Category Archives: history

On the Sioux Trail: Battle of Acton

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, Part XII:

Company B of the Ninth Minnesota, under the command of Captain Richard Strout, left Minneapolis on 26 August 1862. Their mission was to head to Glencoe, Minn to “protect settlers from Dakota attacks”. Of the 75 men in Company B, one third were new recruits, and the rest were “citizen soldiers” out of Minneapolis. They were not hardened veterans.

War had been ignited just nine days before, when five settlers were killed by four young Dakota warriors. Tensions had been brewing for decades, and the killing in Acton Township blew up a powder keg. Captain Strout and Company B headed out into this maelstrom.

While I was out looking for Ness Church with a C-to-C sponsor earlier this summer, we stopped by the marker near where Company B met the Dakotas.

The Company found Glencoe uninhabited, so they returned to Forest City. On 1 September, they spent the night in Acton Township, camping next to the Robinson Farm, where the war began. The Forest City Home Guard, while on patrol, encountered 150 Dakota warriors. Three scouts were sent out to warn Captain Strout of the threat.

The scouts found Company B, and told Strout of the Dakota party. Sentries were placed about the camp, and the men prepared for what seemed like an inevitable fight. At this point, the Company realized that a huge blunder had been made at Fort Snelling. Most of the ammunition they brought was .62 caliber, yet they all had .59 caliber muskets. The men set out with 20 rounds of the proper ammunition each.

Company B, led by the three (now exhausted scouts), made a run for Forest City. Within two miles of their start, the Company met up with a party of Dakotas, and shots were fired. Two soldiers were killed, and many more were wounded. It became apparent almost immediately, that the Dakota had Company B surrounded. Accounts have Dakota numbers at anywhere from 150 to 300. Strout divided his men into four equal groups, and faced them in four directions. Their wagons were placed in the middle. A.H. Rose, a citizen soldier, later stated, “I had never fired a gun before the battle, but they showed me how to load, and I pointed my gun at the Indians, shut my eyes and pulled the trigger.”

Strout ordered his front group to fix bayonets, and charge the Dakota warriors. The rest of the Company followed. Strout knew that they would never make Forest City, so they tried to get to Hutchinson. It was now a running battle.

As the wagons rolled, the men would fire, run, stop, reload, and repeat. Wounded men were placed into the wagons, and supplies were thrown out. The men of Company B were shocked to see the Dakota warriors stop and pick up the discarded supplies. The battle went on for eight miles, over a period of two hours. The Dakota pressed the Company, but made no real attempt to overtake it. Eventually, the Dakota stopped pursuing the Company, and Strout and his men made it to Hutchinson. The Company B losses were 3 dead, and 18-24 wounded. Dakota losses are unknown.

The next day, the Dakotas attacked the town of Hutchinson, but the small stockade provided adequate security for those who sought it. A few settlers who did not seek the safety of the stockade, were killed. The town was plundered and several buildings were burned.

The men of Company B stayed that winter in Hutchinson. Three more died during that time of wounds sustained in the Battle of Acton. The remaining soldiers were mustered into the regular army and sent to fight the Civil War in the fall of 1863.

Hutchinson Stockade Marker

Killed during the Battle of Acton: Alvah Getchell, George Gideon, Edwin Stone.

Died from wounds sustained in battle: Frank Beadle, Abner Bennett, N.E. Weeks.


On the Sioux Trail: Ness Church

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862; Part XI

Ness Church, Litchfield, Minnesota; in 2020

On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota warriors killed five settlers near Acton, Minnesota. The killings would ignite the war between the Dakotas’ and the United States military, but tensions had been brewing long before that August day in 1862. The bodies of those five settlers would be brought, to what is now Litchfield, and buried at Ness Church.

I visited the church and the surrounding cemetery with one of C-to-C’s sponsors, when I was back in Minnesota this past spring.

Ness Monument to the fallen settlers

In the back corner of the cemetery, close to the rows of corn, stands a monument. Buried underneath, in one grave, are the first five victims of the U.S. -Dakota War: Robinson Jones, Viranus Webster, Howard Baker, Ann (Baker) Jones, and Clara Wilson.

The Ness Monument was erected on 13 September 1878, by the State of Minnesota. It is the third oldest monument in the state.

The original Ness Church, circa 1858

In 1970, the church & cemetery were listed officially, as a Minnesota Historical Site.

The church was founded by Ole Halverson Ness and his wife Margit, who arrived in the area in 1856. Ole Ness was a member of the Acton burial party.

Also buried in the cemetery is Andreas Olson, another victim of the U.S. -Dakota War. Olson was killed on 22 September 1862.

Historic Ness Church

The current church was built by settlers in 1874, a dozen years after the start of the U.S. – Dakota War. The church is said to be haunted by both Sioux Indians and the five settlers, in particular the young girl, Annie. The church historical society denies any haunting, although that has not stopped self-proclaimed ghost hunters from breaking into the church.

I witnessed no paranormal activity when I was there, but I did find the cemetery to be a very solemn place.

Camera for B&W photos: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400



Klondike or Bust

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SS Excelsior – 28 July 1897

 


Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument

The Return to Mount Kennedy

Connecting Generations through ice & snow:

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After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the people of Canada wanted to honor the slain president.  In November 1964, the Canadian government, following the suggestion of famed mountaineer, photographer and cartographer, Bradford Washburn, elected to name an unclimbed peak in the St Elias Mountain Range, Mount Kennedy.

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RFK on Mount Kennedy

The mountain lies 145 miles from Whitehorse, YT, within Kluane National Park, and less than 10 miles from the Alaska panhandle.  Mount Kennedy forms a triangle with Mount Alverstone and Mount Hubbard.  At the time of the dedication, the mountain was the tallest (13,944 ft) unclimbed peak in the St Elias range.

