Today in History
History's Happenings for November 8
Home of "Big Sky" country, majestic mountains and even bigger prairies full of grazing beef, Montana was admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889 as our 41st state.
Montana's original inhabitants were nomadic tribes of native American Indians who wandered in search of food in the generally dry region. Huge herds of bison (American buffalo) became the staple diet as well as providing clothing and shelter with their hides. The main tribes living in the area were the Blackfoot, Flathead and Crow on the eastern plains, and the Kootenai and Salish in the western hills. Sioux wandered in and out but mainly inhabited the Dakota territory.
Originally part of France's claim to the Louisiana territory, Montana was intermittently explored by French fur trappers and traders during the seventeenth century. After the U.S. claimed it as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition entered the area in summer, 1805, in search of the headwaters of the Missouri River. Approaching from the mouth of the Yellowstone River, they found their goal deep in the Rockies at Three Forks, where they named the three tributaries that formed the Missouri the Jefferson, Galatin and Madison. They followed the Jefferson west out of Montana, continuing on their journey to the Pacific.
With Lewis and Clark's reports of ample game, fur trapping accelerated in the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the first trading post being built on the Bighorn River in 1807. As in the neighboring Dakota territory, fur trading began to ebb by 1830 and the European population of the area all but disappeared.
Missionaries and a few others came and went in the 1840's and 50's, but it was the discovery of gold along Gold Creek in 1858 that changed everything for Montana. As happened in so many other places, the discovery brought prospectors by the hundreds and boomtowns sprang up and died overnight with the shifting discoveries. The eventual capital, Helena, was founded in 1864 over a strike.
As the area grew, the people petitioned for organization as a territory. When the Idaho Territory was formed in 1863, it included Montana as well as part of Wyoming. Being too large to administer effectively, the residents of Montana lobbied Washington for their own autonomy, and the Montana Territory was created on May 26, 1864. Virginia City became the capital, and the Territory sent one delegate to the U.S. Congress to maintain its interests.
Inevitably, as elsewhere in the West, white settlers trampled on Indian lands, and clashes resulted. Demands for protection arose from Montana's citizens, and the U.S. Army moved in, building fortifications along the Bozeman Trail leading into the Territory. In 1868 the government closed the Trail in exchange for peace with the Sioux, who were given a huge reservation around the Black Hills of Dakota Territory.
Unfortunately, in 1874 gold was discovered there as well, creating new troubles with the Sioux. Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, seeing the sacred Black Hills invaded by whites in violation of treaty, left the reservation and headed into Montana. To oppose them the U.S. Army sent in the Seventh Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, who promptly took matters into his own hands and was killed along with his entire command at the Little Bighorn River, June 25, 1876. Custer lost, but so did the Sioux. U.S. reinforcements forced them to give up the fight, Sitting Bull finally surrendering in 1881.
With the end of the Indian Wars came further settlement, the great open prairies being gradually fenced off into more closely managed sheep and cattle ranches. In 1889, trying for the third time to gain admission to the Union, Montana finally became the 41st state, only a week after her neighbors, the Dakotas.
Capital: Helena (since 1875)
An event that almost doomed the fledging Nazi Party to early extinction occurred on November 8, 1923. Yet it indirectly contributed to its rebirth with a clearer vision of what was to come.
His party still only a small, little-known pseudo-socialist political brawling society in Bavaria, Adolf Hitler sought to make headlines by staging a Putsch -- a mini-coup d'etat -- in the semi-independent state. His plan: to take the Bavarian government by force during an address being delivered by the ruling triumvirate at a meeting in the Bürgerbraukeller in Munich.
A wily strategist even so early in his career, Hitler had weighed his chances carefully: While the government of the German Weimar Republic wanted his nasty little party suppressed, the Bavarian government was just independent enough to refuse, perhaps even to secede from the republic. World War hero General Erich Ludendorff could be counted an ally. Hitler's stormtroopers, the brown-shirted SA, were champing at the bit. The opportunity at the Bürgerbraukeller, with all three Bavarian leaders present, may not reoccur.
