swamp to connect the Illinois River to Lake Michigan. Twelve years later in 1848, the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened, allowing shipping to pass through Chicago from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The first railroad reached Chicago in that same year. Over thirty rail lines entered Chicago by 1860, by which time Chicago was the transportation hub of the nation, as well as an important manufacturing center 17. The Americans realized the dreams of the French to connect the Great Lakes with the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, the Fox-Wisconsin portage and the Bois Brule portage are recreational sites, visited by canoeists and hikers and the occasional historian. Three hundred years ago, they were the key to the continent. The Portage Canal in Portage, Wisconsin is on the National Register of Historic Places.
1 Kellogg, Louise Phelps, “France and the Mississippi Valley: A Resume”, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 18, no. 1 (June 1931), p. 7. Thwaites, Reuben Gold, “The Commerce of the Forest”, in Stories of the Badger State, American Book Company, New York, 1900, p. 81.
2 Verney, J., The Good Regiment: The Carignan Salieres Regiment in Canada, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.
3 Kellogg, Louise Phelps, “The Story of Wisconsin, 1634-1848”, The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 2, no. 4 (June 1919), p. 423.
4 Gilman, Rhoda, “The Fur Trade in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1630-1850”, The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 58, no. 1 (Autumn 1974), p. 5.
5 Turner, Frederick J., “Character and Influence of the Fur Trade in Wisconsin”, annual address before the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, January 3, 1889, Proceedings of the Annual Business Meeting (Madison, 1889).
6 Hulbert, Archer B., Portage Paths, The Keys of the Continent (The Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland, 1903), p. 181.
7 Quaife, Milo M., Chicago and the Old Northwest 1673-1835, University of Chicago Press, 1913, pp. 10-11, p. 17.
8 Dopp, Mary, “Geographical Influences in the Development of Wisconsin. Chapter II. The Fur Trade”, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, vol. 45, no. 7 (1913), p. 494.
9 Trewartha, Glenn, “French Settlement in the Driftless Hill Land”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 28, no. 3 (September 1938), pp. 185-187.
10 Dopp, p. 494.
11 Baker, George A., The St. Joseph-Kankakee Portage (The Society, South Bend, 1899), pp. 2-3.
12 Butler, James D., “First French Footprints Beyond the Lakes”, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, vol. 5 (1882), p. 122.
13 Dopp, p. 493. Trewartha, p. 191.
14 Thwaites, Reuben Gold, “Notes on Early Lead Mining in the Fever (or Galena) River Region”, Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, vol. 13 (Madison, 1895), p. 273.
15 Jones, James E., History of Columbia County, Wisconsin (Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, 1914), pp. 91-100.
16 Thwaites, Reuben Gold, Stories of the Badger State (American Book Company, New York, 1900), p. 123.
17 Lamb, John, A Corridor in Time: I&M Canal, 1836-1986 (Lewis University, Romeoville, 1987), pp. 10-13.
by Stephen Chicoine © 2001
Gettysburg. The Second Day. Union General Daniel Sickles on his own initiative had ordered his Third Corps forward from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard, a distance of over half a mile. Veteran Confederate forces under the command of General James Longstreet exploited Sickles’ extended position. Third Corps gave way after four hours of desperate fighting and began falling back in disorder. Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade swept toward the crest of Cemetery Ridge, threatening to cut the Union line in two. General Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding the Union Second Corps, frantically ordered up reinforcements, but realized that they could not arrive within the few minutes necessary. He rode to the crest of the ridge to find only eight companies formed in line, numbering two hundred and sixty men. Hancock asked of an officer, “My God! Are these all of the men we have here? What regiment is this?” Colonel William Colvill, Jr., commanding, answered, “First Minnesota, sir”. Hancock pointed toward the advancing Confederates and gave an order, “Advance, Colonel, and take those colors!” 1 . Colvill immediately gave the command “Forward, double-quick” 2 .