National Geographic put together a team to make the first ascent of Mount Kennedy in 1965.  The team was led by Jim Whittaker, who had been the first American to climb Mount Everest, and was made up of mostly experienced mountaineers.  Also making the climb: Bobby Kennedy, to honor his fallen brother.

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Jim Whittaker & Robert Kennedy on the summit

On 24 March 1965, the climbers made for the summit.  This was Kennedy’s first taste of mountaineering.  To add to the tension, RFK was no fan of heights.  The other climbers insisted that politics was far more dangerous than climbing mountains, which would prove prophetic.

Crossing the Cathedral Glacier, Kennedy fell into a crevasse.  Luckily, it was a narrow one, and he only went in to the waist, and quickly scrambled out.  The final run to the summit is the most risky, as the climber has to traverse a narrow ledge with a sheer one thousand foot drop.

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Photos credit: Whitehorse Star

Jim Whittaker and Bobby Kennedy would become good friends on the climb, a friendship that would last until Kennedy’s death.  Whittaker would name one of his sons after the U.S. Senator.

50 Years Later:

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The Whittaker Brothers

Fifty years after the original ascent of Mount Kennedy, the two sons of Jim Whittaker wanted to honor their father and his friend Robert Kennedy.  They decided to climb the mountain themselves.

Leif Whittaker is an experienced climber like his father, but Bobby Whittaker had more experience in Seattle’s Grunge Scene than summiting mountains.  Christopher Kennedy, the son of RFK,  would join the Whittakers on the expedition.

Return to Mount Kennedy is the documentary about the two ascents.  The footage from the original climb is pretty impressive to see.

I saw a screening of the documentary prior to the Coronavirus outbreak.  It was put on by REI, the outdoors store, which had Jim Whittaker as its early CEO.

The documentary is available on several streaming platforms.  The original National Geographic story can be found in the July 1965 edition of the magazine.

Trailer: Return to Mount Kennedy


Apollo 13: April 17, 1970

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The recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, near Samoa in the Pacific Ocean; Photo credit: US Navy

The command module, Odyssey, was the only module capable of reentering the earth’s atmosphere.  Apollo 13’s crew moved back into Odyssey, then jettisoned Aquarius.  They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 142 hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds from the time of liftoff.

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Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell aboard the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima

Fred Haise remained in the astronaut rotation after Apollo 13, and was the backup mission commander for Apollo 16.  Following Apollo 16, Haise transferred over to the Space Shuttle program.  He retired from NASA in 1979.

Jack Swigert was selected as the command module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint U.S. – Soviet mission.  Swigert left NASA in 1977, and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1982.  Swigert died in December of that same year.

Jim Lovell is one of three men to have flown to the moon twice, but he never walked on its surface.  Lovell accumulated 715 hours in space, and watched 269 sunrises from space.  Lovell, along with Haise and Swigert hold the record for the farthest distance humans have traveled from earth.  He retired from the U.S. Navy and Space Program in 1973.

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Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum

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Apollo 13: April 14, 1970

In the early morning hours of April 14, the Apollo 13 crew maneuvered their crippled craft into a free-return trajectory around the moon and back towards earth.  Radio contact was lost with Apollo 13 that evening, as the spacecraft passed behind the moon.

Apollo 13, the mission that was supposed to be the third lunar landing, came within 164 miles of the moon’s surface at its closest.  The mission set a then record distance from earth at 249,205 miles.

The above video was put together by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  It uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to recreate the view that Apollo 13 had as it passed over the far side of the moon.

As Apollo 13 headed for home, oxygen supplies and cooling water remain in good shape. The astronauts had reduced their water intake to 6 ounces per day.  Electricity demand had been reduced by 80%.

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Apollo13’s “mailbox”

Aquarius was not designed to carry three astronauts, and its carbon dioxide filters could not keep up with what the crew was putting into the LM.  The filters from the command module did not fit Aquarius, so NASA engineers on the ground were forced to quickly design a makeshift adapter.  The setup was dubbed “the mailbox”.  All that mattered, was that it worked.


Apollo 13: April 13, 1970

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The damaged service module; Photo credit: NASA

The launch and following day, April 12 went perfectly for the Apollo 13 crew. On the evening of the 13th, the astronauts did a routine pressurization of the lunar module Aquarius.   Suddenly, a loud explosion was heard, and all three crew members scrambled into the command module Odyssey to examine the instrument panels.

Haise then contacted Houston:

Haise: Okay Houston-

Lovell: I believe we’ve had a problem here.

Mission control: This is Houston. Say again please.

Lovell: Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.

The service module had two cryogenic oxygen tanks, and one of them had dropped to zero pressure.  These two tanks, along with the cryogenic hydrogen tanks fed the spacecraft’s fuel cells, which in turn, powered the generation of electrical power, the oxygen for breathing and drinking water.

Aquarius became the crew’s lifeboat.  The LM was designed for only two men, so it was a cramped living situation, and now all thoughts of a third moon landing were scrapped.  As the Apollo 13 crew moved into Aquarius, they were 20 hours from the moon.

 


Apollo 13

11 April 1970:

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The launch of Apollo 13 from Cape Kennedy, Florida

Fifty years ago today, the crew of Apollo 13 was launched from Cape Kennedy, pushed along by the massive Saturn V.  Just 2-1/2 hours from launch, the S IVB third stage reignited, providing the final push towards the moon.

Apollo 13’s trajectory was so accurate, the first planned course correction was cancelled.  A return to the moon’s surface was looking good.

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The crew of Apollo 13: James Lovell, commander; Jack Swigert, command module pilot; Fred Haise, lunar module pilot. Photo credit: NASA