Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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June is the month many people begin their summer vacation season, and genealogists will be traveling to courthouses, cemeteries, and libraries and heading to family reunions and other historic destinations. This article will illustrate some military history in my area, as the military had a lot to do with the lives of our ancestors.
In 1858 the area of Eastern Washington where I live was beginning to be settled, and the Indians of the area were giving some of the settlers problems. As a result, the army sent Colonel Edward Steptoe to check out the problem and report back. Because Colonel Steptoe was a friend of the Indians, he was surprised when they attacked him near the present day town of Rosalia. He retreated up a steep hill near Rosalia and was later able to escape, with his men, back to the fort near Walla Walla. The hill to which Colonel Steptoe retreated is called Steptoe Peak, today. It has a great view of the surrounding wheat fields.
The army then sent out another force much larger than before, commanded by Colonel George Wright. He defeated the Indians and hung several of the Indian leaders. After that the Indians in Eastern Washington were peaceful.
Washington was so pleased with Colonel George Wright that they promoted him to General and made him commander of all the forces along the West Coast. He was extremely displeased with the assignment, preferring to to fight in the Civil War. However, he did his duty and built several forts along the west coast to protect it from the Confederates and possibly the British if the Confederacy could convince the British to join the South. Years later, both General Wright and his wife died in a shipwreck off the California coast.
Several years ago, I had a chance to visit one of the Civil War forts, Fort Stevens, named for the first Governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens. I was rather surprised there were Civil War forts in this part of the country. Fort Stevens was commissioned in 1863 and deactivated after World War II. The Fort is now an Oregon State Park and as a portion of the educational resources, The Friends of Fort Stevens explain what it was like to serve there and there is a short film of a portion of the history of Fort Stevens.
Fort Stevens enjoys the distinction of being the only military installation in the continental United States to be fired on since the War of 1812. On the night of June 21, 1942, the Fort was the target of a Japanese submarine, which fired 17 shells, causing no damage. The fort did not return the fire. The Friends of Fort Stevens are in the process of restoring one of the guns that was used to protect the coast from the Japanese. See the pictures.
Fort Stevens is located in Clatsop County in Oregon, named for another fort a few miles away, Fort Clatsop. While nothing of the original fort remains, they have reconstructed it using the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I was surprised how small this fort was. The buildings were small and short, but I guess the men then were smaller than now.
In 1899, the Army was looking for a site for a new fort In Eastern Washington, Spokane was interested in getting the fort, and so Fort George Wright was the new fort, just west of Spokane. All the other forts in the area were consolidated into the new one. It served to protect the area till after World War II when it to was decommissioned. Today Spokane Community College takes up most of the area.
Why is this important? A good genealogist néeds to know the history of the area; your ancestor may have been one of the early settlers, or one of the cavalry from the Army. Many from the Army personnel later settled in the area. This year is the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened all the Louisiana Purchase and helped the United States lay claim to the Northwest.
So, if you get a chance to visit an historical area or fort this summer you may learn more about how your ancestors lived.
It is approaching the vacation season. Many of us try to take genealogy vacations, intending to, or hoping to go back another generation or two in the line we are searching. Another kind of genealogy trip would be to go someplace where an ancestor had been and try to look at his or her life as if we were there. I was especially thinking of ancestors who were veterans but others would work also. However, I want to focus on some of my experiences along those lines.
As a youngster, I used to vacation with an aunt who was a teacher. Whatever we did had an educational factor in it. I am thinking of a trip in New Jersey. This day, a cousin and I were with her driving toward her home in Trenton. She stopped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River at a tower. We climbed this and had a great view up and down the river. We saw a section of a canal that was still open with a boat pulled by a mule on it and we learned how these worked to make the river navigable for a longer way . We had also learned that it is was on this site that General Washington had a tower of sorts built in order to spy upon the opposition on the New Jersey side.
We returned to the car and traveled on, crossing the river and starting a drive through Washington's Crossing National Park. We were both old enough so that we had studied the Revolutionary War in school so she didn't go into the basics. We were enjoying the nature that was around us...lots of old trees, green grass and the quietness away from the city. At one point she stopped the car and told us that we were very near to where Washington's troops landed on the New Jersey side. She pointed to a defile near the road that turned east from where we were. She said this was the road that the troops used on their journey that stormy Christmas night on their way to Trenton to battle the British who had Hessian troops there with them. This was no lecture or classroom bit of teaching. My cousin and I wanted to get out and walk along that road. She let us do that. I sensed that he felt as I did. We were back in the 1700s marching with those men even though it was mid-summer. What a feeling! It really made an impression as I still get goose bumps and have that feeling when I am at an historic site.
We finally got back in the car and drove home. I asked some questions about the battle and got some answers. One I asked though she couldn't give a definitive answer to was where did the Hessians surrender? She could only tell us that it was somewhere on State Street. My cousin and I were going to the movies that evening. (Those days there were no thoughts of danger to youngsters walking in the early evening.) We were looking in shop windows on our way along State Street. At one spot where we stopped, I looked down and there was a plaque on the building saying that spot was where the Hessians had surrendered. No movies! We raced back to the house to tell her of our find.
Even as I write this I can remember the sense of exhilaration at that. To my knowledge, I never had an ancestor at the battle of Trenton but to me that didn't matter, I had been with the Army on part of the journey.
Another time, my husband and I were in another city and had some of our grandchildren and their parents with us. There was a National Park commemorating the start of the mills in this area. There were docents (people) dressed in period costumes and really living their parts. The kids were enthralled with the stories they told. Some of the children tried to ask modern day questions only to be told: "I don't know that." Later, at home, I was able to talk to the young people and tell them that their third great grandmother had been one of the mill girls that they had heard about that day. I think a seed was planted that day as both the grandchildren and the parents are more interested in genealogy today.
I feel that if we find where some of our ancestors were in past times, we can tell or show our children or grandchildren about these and make those times come to life for them. The places that have re-enactments of events like that help also. Perhaps we might awaken a budding genealogist by taking some of the younger ones on such a vacation.