Let’s Talk About…Rock Island Arsenal

When our cruise ship was near Davenport, Iowa, I learned about the Rock Island Arsenal. I had heard about the Black Hawk War but had no idea that disputes over ownership of this place sparked that conflict. 

Located on an island in the Mississippi, it was established as a government site in 1816 first as a defensive fort and then, in the 1880s, a government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the U.S. Still in use, and even as being designated as a National Historic Landmark, the arsenal still produces ordinance (bullets), artillery, gun mounts, small arms, aircraft weapons sub-systems, grenade launchers and a host of associated components. Some 250 military personnel work there along with 6000 civilian workers. 

Back to the Black Hawk war.  In his autobiography, Black Hawk wrote: “When we arrived (to our tribal summer camp) we found that the troops had come to build a fort on Rock Island…We did not object, however, to their building their fort on the island, but were very sorry, as this was the best one on the Mississippi, and had long been the resort of our young people during the summer. It was our garden, like the white people have near their big villages, which supplied us with strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, plums, apples and nuts of different kinds.” 

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln served in the Illinois Militia in 1832 in this conflict…..”he never saw action.”

Last but not least, Rock Island holds a Confederate cemetery; nearly 2000 prisoners, including Union Colored Troops who served as guards, are buried there. 

AND, last of all, the Rock Island Arsenal Museum was established on July 4, 1905. It is the second oldest US Army Museum after the West Point Museum. 

Think of all the Jeopardy trivia you just learned!  🙂 

Let’s Talk About…. Pirates On The Mississippi?

When you imagine a pirate, Johnny Depp might come to mind. The Mississippi River pirates were real but they weren’t as colorful as Johnny depicted.  Between about 1806 and 1844, there certainly were pirates prowling on the Mississippi River. Any of you remember this Walt Disney movie:

I had no idea there were pirates on the Mississippi and when the ship’s education guy told about these fellows, I was really surprised. I never learned about this before! River pirates have operated along rivers all over the world. Quoting from Wikipedia:

 “American river piracy in the late 18th and mid-19th century was primarily concentrated along the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys. River pirates usually operated in isolated frontier settlements which were sparsely populated areas lacking the protection of civil authority and institutions. These pirates resorted to a variety of tactics depending on the number of pirates and the size of the boat crews involved, including deception, concealment, ambush and assaults in open combat near natural obstacles and curiosities, such as shelter caves, islands, river narrows, rapids, swamps and marshes. River travelers were robbed, captured and murdered, and their livestock, slaves, cargo and flatboats, keelboats and rafts were sunk or sold downriver.

Did your ancestor float down the Ohio or Mississippi Rivers and were they attacked by pirates?

What a story!

Let’s Talk About…John Deere & Spam

 No matter where in the world you live, and certainly in America, you’d recognize the “Nothing Runs Like A Deere” logo. 

John Deere was born in 1804 in Vermont and moved to Illinois in 1836 and began manufacturing tools. He made pitchforks, shovels and plows. In those days, a product was not made until ordered, which was a very slow business model. By 1857, the company was manufacturing a variety of farm equipment; that year their sales reached 1120 implements per month. John Deere as an American business icon was off and running.  

There are three main John Deere museums and a big selling item these days are the John Deere tractor toys.

SPAM is another iconic midwestern product. I always thought the letters stood for “Special Processed American Meat,” meat that was portable and sent to the troops in Europe during WWII.
SPAM is a brand of cooked pork introduced by Hormel in 1937. The origin of the name is not fully documented (so maybe I’m right?).  SPAM was a lifesaver to U.S. soldiers in Europe because of the difficulty in having fresh meat for the soldiers on the front lines. Some 150,000,000 pounds of SPAM was purchased by the military before war’s end. Nowadays SPAM can be found on grocery shelves in 41 countries.

When was the last time you had fried SPAM? SPAM and eggs? A SPAM sandwich??

Let’s Talk About….Teddy’s Bear

There is so much history swirling around the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi! Doubt one could have time to read all the books that have been published about this river town through the decades. One story concerns Teddy Roosevelt. 

TR (1858-1919), was a politician, statesman, soldier, conservationist and naturalist and was America’s 26th president. He was a cousin to Franklin D. Roosevelt. TR’s biggest love was anything outdoors and he especially loved the sport of hunting. Hoping to get some good publicity, Mississippi’s governor, Andrew H. Longino, invited Teddy on a bear hunting trip in 1902 near Onward, Mississippi.