Lt. William Lochren of the First Minnesota wrote of that moment, “ … every man realized in an instant what that order meant. Death and wounds to us all – the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time and save the position and probably the battlefield … Responding to the Colonel’s rapid orders, the regiment in perfect line … was in a moment down that slope directly in the enemy’s center … “ 3 . Captain Martin Maginnis later recalled: “Their cannon opened on us and shot and shell tore through our ranks and the more deadly Enfield rifles of their infantry centered on us alone. At every step our men fell … Five color bearers are shot down, and five times our flag goes proudly forward as before. Within a hundred, within fifty yards of the foe; one quarter of our men are already fallen and yet not one shot has been fired at the enemy …” 4 Lochren continued: “ … double quick had changed to utmost speed … and with leveled bayonets at full speed rushed upon it. No soldiers will stand against leveled bayonets coming with such momentum and evident desperation. The first line broke as we reached it and rushed back through the second line, stopping the whole advance.” 5
Wilcox’s Confederates broke and fled before the shock attack of the First Minnesota. Colvill, himself badly wounded, ordered the remnants of his command to take cover in the streambed of Plum Run. Additional Union regiments arrived before the Confederates could re-group and engulf the First Minnesota. Darkness set in with the Union Army still in control of Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s Charge on the third day failed to unseat the Union Army and the Battle of Gettysburg ended with the Union Army victorious. Of the two hundred and sixty two men of the First Minnesota who made the charge, two hundred and fifteen were killed or wounded. The casualty rate was the highest suffered by any unit on either side during the bloody four-year conflict.
The First Minnesota’s gallant charge was recognized as one of the key moments of the battle that turned the war in favor of the Union. In February 1864, the men of the First Minnesota were honored at a banquet held in Washington and attended by Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. Colonel Colvill, still suffering from his wounds from seven months earlier, had to be carried into the hall on a stretcher. William Colvill, Jr. lived to the age of seventy-five years, celebrated as one of Minnesota’s great heroes of the American Civil War 6. In 1909, four years after his death, Colvill was honored by the erection of a life-size bronze statue bearing his likeness in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol 7. The statue remains to this day.
William Colvill, Jr. arrived at Red Wing, Minnesota from New York in 1854 8. In 1855, Colvill became editor of the town’s first newspaper 9. The Feb. 9, 1856 edition of The Sentinel included an ad for the firm of Freeborn & Colvill, a land agency business, and another ad for William Colvill, Jr., Attorney and Counsellor At Law. Colvill became secretary of the Minnesota Territorial Council in that year 10 and in April 1857 Red Wing’s city attorney 11. But it was as a fiery newspaper editor that Colvill established his early reputation in Minnesota.
The Sentinel ceased publishing in May 1856. A year later, Colvill and a partner started up The Sentinel again 12. Colvill served as editor for the next three and a half years. The paper espoused the views of the Democratic Party to which they belonged. The nation had been struggling with the issue of slavery for many years. By the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the United States Congress had agreed that slavery would not be allowed north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes. That changed in 1854 when Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois orchestrated support in Congress to secure passage of law such that voters of both Kansas and Nebraska would decide whether or not slavery would exist in their territories. Democrats like William Colvill did not favor slavery, whether in Nebraska or Kansas or anywhere else. But as Democrats, they had a fervent belief in State’s Rights and, as such, held that the people of each respective State had a Constitutional right to decide how they would live and be governed. Colvill printed a speech by Stephen Douglas in the Jan. 30, 1858 edition of The Sentinel and praised it as “… emphatically a great speech; it is a bold and fearless vindication of the great principle of Squatter Sovereignty – of the right of the people to decide for themselves the institution under which they are to live …”
Opponents of slavery responded to the Kansas-Nebraska Act by forming the Republican Party. While the Republicans failed to win the Presidency in the 1856 election that put Democrat James Buchanan into office, they consolidated strength over the next four years for the 1860 election. In the summer of 1857, Lucius Hubbard, a New Yorker like Colvill, founded a rival newspaper in Red Wing13. The Republican, later renamed The Goodhue County Republican, represented the views of the newly formed Republican Party to which Hubbard belonged. The Sentinel and The Republican became rival papers and regularly exchanged blows, as in November 6, 1857 when The Sentinel opined: “The Republican has become so notorious for lying to be totally unworthy of belief. It is edited and superintended by old maids and broken down ministers.” 14
