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Archive for June, 2012

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The Santee Sioux massacre in Minnesota was avenged by a mass execution

Posted in America, Anthropology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about Little Crow and the Santee Sioux originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

The small church was crammed full of farming folk that August day, most of them of British or German stock. They listened to the Reverend Samuel Hinman’s sermon with strict attention, as well they might, for many of them would never hear another.

There were some traders and government employees present, too, for this was the church of the Lower Sioux Agency near Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, U.S.A. Some Sioux sat in the pews, and one of them – Little Crow – sat near the back, brooding deeply. His clothes were those of a white man, the Sunday best of a country farmer in 1862, but his hair hung down in two long braids and he wore moccasins. His heart was sick as he thought of his people, not of the word of God. Some say that he had already determined to massacre the whites, that when he shook the Rev. Hinman’s hand at the end of the service it was the handshake of a Judas.

What did he think about during that service, the last he would ever attend? No doubt of his people, the Santee Sioux. They had been starved and robbed by the white man, who had made a treaty with them some years before and broken it as they had earlier treaties, and who, as settlers flooded west, were now crowding on to land that was allocated as Indian land “for ever”.

The Santees were being crowded out. They lived on the edge of the forests and the lakes in what had become white men’s farming land, and there was no longer a place for them to hunt and roam. It was the government-backed traders they hated most, corrupt men who cheated them of their supplies, who sometimes stopped their rightful food even when the barns were groaning with grain.

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The summer monsoon is an Indian wind bringing welcome rain

Posted in Geography, Nature, Science on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about the monsoon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

Indian Monsoon, picture, image, illustration

Indian monsoon by Gerry Wood

History books honour the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama as the first European to have sailed to India. But for the final stage of his voyage, across the Indian Ocean, he owed much to his pilot.

The pilot, lent to him by an East African ruler, was an Arab, familiar with those waters. They sailed from Malindi, in what is now Kenya, in the year 1498. By setting the correct course, the Arab pilot was able to pick up the strong south-westerly wind that blows towards India in the summer months. Landfall was safely made at the port of Calicut, on the south-west coast.

The wind that helped the explorer on his way is known to us as the summer “monsoon”. It is a word derived from the Arabic mausin, or possibly the Malayan monsin, both meaning “season”. For it is a seasonal wind.

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One of the most sophisticated US warplanes in the Pacific – the Chance Vought Corsair

Posted in America, Aviation, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about the Chance Vought Corsair originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

The Chance Vought Corsair, picture, image, illustration

The Chance Vought F4U-1A Corsair by Wilf Hardy

A plane which created havoc among the Japanese towards the later stages of the Pacific operations in the Second World War was the Chance Vought Corsair.

This was a formidable fighting machine. Although it was designed primarily for operating from aircraft carriers, it spent most of its wartime service making strike sorties from land bases.

Because of the enormous extent of the Pacific Ocean, the war against the Japanese was largely a naval one, and in the great fleets which were assembled aircraft carriers were of vital importance.

In April, 1945, the British aircraft carrier Formidable joined the British Pacific Fleet in operation south of Okinawa. On board this powerful ship was a young Canadian Fleet Air Arm pilot, Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, D.S.C.

Lieutenant Gray first came to England in July, 1940, for training with the Royal Navy, and he eventually obtained a commission in the Fleet Air Arm. His first taste of action came when he took part in air strikes against the German battleship Tirpitz which was trying to hide in a Norwegian fiord.

In the Pacific, however, Lieutenant Gray’s bravery and flying skill were to earn him Britain’s highest award for valour – the Victoria Cross. Already mentioned in despatches, and the holder of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Canadian fighter pilot pressed home his attacks on enemy warships with courage and determination.

Later, with No. 1841 Squadron on the carrier Formidable and flying American-built Corsair fighter-bombers, Lieutenant Gray made strafing attacks on airfields in the Tokyo area. He also led a strike force of Corsairs to the Inland Sea area where he attacked two seaplane bases, an airfield and damaged a merchant ship.

