Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mountain Men: America's Early Explorer

In the annals of American frontier history Jedediah Smith was, along with Lewis and Clark, arguably one of the main individuals who opened the trail for America's westward expansion. Like fellow long-distance traveler, Jim Beckwourth, the subject of an earlier post, Smith was one of the most widely traveled of the mountain men.

Early Days

Smith began his wanderings as a 23 year old volunteer with the American Fur Company in 1822. It was companies like this that gave many mountain men of the 1800's their start.

In 1822 Jedediah found himself along with his fellow trappers fighting for their lives in what was to become known as the Arikaras massacre. The Arikaras, (aka: Arikarees), were a western plains Indian tribe that claimed 13 of the trappers lives during this fight. Smith and expedition leader, General Ashley, were among the survivors.

Later Exploits

This experience, however, did not deter Smith from pushing deeper into the newly acquired region known as the Louisiana Purchase territory. He would travel this land extensively and ultimately venture in British (Oregon) and Mexican (California) lands. (See map for details.)

Smith's Legacy

It is believed that Jedediah Smith met his end at the hands of a Comanche hunting party who saw any intrusion into their lands as grounds for death. While the details are still sketchy, Smith's adventuring spirit clearly opened new overland routes for Americans from the east to travel to the far western reaches of the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase lands.

In fact, one route well known to southern Californians today is Interstate Highway 15. This is the highway used today by travelers from Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego to reach Las Vegas in southern Nevada. Smith's route from Utah to the Mission San Gabriel (the mission exists to this day) is closely followed by the current interstate route through the Mojave desert northeast of the L.A. Basin.

More on Jedediah Smith in future posts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Native American Culture is Alive and Well on the Powwow Trail

American Indian tribal groups hold powwows every year all over the United States and Canada from roughly March through December.

These events hearken back to celebration ceremonies held long before Europeans made contact with Native peoples. As such, powwows are a window into Native Americans spiritual beliefs, expressions of joy, grief and recognition.

An excellent example of a powwow will be hosted by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians from September 23rd - 25 th in Cabazon, CA.

Called the "2011 Morongo Thunder and Lightning Powwow", the event will be held on the impressive Morongo Casino grounds about 60 miles east of the Los Angeles Basin (just north of the I-10 freeway).

It's approximately 20 minutes northeast of Palm Springs...making it easily accessible. (Photo: Morongo Band of Mission Indians)

It's an open event so all visitor are welcomed!

What is a Powwow?

The American Indians and their Canadian cousins have a long history of gathering for various types of celebrations. These included ceremonies honoring the bravery of warriors and recognition of the battles they fought, events that created an opportunity of social interaction with other tribal groups and important religious/cultural observances.

The term is believed to have come from Rhode Island's Narragansett tribe's word for a spiritual leader (i.e. a "pau wau"). When meetings we're held with Europeans, new to America's East Coast native peoples, spiritual leaders we typically present. The Europeans hearing this term apparently took it to mean the meeting itself and not a designation for those tribal dignitaries in attendance.

In any case, the Europeans began using this term broadly to describe any native meeting or celebration. It is now the common term in use across the U.S. and Canada.

It's Not Just a Dance...It's a Pageant!

Today's powwow has moved far beyond just a local tribal get-together (although these are certainly still held
for tribal members).

As the various "drums" ( the collective term for those who sing and simultaneously play the drums) take turns performing for the "Grand Entry" portion of the event, all of the competitive dancers make their way into the arena.

A Grand Entry is usually held twice a day...once in the early afternoon after lunch (about 1:00 PM) and again after the dinner break in the early evening (around 7:00 PM). (The times are commonly announced at the powwow and publicized in event flyers).

Between the dramatic drumming, the high falsetto call-and-response singing and dazzling regalia of the dancers moving in time to the drum, the scene can quickly overwhelm the eyes and ears of the uninitiated visitor.

At larger powwows, like the Morongo event, the arena floor can be filled to capacity and become a shimmer of color and movement. (Photo: Press Telegram)

It is truly an inspiring and invigorating spectacle...highly worth experiencing in one's life!

Originally, each tribe used the styles created by their own members. But, as interaction among the tribal groups increased dances, songs and drum patterns where shared and adopted from other tribal groups.

Today, the dances, songs and drumming are typically based on the plains Indians' styles...representing both northern and southern plains styles.