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 only exacerbated the national split. Fighting between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Kansas led to that territory becoming known as “Bloody Kansas”. When Minnesotans submitted their formal request for statehood to President James Buchanan in January 1858, the application became entangled with the issue of Kansas statehood and whether or not slavery should be allowed in Kansas. Colvill wrote in The Sentinel in the January 16, 1858: “The Southern members of Congress entertain the design of coupling us with Kanzas [sic] … Much as we wish Minnesota to be admitted … we do not wish it at that price …” But in time the issue was resolved and on May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd State in the Union. While Democrats, Northern and Southern, shared a belief in the supremacy of State’s Rights, the issue of slavery divided the party. Southern Democrats cited the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision as supporting the legality of slavery throughout the nation. The landmark ruling denied Scott, a Black man, his freedom, which he based on extended residence at Fort Snelling in Minnesota Territory. The high court ruled that the U. S. Constitution protected property rights and extended that to allow a slave owner to take his property into northern “free” States and legally retain the rights of ownership. In contrast, Northern Democrats insisted that the people of each individual State and territory had a Constitutional right to choose. An editorial Colvill later wrote on the opinion of Chief Justice Taney focused on the conveyance of authority:
“ … the position of Judge Taney … Let us look at its bearing … Congress can exercise no power not specifically conferred upon it by the Constitution … The powers possessed by Congress are conferred upon it by the people, speaking through the ballot box and the Constitution … Now what is the conclusion? Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories because the people have not given it the power … The power not being conferred upon Congress is among those reserved to the States respectively or to the people.” 15
Southerners had successfully defended slavery for years in Congress and the Senate by virtue of their control of these legislative bodies. But the westward expansion of the United States and the addition of new free states and their Congressmen and Senators threatened Southern control. One remedy sought by certain Southerners was the subjugation and annexation of Mexico, Cuba and Central America. During the 1850’s, private armies of American adventurers invaded Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico. Colvill asked readers:
“ …is it therefore certain that bloodshed and rapine, and all the other horrors of war, are equally righteous now? … It is enough to nauseate the stomach of a half-decent Dacotah to hear the twaddle of the William Walker school. Talk about enlarging the ‘area of freedom’! Let us first consecrate to freedom the territory we have … if each and every race of people have a divine right to its own peculiar life and mode of development on its own appropriate platform, then all violent invasions thereof is a wrong. For we take it, all peoples, and nations and tongues, are equally dear to the great Father.” 16
Meanwhile, Republicans made gains in the North. When Stephen Douglas, the dynamic leader of the Democratic Party, ran for re-election in 1858 to his U. S. Senate seat in Illinois, the Republicans ran attorney Abraham Lincoln against the incumbent. The Lincoln-Douglas debates during the campaign focused on the issue of slavery. Douglas expounded on the merits of popular sovereignty, while Lincoln argued “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Colvill praised Douglas for his role: “Men that believe in the capacity of the people for self-government; who maintain the constitution as it was made by its authors … who keep the line between the powers of the State and Nation distinct and clear; who preach the same doctrine in the North as in the South … They are the true representatives of the Democratic Party.” 17 Colvill’s comment to his readers upon Stephen Douglas’ narrow victory over Lincoln in the Illinois Senate race was: “Good enough” 18
By March 1859, the Democratic Party’s internal dissension caused Colvill to write: “The prospects for the permanent union of the Democratic Party are very bad.” He noted that while Democrats in the Northwest were united in support of Stephen Douglas,
“The greatest danger [to the party] is in the South … the unscrupulous leaders … like the Republicans of the North, care not what may be the consequences of their reckless demagoguism … call upon the Democratic Party to abandon its old non-intervention policy in regard to slavery, and to advocate the direct interference of the Government in favor of slavery in the Territories – and, on the same principle, in the States.” 19