Then, on 28th July, 1945, Lieutenant Gray set out on the sortie which was to earn him the VC and which was to cost him his life.

Flying again to the Inland Sea, he made a low-level attack on a Japanese destroyer, scoring a direct hit with a bomb. The ship was later reported sunk, but the gallant Canadian was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the warship.

A point of interest is the unusual colour of the identification roundels on the plane. This was to avoid confusion with the Japanese red disc markings. All red was removed from Fleet Air Arm and R.A.F. markings in South East Asia Command from 1943 onwards.

Another carrier-borne plane which helped to defeat the Japanese was the Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat. This and the Corsair were nicknamed the Terrible Twins because of their success in the hands of daring pilots. One such was Lieutenant J.G. Ira C. Kepford of the U.S. Navy who shot down 16 Japanese planes over the Pacific.

Japan’s surrender in 1945 brought the activities of these planes and their pilots to an end and their daring exploits became part of the legends of history’s greatest war.

The ‘Great Emigration’ was in constant danger of Indian attack

Posted in America, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about the American West originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

Square Dance, picture, image, illustration After the wagon train had stopped for the night a violin would strike up and people would dance

That first evening on the trail they camped by a grove which consisted of a large and a small elm and a few dogwood bushes, which they used as fuel. The white-canvassed wagons had rolled 15 miles (24 km.) through green prairie country on the first day of the 2,000 mile (approx. 3,200 km.) trip to the Promised Land of Oregon, and now it was time to halt. It was 23 May, 1843, and the “Great Emigration”, the huge wagon train we are studying most closely on our trip up the trail, was under way at last.

That night there was laughter and music in the 1,000 strong camp of wagons, tents, fires, oxen, mules, horses, cattle and people. Peter Burnett, soon to be elected captain of the wagon train, later wrote of that enchanted start. “Our long journey thus began in sunshine and song, in anecdote and laughter; but these all vanished before we reached its termination.”

At the outset, the 1843 expedition had a stroke of luck, for a Doctor Marcus Whitman, medical missionary and rugged pioneer, joined them. Back in 1836 he and a colleague and their wives had crossed the Plains and Rockies to Oregon, and set up a mission station there long before an Oregon Trail existed. Now he was to give invaluable advice and be second only in importance to the pilot, an old trapper named John Gantt, whose job it was to get the train safely to Oregon.

That idyllic first night on the trail did not mean that everything went smoothly in the beginning, for even after the election of a captain and a council of ten, referred to last week, discipline was not yet good, partly because of the sheer size of the wagon train. The emigrants were not used to handling their sturdy, but half-broken, oxen, and overenthusiastic males had fist-fights over water holes to show what big men they were, until they found it was hard to round up cattle or drive a team with black eyes.

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The shabby clipper ‘Bald Eagle’ sank with its human cargo of enslaved coolies

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about the coolie trade originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

Guano works, picture, image, illustration

Chinese coolies digging out Guano on the Chinch Islands off Peru

She was shabby and dirty, a disgrace to the proud clipper-ship tradition. Her officers and men were a motley lot, of a dozen different nationalities. She was U.S. registered, but pretty well the only American thing about her was the star-spangled banner that flew from her monkey-gaff.

Her name was Bald Eagle, and her unenviable claim to fame is that she came to as strange and horrifying an end as any vessel in sailing ship history.

In her later years, Bald Eagle was employed in what was known as the coolie trade, carrying hundreds of destitute Chinese from their homeland to the guano workings on the Chincha Islands, off the coast of Peru. Guano, which consists mainly of seabirds’ droppings, was used as a fertiliser in the days before cheaper and more effective substitutes were discovered, and over thousands upon thousands of years deposits had built up on the islands until in places they were over 200 feet thick (61 metres).

The Chinese found work digging the guano out and loading it aboard ship, and a more unpleasant job can hardly be imagined. Guano is filthy stuff, and what is more, the wretched coolies had not only to work but live on the islands, where everything was covered in yellow guano dust which blew about in choking clouds. It was hell on earth, but one degree better than starving.

