The Pony Express Battles the Paiutes

 

Most people know that the Pony Express system was created to deliver mail to the remote state of California during the time of the American Civil War. Prior to that, sending a letter from San Francisco to New York might take up to two months to get through. The federal government for a variety of reasons, the Civil War being a big one, needed a faster way to communicate with California and the Pony Express was the answer.

Russell, Majors and Waddell

pony express postmark

Pony Express postmark

What some might not realize about Pony Express history was that the system, while financially supported by the U.S. government, was indeed a private enterprise. It was a for profit company. The contract for this system was awarded to a freighting company by the name of Russell, Majors and Waddell headquartered in Lexington Missouri. The subsidiary of this company which operated the Pony Express was named the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company. The parent firms other operations included stagecoach services, freighting and express.the sgag

Replacing the Butterfield Stage Line

The Pony Express system was launched with great fanfare from St. Joseph Missouri on April 3, 1860. This was quite a welcomed event in as much as the Butterfield Overland Stage Line which traveled with mail from Missouri to California via a southwest route through Texas and the New Mexico Territory was disrupted and abandoned due to Confederate operations in the southwest.

pony express postage stamp

Pony Express 1960 issue postage stamp

The Pony Express trail went from Missouri into Nebraska, Wyoming, the Utah Territory which included today’s state of Nevada and then into California via the Lake Tahoe area. It was this part of the route, the Utah Territory and in particular the Nevada portion that caused major disruptions.

Often, when we talk about the Pony Express, we talk about the brave young riders who carried their mochila’s through all types of weather, day and night. The story I’m telling in this article has to do with the people who operated the Pony Express stations along the route through Nevada. The story has to do with a war and massacres that transpired during the very first months of the Pony Express operation.

Today’s Nevada was home to the Paiute Indians. In a story similar to other Native American conflicts, the Paiutes were tiring of the American frontier advances. In the book, The Saga of the Pony Express, author Joseph J. Di Certo points out that the ill will started as far back as the 1830’s with fur trappers entering the area.

Shoshone Indians around the Humboldt River area were allegedly fired upon by the trappers. The intent was to send out some kind of warning. On one occasion, trappers shot and killed about twenty-five Shoshone just standing on the rivers opposite bank. The ‘warning” of course had the opposite effect. Rather than being intimidated, the Indians in Nevada became filled with hatred against the whites.

alexander majors

Alexander Majors, one of the Pony Express business partners

Years later in 1849, thousands traveled along the same route that would be used by the Pony Express heading to the California gold fields. History chronicles many instances of violence meted out by the gold seekers toward the Native Americans they encountered along the way. The federal government intervened with a treaty designating boundaries for the Indians as a way to stop the violence, but like treaties that would be made in later years, they were not fulfilled.

Another factor which may have contributed to the troubles was that Chief Winnemucca died in 1859. He had a reputation as being an ambassador of sorts and had success keeping the peace. In 1860 of course, his influence was gone. The present Paiute High Chief was Numaga who didn’t seem to have the past chiefs patience. The Indians anger built up over decades. Unfortunately for many, and in particular Pony Express station keepers, the anger boiled over in May of 1860, just a little over a month after the Pony Expresses inaugural run.

What resulted was a war referred to as the Paiute War. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Washoe Indian War or the Pyramid Lake War. Whatever you choose to call it, it was a bloody affair that threatened the very existence of the Pony Express. In particular, it brought great danger to the men who operated both the Pony Express relay and home stations.

Consider that there were no army posts anywhere in the immediate area of conflict. Try to imagine for a moment, operating a relay station in this area of Nevada alone. In some cases perhaps with two or maybe three others to help out. Your structure was probably made from wood and at night it would be as dark as it could get. At the same time, you’re aware that the Indian anger has reached the tipping point. You’re on your own and very outnumbered. This might have been the most dangerous job at it’s time in North America.

pyramid lake nevada

Pyramid Lake Nevada

The Day Was May 7, 1860

The spark that touched off violence and killing reportedly was as a result of an alleged kidnapping and assault on Paiute women. You could call it the last straw. A war council was held near Pyramid Lake and some hotheaded warriors didn’t wait for a decision. Although there were some opposed to war, the warriors rode off and their first target was a Pony Express station called Williams Station on the Carson River.

It was the people at this station who allegedly assaulted the squaws. In short order, the station was attacked. A man named J.O. Williams and his two brothers operated the station and as luck would have it, or bad luck, three visitors had just stopped by before the attack. There was a fight but the six men were overpowered. All six were killed by the Paiutes and the station burned to the ground. The warriors then headed for Buckland’s Station just to the west and dispersed cattle owned by a local rancher.

The Station Operators Were Sitting Ducks

To be sure, the Pony Express riders put up with many dangers and some lost their lives in the course of their duties. Compared to the station operators they probably had a better situation. Being on a fast horse, and the Pony Express horses were fast, you had a better than not chance of outrunning attacking warriors. The station operators were both taken by surprise and were greatly outnumbered. They also didn’t have a fortress as protection. These disadvantages would be apparent in the coming days and weeks.

chief winnemucca

Paiute Chief Winnemucca

In the book, The Saga of the Pony Express, the author writes that upon hearing the news of Williams Station, over one hundred men from the Carson City and Virginia City area organized and headed for Pyramid Lake. They were armed and the Indians had bows and arrows but the Indians had seen them approaching and laid a trap. In the ensuing battle about forty of the whites were killed. the remainder fled. Then in late May about eight hundred men set out after the Paiutes and were successful in driving them into the mountains. There was a pause but the war was far from being over.