Colvill had little use for President James Buchanan, whose sympathies were closely aligned with pro-slavery Southern Democrats. He wrote in April 1859: “The President is not the party … nor is the Democratic party responsible for the unwise and foolish policy he has seen fit to attempt to carry out.” 20 And in May, Colvill argued:
“There can be but one Democratic platform, and that must be constructed on the old principle of non-interference by the national Government, with slavery, either in the States or Territories. Mr. Buchanan has himself abandoned this principle … The principles of the Kansas-Nebraska bill as enunciated and advocated by Douglas are the only doctrines they will support and any attempt on the part of the convention to construct a platform upon any other basis will be attended with the total defeat and annihilation of the party in this State.” 21
Colvill’s reserved his most vehement attacks on The Sentinel’s editorial page, not for Southern Democrats, but for Republicans. He wrote in the May 21, 1859 edition: “As long as the black Republican party is in power the foreign born citizen will be deprived of the sacred rights which the founders of our glorious republic meant he should enjoy … disenfranchise the foreigner, wherever that rotten black Republican party obtains sufficient power.” In June, Colvill published a column “Who Vote The Republican Ticket in Chicago”, to which Colvill answered for his readers: “ … the black-legs, the brothel keepers, and the whole class of offenders … The loafing and vagrant class of professional street laborers, who are incapable of doing a good day’s work” 22. Later that same month, Colvill offered:
“Black Republicanism is a peculiar and incongruous mixture of Radicalism and Federalism. The former prompting it to prostrate itself at the foot of the negro and the latter leading it to proscribe and shun the foreigner … but while fond of trumpeting to the world its love for the Negro, it feels that it is expedient to hide its hatred to the foreigner … insinuations in regard to the ignorance and incapacity of foreigners in its papers … many of its leaders have turned out to be disguised Know Nothings.” 23
Colvill was quick to publish inconsistencies for his reading public, as when three Chicago Republicans executed the fugitive slave law, captured three runaway slaves from Missouri and returned them to their owner for a substantial reward 24
All attention was focused on the upcoming Democratic National Convention that would take place in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1860. With less than a year before the convention, Democrats across the North were concerned about the split within the party between North and South. Colvill reprinted an excerpt from The New York Times:
“Mr. Douglas consents to be a candidate at Charleston … If the Democratic party at Charleston in convention assembled means to adopt the revival of the African Slave-trade, the extension and protection of slavery in the Territories by Congressional legislation, and the consequent destruction of the doctrine of Popular Sovereignty as integral parts of its platform, then Mr. Douglas will decline to stand on that platform … “
Northern Democrats were in a vise between the Republicans, whom Colvill protested their “… claiming that the power exists in Congress to regulate and make laws in the Territories” and Southern Democrats, whom Colvill noted, demanded Congress interfere “ …. But to protect slavery, not to keep it out.” He foretold the coming Civil War from his perspective:
“The wisdom and justness of the old time-honored Democratic principle of non-interference becomes now beautifully clear … The North outnumbering the South. The South then withdrawing in a body from the present union. The other consequences it is needless to mention – a contest for the territories, a bloody war, the stagnation of all business at the North, the immediate union of Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua with the southern States, into one grand confederacy, and the extension of slavery through all the tropical portions of the Americas.” 25
William Colvill and others were well aware of the active and well-organized Knights of the Golden Circle, whose sole aim was such a grand confederacy. The Knights would play an important role in Texas, in particular, and would not fall from power until the war began.
While cautioning Republicans of the danger of pushing the South away from the Union, Colvill held out hope that Democratic unity would prevail, writing further:
“Happily in the South, as in the North, the attachment to the old Democratic principles still prevails, and that principle is now the only safeguard of our union. For as long as it prevails, it keeps this sectional issue entirely out of the field, leaving it where it equitably and naturally belongs with those who are directly interested – the people of the territories themselves .. The fact that the Democratic party is still united and powerful in the North, will unite and encourage our brethren in the South … Let every Democrat make ready for the battle. Let us see that our conventions make the issue on the true squatter sovereignty platform; that they nominate men who in victory and defeat have always remained true to it …” 26
Colvill knew that this perspective was optimistic, but also knew that it was the only hope of avoiding secession and possible civil war.