All ages and genders participate in dances and in today's powwow world these are often "judged" competitions.
The winners of each category will usually receive either money or some other reward for being the top performer in their particular age, gender and style category.

Examples of age categories include: tiny tots, junior boys and girls, men and women's groups and seniors (both men and women).. The dance categories range from the Men's "Fancy Dance", "Northern Traditional", "Southern Straight", and "Grass Dance" styles to Women's "Jiggle Dress", " Northern Traditional" and "Fancy Shawl" dance name a few.

And, for good measure powwows will include opportunities for, not only the competitive dancers to perform but, for anyone attending to join in the dance. This occurs when "intertribal" dances are announced...which punctuate the formal dance competitions.

Then dancers dressed in their finest regalia, along with any attendee desiring to join the throng on the dance floor, can make their way around the arena using their best dance step. (Photo: Dallas

In addition to the powwow ceremonies, there will are vendors of every sort. Their offerings include: jewelry, clothing, artwork, pottery and a host of food options.

See you on the Powwow Trail!

So, if you're in Southern California during this event come and visit for an exciting experience of America's early heritage that's still alive today.

If you live elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, google for a schedule of the next powwow in your local area (also see: the "500 Powwows" website).

If you are outside of North America, look for a powwow that coincides with your next trip to North America.

You'll be glad you did.

(Note: Post information obtained from various sources).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Palms Springs West Fest & Rodeo

American Western traditions are alive and of all places....Palm Springs, CA. Long known as a haven for celebrities and members of the rich and famous, Palm Springs actually has an even longer history as a western, desert town. Acknowledging that history, Palm Springs will play host to a weekend long event (March 24 - 27) called West Fest. This will include: a Celebrity Autograph Party, Native American Village, a Mountain Man Encampment, carnival rides, a Gene Autry Film Festival, live western, music shows, Mexican charro (cowboy) riding performances and vendors of all name a few.

The crown to all of this will be the Frank Bogert Memorial Rodeo covering three days of the event (i.e. March 25 - 27). West Fest will be held at various locations around town.

Additional events include: Cowboy Mounted Shooting, a Western Design Expo, the True Glitz Western Style Retrospective and the Bogert BBQ Showdown. Palm Springs can be reached by traveling on I-10 east of Los Angeles. Then follow the signs into town. West Fest is located on a 25 acre site off Avenida Caballeros near the Palm Springs Convention Center.

(** The information and dates in this posting were found in various sources including the Palm Springs Life Desert Guide, March 2011).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Seattle's Space Needle: A Nod to the Future from the Past

Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London and the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, Seattle's Space Needle serves as the city's definitive landmark. Seen in numerous location shots, movies and t.v. shows, this space age structure pointed the way to a futuristic building style that has since been used by such buildings as Las Vegas' Stratophere casino.

History of the Needle

The Space Needle was the dream of the Seattle World Fair's chairman, Edward Carlson and architect John Graham who had recently finished a commission to design a structure that would house a restaurant for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The theme of the fair was life in the 21st Century. The Needle served as the most visible example of the fair's theme. It was Graham's idea to create the saucer-shaped top structure. He also envisioned the Needle's revolving restaurant based on a similar design he had used for a restaurant in the Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu, Hawaii

The Needle stands approximately 605 feet (184 m) and 138 feet (42 m) wide. Roughly equivalent to a 60 story building, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when first built. It was designed to withstand earthquakes below 9 on the Richter Scale, as well as, category 5 hurricane winds. In addition, the Needle has 25 lighting rods to protect it from lightning strikes.

What's in the Needle?

Although it may look like the top of the Space Needle would serve only a single function, there are acually several components to the structure. There is an observation deck at the top level of the structure, a gift shop and the rotating Sky City restaurant featuring regional Pacific Northwest cuisine on the next level. All of which offers a 360 degree view of Seattle and its iconic surroundings.

From the very top of the saucer the newest addition to the Needle, the Legacy Light (aka the Skybeam) an 85 million candle power beam of light, is aimed straight up towards the sky. It's illuminated several times a year to commerate national holidays and special events in Seattle.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle in 43 seconds on elevators that travel 10 mph .

Travel Routes to Seattle

If not flying, Seattle can be reached from the south via I-5 which runs from the U.S./Mexico border at San Diego north into Canada. It can be reached from the east via either I-80 or I-90.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Alamo is under attack, again. This time by us!