The hunting party went off in great spirits, but after several days they had not yet even seen a bear. One of Roosevelt’s assistants, led by Holt Collier, a born slave and former Confederate cavalryman, corned and tied a black bear to a tree. They summoned Roosevelt and suggested he shoot it. Viewing this as extremely unsportsmanlike, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear.

The story of “Teddy’s Bear” flashed quickly across the country and everyone loved the tale. A political cartoon of the day shows Roosevelt in his Rough Riders garb refusing to shoot a loveable-looking little bear. 

This image inspired a couple in Brooklyn, who were making stuffed toys, write to Roosevelt asking his permission to make “Teddy’s Bear.” Hearing a yes reply, the couple set to making stuffed little bears and nowadays teddy bears are everywhere. Fun to think the worldwide popularity of teddy bears can be traced back to Theodore’s fateful hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902.

And that’s the rest of the story…………….. this is an original Teddy’s Bear, now in the Smithsonian.

Let’s Talk About…. Weyerhaeuser, IA TO WA

We here in the heavily timbered land of the Pacific Northwest have certainly seen and heard the name of Weyerhaeuser Company and know it has something to do with the timber and lumbering industry. We’d never have guessed that Frederick Weyerhaeuser (1834-1914) began his company in the Mississippi River town of Davenport, Iowa, but he did.

The company was founded in 1900 by Frederick Weyerhaeuser who had emigrated to the U.S. from Germany when he was 18. He worked first as a laborer in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he met and married Elisabeth Bladel. In 1856, the young couple moved to Rock Island, Illinois (across the river from Davenport). Weyerhaeuser found work in a sawmill and lumber yard, eventually becoming foreman and arduously began saving his money. Weyerhaeuser was a workaholic and by the mid-1860s he had purchased the mill and was buying pine tracts in Wisconsin, expanding into Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

By 1903, Weyerhaeuser owned more than 1.5 million acres of land in Washington even though he kept his residence in St. Paul. He was survived by seven children; his son, John P. Weyerhaeuser, succeeded him as president of the company. Demands for lumber during World War I led to a substantial increase in the company’s business. The military demand for lumber was so high that the Army sent soldiers to work as lumberjacks in Weyerhaeuser’s forests to increase production. By 1941, industry executives joined John P. Weyerhaeuser and Washington Gov. Arthur Lang in dedicating the nation’s first tree farm near Montesano.

And it all started with a hard-working German immigrant in a small Midwestern town.

(Thanks to www.historylink.org for the information on Weyerhaeuser.)  If you want all the details of his life, click to Google.

Let’s Talk About….Nuns & Can Buoys

Here I stand between a nun buoy and a can buoy. I knew buoys (whether ocean, lake or river) came in red and green and that was about it. The plaque below reads:

“Buoys are floating navigational aids that mark channels, hazards and prohibited areas and also help navigators locate their position. Buoys are coded by color, shape and numbers. They are moored to the bed of a waterway by chain or rope to concrete sinkers. Nun buoys are red with cone-shaped tops. They mark the right side of a waterway when entering a channel from the sea. Nun buoys carry even numbers.  Can buoys are green and are square or shaped like a large can. They mark the left side when entering a channel from seaward. Can buoys carry odd numbers.”

Capt. Kelly explained all this to us (a rapt audience) and then with a smile told of how buoys get “whacked” by ships or barges and float loose……… to end up on the sand or even up in the trees during high water. He said at one point there was a program for folks to rescue and return for a bonus these stranded buoys. “But soon that program had to be abandoned,” he said, “because the buoys were disappearing from the river.” (Think about it. 🙂

Let’s Talk About….Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain: One Great American

(Sign on lamp post in downtown Hannibal; it reads:  “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” )

It was a really, really windy day when our cruise ship ported at Hannibal, Illinois. I put on every jacket and shirt  I had and out I went………could not miss the opportunity to visit Mark Twain. 

I enjoyed the Mark Twain museums (there were two), touring the Thatcher home and just trying to “feel” being there. 

I shall not go into his biography for I’m guessing that’s pretty well known. One of his favorite homilies was that he was born in 1835 when Halley’s Comet could be seen and held onto life until 1910 so he could go out with it.

His personal life was a rather sad affair.  He married Olivia Langdon, who died six years before him. Their first child, Landon Clemons, died at age one. Their first daughter, Olivia Susan, died at age 23. Next child was Jane who passed the year before her father. Only Clara was left, living to 1962. Her daughter, Nina, never married, so Samuel Clemons has no direct descendants.

I never had read any of his books (yes, where have I been all my life?) so bought a book containing five of his best known stories. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a revolutionary book that still holds much relevance today. The powerful friendship of young Huck and runaway slave Jim highlighted many of the great racial injustices of the past and has astounded generations of readers the world over. It was a darn good read.