Some abolitionists tired of talking. In 1859, John Brown shocked the nation with his attempt to seize the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and incite a slave insurrection in the South. Colvill attacked the: “ … the awful and horrible plot” 27, while Republican newspapers across the north praised Brown for his actions.
Republicans made marked gains in the November 1859 election, causing Colvill to opine: “ … in connection with the late election … give strong indications of a general Republican victory in 1860 … perhaps it would be for the best in the long run, because such a victory would heal up the dissensions in the Democratic party …”. He attempted to rationalize, suggesting of one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination for the Presidency: “W. H. Seward will adopt no policy materially different from what James Buchanan would do if President for the next years. In short that the Republican party with all its blowing is nothing but a humbug.” Perhaps Colvill underestimated the determination of the Republicans to revolutionize the nation.
On December 2, 1859, Federal authorities executed John Brown. Colvill published the details in the Sentinel. He lashed out in his editorial column at the Republican press who:
“ … have almost unanimously denounced his [Brown’s] plans, not as atrocious, but as totally impracticable and visionary. We think that neither the facts in this case, nor the history of similar insurrections in this and other countries, will justify either their sympathies or their conclusions, but on the other hand they do show that in the hands of a master mind like that of John Brown, of stern, unrelenting, bloodthirsty fanaticism, with the means that he had at his command and the state of feeling which this transaction has shown exists in the North – a bloody repetition of the St. Domingo horrors in this country is possible, though not ending as in that case in the extermination of the whites, but of the blacks.” 28
Colvill offered his readers:
“ … another aspect more pleasant and that is the downfall of Republicanism – Black Republicanism. Abolitionism is deprived of the great element of its progress – its insidiousness. It is to be met face to face; to show its own colors … its meaningless, dough face and two-sided planks and phrases … We are glad this John Brown performance has hastened the issue so that abolitionism may be at once and finally disposed of.” 29
In fact, Democrats faced serious internal problems. Colvill wrote of Stephen Douglas:
“There are a few papers scattered over the State, that are endeavoring to create the impression that there are some anti-Douglas men in Minnesota … this opposition to Senator Douglas is by no means serious … we hope that Minnesota in common with all the Northwestern States – a section as yet entirely unrepresented on any national ticket – will by resolutions strongly express their claims that the candidate shall be taken from their midst, and that their great statesman [Douglas] shall be that candidate.” 30
After the Minnesota State Democratic Convention in St. Paul selected Stephen Douglas as its candidate for the Presidency. Colvill wrote: “As for the party, if it can long survive such victories or defeats, it is because an Allwise Providence, that overrules all things for good has ordained the Democratic party in the future as in the past to preserve and perpetuate this union.” 31
Southern Democrats had no intention of letting Douglas become President. On January 11, Alabama Democrats resolved all issues of the Democratic Party “ … to be inferior in dignity and importance to the great question of slavery …” and affirmed that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in the territories, citing the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, a ruling that Minnesotan courts openly disregarded 32. Democratic Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who would later become President of the Confederacy, introduced a series of resolutions in the U. S. Senate on February 2, 1860. Davis’ move, directed against Douglas and his doctrine of popular sovereignty, was intended to make clear that the legislature of a territory could not override the constitutional right of a citizen to own slave property. Southerners increasingly spoke of secession.
At this point, William Colvill, Jr., stalwart defender of popular sovereignty, decided that he had had enough. Colvill was, first and foremost, for the Union. On February 8, 1860, The Sentinel carried a final editorial from William Colvill, which began: “Having sold my interest in the Sentinel to W. W. Phelps, my connection with it is with this number discontinued.” He reminded the readers that he had been subservient to no one and “preached nothing but the pure Democracy.” Colvill made clear the reason for his decision:
“ … I am glad, in view of the coming Charleston Convention and of the doubtful settlement of the great principles of the party, then to be made, now to lay down the pen – for in the case that settlement should be made what events portend, a longer connection with it as a Democratic organ would be neither satisfactory nor honorable. Hoping, however, that such a sad day for the Democracy and our country may never come, and that the Sentinel will continue to represent the views which the Democracy of Goodhue and of the State – when fairly represented – have up to this time maintained, I take my leave.”