The next time you're traveling in Texas, take a trip to San Antonio. And, by all means take a stroll along the River Walk and see the many sights that San Antonio...that old but modern south west city...has to offer. But, to make your trip extra special...see the Alamo and make it a pilgrimage!

Known the world over as an icon of both the State of Texas and the United States, San Antonio's historic Alamo is once again facing attack. However, this time it's not from an opposing foreign army. This time the attackers are contemporary domestic commercial interests.

The Nature of the Attack

This is the result an attempt to use the precious urban space that now surrounds what modern day visitors know as the Alamo. The original site included not only the mission church but also a number of other structures that surrounded what is now Alamo Plaza. This would have consisted of barracks for the soldiers, a convent for the nuns who helped the padres attend to the faithful and a granary among others.

While today's plaza basically outlines the original mission grounds, the majority of the buildings and walls that ringed the site have all disappeared over time. In their place has sprung a number of restaurants and curio shops that rely on tourism to pay their way. The plaza itself is a park-like setting which allows people to walk to and around the old mission.

The Alamo after the Battle

After the battle of 1836, where the legends of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and Colonel William Travis were made, the Alamo was abandoned as a site for religious practice and fell under the purview of the U.S. Army. It was during this period (i.e. 1850) that the distinctive rounded hump was added to the front top of the church. Prior to this (and, at the time of the battle) the entire roof line was straight.

In 1883, the Catholic Church sold the Alamo mission building to the State of Texas. By 1905, the State also acquired the adjacent Convento (aka Long Barrack) and granted the Daughters of the Republic of Texas custody of of both structures. In addition to its role as an American icon and tourist beacon, various Alamo buildings served as a warehouse, hotel, general store and eventually the site of a government post office.

The Alamo's Future?

The good news is that various groups have an interest in the fate of the Alamo. These range from the federal and state government to officials of the City of San Antonio, local businesses, various historians and preservationist and certainly the original custodians the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).

All of these groups have a vision of how best to preserve the Alamo. Unfortunately, they don't all share the same vision. Some believe there are adequate measures in place to protect the key icons of the site...the mission and the convent. Others would like to see some level of historic reconstruction that would restore more of the original site.

These issues will probably be debated for some time to come. For now, the history traveler should make this trip as soon as possible.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Are You A History Traveler?

Here's a quick way to find out.

When traveling, do you ever wonder how and why the people living in a given area moved there? How the characteristic architecture of a community was determined? What economic forces determined the types of work found in the area? What is the dominant culture of the people of the region? Is it native to the area or the result of migration? What arts and crafts are to be found? What language is predominantly spoken and are there regional variations of the language?

Simply put, if you are at all curious about the who, what, why, when, where and how of a region or travel destination...then, my friend, you are a history traveler!

A History Traveler Defined

A history traveler is not the person who wants to only lay in the sun on the beach or poolside, shop til they drop, eat solely at the trendiest restaurants and return home with the standard tourist pictures...enjoyable as that kind of trip can be.

The history traveler wants a bit more. They want to not only enjoy the destination but also learn how it came into existence. Who the people are and what their culture considers important. In other words, the history traveler wants to look beneath the surface of a destination and understand more about the locale through it's people, culture and history.

This Journal is for You

So, welcome to a journal dedicated to delving into the historical aspects of travel destinations around the world. It's also a place where you can share those interesting facts that you have learned that other history travelers would love to learn.

So, please become a subscriber and join the history traveler community!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mountain Men: America's Early Long Distance Travelers

The American mountain man defined the idea of long distance, long-term travel for their generation. While many mountain men went unknown in history, there were several who gained a level of renown that continues until today.

Men like John Coulter, Joseph Walker, Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith are examples of early western travelers whose reputations are imprinted on the American psyche. One of the better examples of these trail blazers is James P. (Jim) Beckwourth. Lesser known today, he was a legend in his own time.

Jim Beckwourth's Story

Beckwourth's tales were recounted by many in the middle 1800's and often considered merely outlandish boasts. However, he was credible enough to have found an alternative route for travelers from the east to reach California through the Sierra Nevada. His trail proved to be an easier path than the one further south taken by the ill-fated Donner party.

The Donner's wagon train followed today's I-80 over some of the highest elevations in the Sierra. Beckwourth's path is closely followed by Hwy-70 where it intersects with the Hallelujah Junction on I-395 and heads west through Portola and on to Chico in California's central valley.