The Bald Eagle met her end while on passage across the Pacific with a crowd of Chinese bound for the Chinchas. The coolies were crammed into the ship’s hold, more like cargo than human beings.

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The Lost Dutchman goldmine may have been filled in by Apache squaws

Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about the Lost Dutchman goldmine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

Cowboy under attack, picture, image, illustration

More than a score of men have died looking for the Lost Dutchman goldmine in Arizona. Picture by Stanley L Wood

It was the summer of 1876, and a fiesta was being held in the small town of Arispe, in the Mexican State of Sonora, when Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser came riding down the dusty main street. Being aimless adventurers, with no appointments to keep, they decided they could do worse than stay for a few hours and join in the fun. It was a decision which was, ultimately, to cost them dear.

After wandering round the town, they went into a bar, where a card game was in progress. They were about to make their way over to the bar, when a well-dressed man in black, and obviously Mexican, rose to his feet at the card table and loudly denounced the man at his side as a cheat. At this, the other man rose and promptly plunged a knife into the Mexican’s shoulder. Whereupon, Weiser, being a man who disliked violence of that nature, hit the attacker on the back of the head with the butt of his revolver, and knocked him unconscious.

Weiser and Waltz then assisted the stabbed man back to his home where they made him comfortable. His name, he informed them gravely, was Miguel Peralta, and he was the owner of a gold mine, which lay in an area covering some thousands of square miles of territory.

It was at this point that Peralta gave a heavy sigh. There was, however, he explained, a problem. The area was now part of the newly established territory of Arizona. Worse still, the mine itself lay in a mountainous region infested by hostile Apaches. All the same, he intended to set off for the region with some of his faithful peons. He looked earnestly at the two men who had come to his aid. He knew there were enormous dangers, but if the two gentlemen would agree to accompany him, he would give them a share of the gold.

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Migrating birds use the sun and stars to navigate their miraculous journeys

Posted in Biology, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about bird migration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.

Migrating swallows, picture, image, illustration

Migrating swallows by A Oxenham

The radar operator stared in horror at the screen in front of him. The ‘blips’, or echoes of light on the radar, indicated a vast number of enemy planes heading straight for Britain, possibly on a massive bombing raid!

An air-raid warning was immediately given, and thousands of war-time Britons muttered unkind things about the Germans before hurrying to their shelters or into the Underground stations.

Yet no bombs fell that night, no aircraft were picked up by the probing searchlights, and before long, the “all-clear” siren filled the air with its welcome wail.

These false alarms happened many times before it was realised that the mysterious aircraft were in fact birds.

Since then, radar has provided much valuable information about the heights birds fly at, their course and their speed, adding to our knowledge about the annual movement of birds that takes place every year without fail and which has been taking place every year since man has been around to observe it.

But although we know where the birds go and we know why they go, we still do not fully understand how they are able to find their way hundreds, even thousands, of miles across strange lands and seas until they reach their destination. And we certainly do not know how the birds recognise this destination when they reach it.

Take the swallows, for instance. During the spring and summer we see them wheeling and darting above our houses and fields, ever on the look-out for insects. But as autumn approaches, they turn their faces south.

Over the Channel they head, right across France, throughout the length of Italy and over the Mediterranean. Still they travel on, down the Nile into the heart of Africa until they reach the very southern tip, Cape Town.

But as the sun begins to gather strength in Britain, as the first buds begin to appear on the trees, the swallows make the return journey, often going back to the very same farm, the very same barn, where they had nested the previous year.

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Monsieur Edmond Rostand’s ‘Cyrano’ was a theatrical triumph

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Literature, Theatre on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about Edmond Rostand originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.

Cyrano de Bergerac, picture, image, illustration

Cyrano de Bergerac, eponymous hero of Edmond Rostand’s great romantic drama, by Sep E Scott

The banqueting hall, glittering with chandeliers and sparkling with the jewels of Paris’s most elegant women, buzzed with the chatter of six hundred guests.

Suddenly, all was quiet. From near the centre of the hall a young man rose and, in a moving voice and lyrical verse, began to exclaim his admiration for a woman who was idolized all over Europe.