The Sentinel and The Republican had continued to fight through the years of Colvill’s editorship. Lucius Hubbard’s paper had little respect for Stephen Douglas, referring to him as “the would-be President” and stating on February 3, 1860 “If it is possible for a man to dive deeper into the dirty pool in which he has been wallowing for so long a time, and come up with a more loathsome condition, we are unable to conceive of a manner in which it can be done”. But Hubbard reprinted Colvill’s farewell in his February 10 edition of The Republican, noting of the editor of its rival paper,
“Mr. Colvill was one of the ablest editors in the State. In resigning his position, that not only do the Democracy lose an earnest and efficient worker, but that the profession numbers one less of its most valuable members. We certainly wish Mr. Colvill success in whatever field of labor he may be engaged.” 33
William Phelps assumed control of the editorial page of the Red Wing Sentinel. Minnesotans had elected Phelps to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1858 upon achieving statehood 34. The Republican asked its readers “Won’t Somebody hold Him!” 35 after Phelps’ first issue. On March 2, 1860, The Republican wrote: “In the Sentinel this week we have one of those fragrant editorials so common in that sheet under its present management …. The new editor is a rare man …” In that same edition, The Republican reported: “A personal encounter took place yesterday between W. W. Phelps, editor of the late Red Wing Sentinel, and Wm. Colvill, Jr., a late incumbent of the same position.” The rival paper indicated that the cause was an editorial by Phelps in which “ … personal allusions were made to Mr. Colvill, to which the latter took exception.” “Neither of the belligerents sustained great personal damage, tough blows were exchanged, and each suffered the loss of some hands-full of hair …. Colvill was hit with a fire-shovel, though the blow was a harmless one …”” The Republican added that “ … we are of the opinion that Colvill had the best of it …”. 36
The fight related to a column written (apparently) by Colvill in the February 24, 1860 edition of The Republican. The column, titled “The Code” and signed with only the pseudonym “Jurisconsultus”, rebutted a criticism by Phelps of the system of legal practice. Colvill, as a lawyer, took exception to the remarks and defended “ … the Code the editor speaks of so flippantly and contemptuously.” 37Phelps responded in the February 29 edition of The Sentinel with an attack on the correspondent as being of “ … a set of dirty dogs …who invariably disguise their personal insignificance by writing over an anonymous signature.” Phelps went further, writing “The pompous vanity of this blundering and brainless ass wo’d become ridiculous in the extreme, if all only could know, how weak and how despised a pettifogger it was that penned that epistle.” 38 Colvill was an imposing figure at six feet six inches and exacted retribution.
There were bigger fights brewing among Democrats with much farther-reaching significance. On April 23, 1860, the much-anticipated National Democratic Convention opened in Charleston. The convention adjourned on May 3 after the delegates of the Deep South withdrew over the issue of slavery in the platform. Meanwhile, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency on May 18. The Democrats attempted to reconvene at Baltimore on June 18, but again adjourned with no unified platform on the 22nd. On the following day, the Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas as their candidate for President, while the Southern Democrats nominated John Breckinridge of Kentucky.
In the course of campaigning for Lincoln, William Seward made a speech in Red Wing 39. When the polls opened in November 1860, Red Wing voted 246 for Lincoln as the next President of the United States and 134 for Douglas. While Douglas showed reasonably well in the Northwest, Lincoln swept the East and the South went for Breckinridge. The split in the Democratic Party allowed Abraham Lincoln to win the election to become President of the United States. In the aftermath, radicals in the South, acknowledging the anti-slavery platform of the Republican Party, called for secession from the Union. The last hope of peaceful resolution vanished in April 1861 when rebel forces fired cannon at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay.