At about nine in the evening of the 8th, shortly into the Bavarian Minister's speech, SA troops surrounded the beer hall and Hitler strode down the aisle, pistol in hand. Firing a shot into the ceiling he announced that the "national revolution has begun", and that the Bavarian and republican governments were no more. Pure bluff -- the only Nazi activity in all of Germany was immediately around the Munich beer hall.
The Bavarian leadership was not impressed. Had not the renowned Ludendorff been suddenly produced to sway them into compliance, all would have been lost on the spot.
But in the melee of the evening, the Bavarian leaders slipped away, and the next morning ordered the police and Reichswehr (army) to suppress the Putsch. That they did, killing sixteen Nazis while losing three of their own in a street battle from which Hitler ran, and into which Ludendorff marched without twitching an eyebrow.
Hitler was brought to trial for the attempted coup, convicted on reduced charges, and given a five year sentence which a sympathetic judge assured him would last no more than six months. During his imprisonment in 1924 -- which turned out to be nine months -- Hitler dictated what would become the Bible of Naziism, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), to associate Rudolf Hess. No clearer picture could have been drawn of what the Third Reich would look like.
After Hitler's release, the Party was in a shambles, the harsh economic conditions in Germany which spawned support for radicalism having started to improve. Nonetheless with renewed vigor and vision, and a more careful, calculating approach, he proceeded to slowly rebuild it. The rest is history.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, foisting the United States into war in both the Pacific and in Europe, it was not immediately clear to the American General Staff which fight to pursue first.
Certainly the Japs had a fight coming after the sneak attack. But the U.S. had already been involved, if unofficially, in the war in Europe and, with Hitler now fighting on the Russian front, Stalin had joined the chorus demanding a second front in the west.
In charge of war planning for the United States was one Major General Dwight Eisenhower, attached to the staff of Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall. Eisenhower's position was unequivocal -- Europe should be America's first priority. In this both Marshall and President Franklin Roosevelt concurred.
The logic that the U.S. should fly to the aid of the Russians, who only a year before were happily sharing the conquest of Poland with the Nazis, is disturbing today. But the risks in early 1942 that Hitler could still triumph over both Russia and Britain were very real. America would fight selected battles in the Pacific and concentrate its greatest energy and resources on Europe.
Eisenhower ruminated about a landing on the European continent sometime in 1943. But British Prime Minister Winston Churchill realistically felt that the combined armies -- especially the as-yet untested American army -- could not be trained or supplied in such a short time. Instead he wanted an invasion of North Africa, where the British were already hard pressed against German General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. He prevailed.
Planning for an invasion of North Africa began in August, 1942. Impressed with Eisenhower's suggestions and organizational ability, Marshall promoted him to Lieutenant General and sent him to England to take charge of the operation, code-named Torch.
The scale of the invasion was unprecedented. Three waves of troops headed for North Africa in early November -- 39,000 Americans left England to hit western Algeria, another 10,000 Americans and 23,000 British left England bound for Algiers and, incredibly, 35,000 Americans sailed from the United States directly to their invasion beaches in French Morocco.
What was to be expected from the French forces in the two French protectorates was unknown. France was a divided country -- half German-occupied, half Vichy under a collaborationist government; Free French troops loyal to General Charles DeGaulle were widely scattered and only loosely coordinated. French loyalties at any particular place could only be surmised. Orders and counter-orders were issued to the French Army and Navy concerning their behavior towards the Allies.
When the invasion forces did hit the beaches in the early morning hours of November 8, 1942, American flags were carried high in the hopes that defending Frenchmen, of whatever stripe, would hesitate to fire on Americans. By and large, that was the case -- there was only some scattered fighting with the French Navy in Oran.
The Axis was taken totally by surprise. Only two weeks before, Rommel had been caught at El Alamein by General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army, and was retreating towards northwest Africa when news of the invasion at his front arrived.
Despite a fierce battle between the forces of Eisenhower and Rommel at Kasserine Pass, in Tunisia, in February, 1943 -- a battle which cost the still green Americans dearly -- the huge pincer formed by Ike and Monty devastated the Afrika Korps and forever ended Hitler's dream of uniting his Russian and African campaigns in the Middle East.