As her eloquent admirer sat down the woman sighed.

‘Ah, mon poete,’ she said.

The woman was Sarah Bernhardt, acknowledged even today as the greatest French actress of all times. The poet was Edmond Rostand, who, with others, had organized this banquet to pay her tribute.

Despite their difference in age – she was more than twenty years older than him – a close friendship developed. Sarah Bernhardt, when appearing in London, would send her secretary to deliver mail by hand to Rostand’s home in the Pyrenees. She romantically spurned the thought that express post might well deliver it sooner!

Rostand, in turn, poured out his adoration in poetry and prose. For her he wrote dramas in which he deliberately inserted long tirades for her to speak to perfection.

Together they shared a passion for the romantic magnificence of the French Second Empire.

And together they admired the great Romantic tradition of French literature – the poems of Lamartine and De Vigny, and the dramas of Victor Hugo.

It was this compelling influence that set Rostand to write ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, the supreme example of the romantic theatre.

It was a tremendous triumph and was immediately translated into many languages.

Historians have complained that the play departs from the truth and contains several errors.

But literary critics acclaim it for the sparkling poetry, skilful characterization and fine composition that assure it of lasting fame.

Rostand’s versatility and particularly his attempts to re-create French romantic drama won him reward.

In 1902 he was elected to the French Academy, the institution created by Cardinal Richelieu to honour the great men of French literature.

The swashbuckling glamour and literary genius of Cyrano de Bergerac

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Theatre on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about Cyrano de Bergerac originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.

Death of Cyrano, picture, image, illustration

The death of Cyrano de Bergerac by Angus McBride

Europe was in turmoil, racked and tortured by the savagery of more than twenty years of relentless religious warfare.

Everywhere, from the borders of Spain to the north coast of Germany, armies swept through farmlands and cities, burning and plundering, in a bid to stay alive.

Paris had been threatened by the locust hordes of an invading army, and for a time its citizens were stricken with terror.

But this was the age of Richelieu, the inflexible, cunning and merciless cardinal, before whom even the French king, Louis XIII, was said to quail in fear.

Richelieu’s brilliant leadership turned Paris from panic to enthusiasm. He inspired all France with a strategy that was masterful and clear.

Thus began the drive that was to swing the balance of power in Europe from the all-mighty Hapsburgs of Austria to the French Bourbons.

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In 1804 Saint-Domingue advanced the cause of Black freedom

Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about Haiti originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.

Saint Domingo, picture, image, illustration

Saint Domingo, Haiti

The drums began softly, beating out their hypnotic rhythm, but soon they were sounding louder, banishing the other night noises of the thick, mysterious forest. Suddenly, a tall figure left the circle of black faces and bounded into the centre of the clearing, his eyes blazing hatred. Flames flickered from a small bowl that he held aloft, then, as the tempo of the drums increased he began a terrible dance, the dance of a man bewitched, a dance of death. Many a white man, woman and child, harsh slave owners and their families, were to die because of it.

The date was 1791 and the place Saint-Domingue, as Haiti in the West Indies was known at the time. It was by far the wealthiest colony of France in those days, particularly in sugar and coffee, and, since 1697, it had spread over a third of the island, the rest – now the Dominican Republic – belonging to Spain. Boom time had started in the early 1700s, when thousands of African slaves were brought to the island, those that survived the horrors of the voyages in tight-packed hell-ships. By 1791, there were some half a million alive in Saint-Domingue.

The colony was on the edge of the abyss, though the plantation owners and their pampered families had no idea that their days on earth were numbered. The French Revolution had broken out back home two years earlier, but, needless to say, ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, current in Paris and elsewhere, had not spread to the colony. Slaves always lived – existed would be a better word – at the whims of their masters, and the slave owners of Saint-Domingue seem to have been particularly nauseating specimens of the breed. One owner wanting to show off the accuracy of a new pistol, imported from Paris, shot one of his slaves. Slaves were easy enough to replace in this richest of colonies.

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