Gotta love some of his quotes:

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”

“When in doubt‚ tell the truth.”

“If you tell truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

Let’s Talk About….. Elvis!

In Memphis, in a pouring rain, I went to see Elvis. The statue above is in the Memphis Visitors’ Center.  Then the bus took us to Graceland.

Elvis bought Graceland in the spring of 1957 when he was just 22 years old, paying $100,000 for the mansion and grounds. It was on the outskirts of Memphis then but surely is not today. Touring the mansion today is stepping back into a “day with Elvis” for the rooms are kept true to when he was there. (Want to see the rooms? Ask Grandma Google.) Elvis died there on August 16, 1977; he was only 42.

Under the watchful eyes of Priscilla, the upstairs of the mansion is kept for the family to use and they do still come and have big family celebrations around the big dining room table that fills the room. Elvis and Priscilla had one child, a daughter, Lisa Marie, born in 1968. Lisa Marie had been married four times:  (1) Danny Keough; had Danielle Riley and Benjamin Storm with him; (2)  Michael Jackson;  (3) Nicolas Cage;  (4) Michael Lockwood; had twin girls Harper and Finley with him. Lisa Marie’s only son, Benjamin, died by suicide in 2020 and is buried in the family cemetery on the grounds behind Graceland. Lisa Marie died in January 2023 of cardiac arrest and will be buried there too. 

A tour of Graceland is to walk through several separate museums……… one for his Army career, one for his motorcycles, one displaying all the many costumes he wore, one for all his gold records, one for his growing up years and more. It was a $125.00 extravagance to visit Graceland but I’m glad I went. Have you been there? Do go if you’re in Memphis!

Let’s Talk About…Tums For The Tummy

Who hasn’t taken Tums for the tummy?  On our bus ride from the boat to the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, and not in the best-looking part of town, we passed a 5-story red brick factory building……. the home to Tums for nearly 100 years.  Everything comes from somewhere and Tums come from St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s a bit from their website:

Insomniac snacks, car crashes, tax audits, pink slips… Imagine all the gushes of gastric acid those Tums have neutralized. The brand leads the industry, selling more than 60 million bottles or rolls a year—almost double the total of its second-place rival, Rolaids. And 99.9 percent of those Tums, more than 6 billion tablets, are made right here. (The .1 percent? Wrafton Laboratories in England.)

Now you’re ready to be a Jeopardy champion!

Here’s another bit of trivia for you: 

When did hurricanes start getting named?  It was back in 1950 when the U.S. Weather Bureau began using the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie). In 1953, women’s names were substituted and in 1979 the World Meteorological Organization switched to a list that included men’s names. Now you know.

Minding the many, many vessels going up and down the Mississippi River is a huge challenge. There would be total chaos were it not for rules. I learned about two interesting websites to learn more about these rules and thought you might want to check them out too. First was www.MarineVesselTraffic.com. From an opening menu, you do a search for a specific ship (where it is), sea ports, military ships and planes tracking, container ports, cruise ships and more. Quite interesting if that’s your thing.

I also learned that while the U.S. Corps of Engineers is charged with keeping the river open and safe for traffic, the U.S. Coast Guard has charge of the ships. The National Vessel Movement Center is a fairly new organization, functioning since 2001. At this website, you can learn the rules and regulations concerning the ships using the Mississippi River (and they fill volumes). 

Let’s Talk About …… New for 2023

Please read clear to the end for my Big Announcement!

I knew that my maternal grandmother, Clara Ann Joseph, was born on 14 Nov 1894 in the Mississippi River town of Ivy Landing, Illinois. By 1900, the Joseph family was living several miles inland which gives a big clue as to way I could never find Ivy Landing on any map. It must have surely washed away! In those early days, men’s attempts to control the Mighty Mississippi were puny at best. It was well into the 1890s that the Corps of Engineers began building dams to (hopefully) better control the river.

In late October 2022 I tool a cruise down the entire length of the Mississippi River. I was very surprised to see miles and miles and miles of river bank looking much like the picture above. Was this where Ivy Landing was? I’ll never know for sure but I’ll bet it was a tiny town back in the trees along a stretch of river bank just like this.

Now for my big announcement:  On this recent cruise, I kept my eyes and ears open to learn everything I could about the Mississippi River and the history of states along the river, the Heartland of America. Polling several genealogy friends, and getting their thumbs up, for the foreseeable future I will be sharing much of what I learned about America’s history. One highlight was that I got to visit Graceland and see Elvis!! Stay tuned………………. Come learn some U.S. history with me!