A public meeting was held at the Red Wing Court House on April 19 regarding the formation of a company of local men to become part of the first regiment to be raised in Minnesota. The rallying cry was to preserve the Union. William Colvill, Jr. was among those who addressed the crowd. At the end of the meeting, the call went out for volunteers. Two men rose quickly from the crowd, both determined to claim the honor of being the first to sign. They leaped over the backs of chairs to get to the front of the room. Edwards Welch tripped and his good friend William Colvill was the first to the pen. He signed and handed the pen to Welch, saying “You are next, Ed.” 40 Colvill was later elected captain of what became Company F. Edwards Welch became his lieutenant. William Colvill, Jr., land agent, attorney and newspaper editor, would rise to command the First Minnesota Regiment and gain immortality on the battlefield at Gettysburg.
11530 Landing Road
Eden Prairie, MN 55347
1 Moe, Richard, The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers (Avon Books, 1994), 264-269.
2 Colvill, William, letter to John Batchelder, June 9, 1866, copy in Minnesota Historical Society, original in New Hampshire Historical Society.
3 Lochren, William, “Narrative of the First Regiment”, Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars 1861-1865 (Pioneer Press, 1891), volume 1, 35.
4 Haiber, William Paul, The 1st Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg (Info Devel Press, 1991), 24.
5 Lochren, 35-6.
6 “Colonel William Colvill Answers Final Summons”, Red Wing Daily Republican, June 13, 1905. “Last Tribute to Col. Colvill”, “Tributes to Old Commander of the First Minnesota”, Red Wing Daily Republican, June 14, 1905.
7 Address of Mr. James J. Hill Read At The Ceremonies For Unveiling A Statue of the Late William Colvill, Colonel of the First Regiment of Minnesota Volunteers, in the State Capitol at St. Paul, Minnesota, March 31, 1909, Minnesota Historical Society.
8 Angell, M., Red Wing, Minnesota (Dillon, 1977), 77.
9 Angell, 79.
10 Angell, 77.
11 Angell, 76.
12 Angell, 80. Red Wing Sentinel, August 29, 1857.
13 Angell, 81.
14 Ford, Edwin Hopkins, Southern Minnesota Pioneer Journalism: A Study of Four Newspapers of the 1850’s, in: Minnesota History (March 1946, vol. 27, no. 1), 13.
15 Red Wing Sentinel, December 3, 1859.
16 Red Wing Sentinel, January 30, 1857.
17 Red Wing Sentinel, December 25, 1858.
18 Red Wing Sentinel, January 8, 1859.
19 Red Wing Sentinel, March 26, 1859.
20 Red Wing Sentinel, April 9, 1859.
21 Red Wing Sentinel, May 14, 1859.
22 Red Wing Sentinel, June 4, 1859.
23 Red Wing Sentinel, June 11, 1859.
24 Red Wing Sentinel, August 6, 1859.
25 Red Wing Sentinel, July 16, 1859.
26 Red Wing Sentinel, July 16, 1859.
27 Red Wing Sentinel, October 29, 1859.
28 “John Brown”, Red Wing Sentinel, December 10, 1859.
29 “John Brown”, Red Wing Sentinel, December 10, 1859.
30 Red Wing Sentinel, November 26, 1859.
31 Red Wing Sentinel, January 21, 1860.
32 Green, William D., “Eliza Winston and the Politics of Freedom in Minnesota, 1854-1860”, in: Minnesota History (Fall 2000), 111.
33 “A Change”, Goodhue County Republican, February 10, 1860.
34 Angell, 76.
35 “Won’t Somebody Hold Him!”, Goodhue County Republican, February 10, 1860.
36 “A Jewel of a Fight”, Goodhue County Republican, March 2, 1860.
37 “The Code”, Goodhue County Republican, February 24, 1860.
38 “The Code”, Red Wing Sentinel, February 29, 1860.
39 Rasmussen, C. A., The History of the City of Red Wing, Minnesota (1933), 67.
40 Rasmussen, 70. History of Hamline University (1907), 258.