 

Links to our related photo articles you’ll be interested in include the Annual Pony Express Re-Ride and A Visit to Old Town Sacramento California.

Also see our article Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles

The Paiute War Continues Against the Pony Express

The next attack was on Egan’s relay station. Two men there were attacked and after the Indians ate and took food supplies, they were to be burned at the stake. The tale is that at the very last moment a loud sound of hoof beats was heard and the Indians were driven off. The hoof beats were from a detachment of soldiers who went past the relay station and laid chase after the attacking Paiutes. The soldiers presence couldn’t have been a minute too soon. Unfortunately, those very same warriors later that night attacked the Schell Creek station and killed it’s three operators. The situation was out of control.

The next attack was on Dry Creek station. The Indians killed one man who was outside preparing breakfast, another was shot in the doorway and two remained inside to fight it out. A trader who lived across the road somehow made it inside the Pony Express station. The story here is that the wounded man shot himself in the head and the two remaining men incredibly made a safe getaway with the trader. The trader convinced the men that he had good relations with the Indians and they were not likely to shoot at him. Amazingly, he was correct and the three made it safely away.

pony express mochilla

The all important Pony Express rider's Mochilla

On another day, a Pony Express rider rode into Deep Creek station only to find that his replacement rider was nowhere to be found. The station operator didn’t have a clue but it turned out that the replacement rider had been killed by Indian warriors.

In yet another incident that certainly had a better ending for the station operators, seven Indians rode up to Willow Creek station asking for food. The operator offered them a sack of flour but the Indians insisted on one sack per brave. The short tempered operator drew out two pistols and ordered them to leave. Seeing that they were out armed the Indians left. On the way out they shot arrows into a cow and the station operator replied by shooting two Indians off their horses.

It’s important to recognize that both the station keepers and the riders were well aware of the massacres and killings during the Paiute War. Even with this knowledge, both continued to fulfill their duties although, in the case of the station operators, their firearm was always within an arms reach.

john coffee hays

John Coffee Hays

Putting an End to the Violence

There were countless other attacks on both Pony Express stations and riders. Many more would be killed. The citizens of the Carson City and Virginia City area called upon a famous Texas Ranger Colonel, John C. Hays, to help organize a force. Hays was a legend in his own time by his activities fighting the Comanches in Texas and by his successes during the Mexican American War.

Hays responded and organized thirteen companies of volunteers. The U.S. Army also responded by sending an artillery and infantry detachment from Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. The second battle of Pyramid Lake involved both Hays’ volunteers and the regular army. During this battle, about 160 Paiutes and four whites were killed.  After this battle the federal government built a small fort at the southern end of Pyramid Lake. Captain Joseph Stewart of the U.S. Army eventually commanded Fort Churchill near Buckland’s Station.

Conflict continued into the summer months although on a smaller scale. In August of 1860, an informal truce was agreed upon with Paiute Chief Numaga.

The number of Paiutes killed during this war was not that large as a percentage of the population. Rather, it appears that Indian hardship and starvation during this war, and actually caused by the war itself, was the main reason the cease fire was achieved. The army abandoned the fort at Pyramid Lake in 1861. Amazingly enough, a formal peace treaty was never signed. As a historical note, the Paiute War was the only time that the Pony Express system experienced a disruption of services. The ten day Missouri to California timetable was intact at all other times.

pony express rider

Drawing of Pony Express rider passing telegraph building crew

The End of the Pony Express

As most know, the Pony Express was a short lived affair, lasting only about eighteen months. In fact, it’s successor, the telegraph, was being built all during the time that the Pony Express operated. As far as the Pony Express owners were concerned, it proved to be a losing investment although all involved were very aware that it was only a matter of short time until the telegraph lines were completed. The book Saga of the Pony Express writes that during the lifetime of the system, the Pony Express covered a total of 616,000 miles and delivered, 34,753 letters.

While the Pony Express was the highlight of the Russell, Majors and Waddell partnership, the company never recovered from their financial losses. Waddell was ignored by his high powered friends and died in 1873. The most successful of the three was Alexander Majors who paid off his debts and established a small freighting company in Idaho and Montana.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center

Exhibits at this excellent multi-purpose museum describe the Paiute tribe’s history and culture and offer insight into why the Paiute people hold the lake and its surrounding landscape so sacred. The Pyramid Lake War of 1860 was the largest confrontation between Native American Indians and whites in Nevada’s history. If you’re traveling from the west, take I-80 east bound, exit at exit 18 (Pyramid Lake/SR 445) and head north 35 miles. This will take you to the museum.

Pony Express National Museum

The Pony Express National Museum is located at 914 Penn Street, St. Joseph Missouri. This is the site of the old Pony Express stables which today house an interactive museum. The exhibits found at this very historic site chronicle the need, creation, operation and eventual termination of the Pony Express. If your vacation plans take you to Missouri, this makes an excellent addition to your trip planner and is a great stop for the entire family.

An excellent book I’d recommend to learn more details about the Paiute War of 1860 is Sand in a Whirlwind: The Paiute Indian War of 1860 by author Ferol Egan.

(Photos and images are from the public domain)

World War Two Attacks on America’s West Coast

Japanese Submarines

There is very little written about the three separate incidents during World War Two in which attacks were carried out along the west coast of the United States. The action in the Pacific War was taking place far from America’s shores and, while these incidents were reported on, the big news was happening in the Solomon Islands, Iwo Jima and the Philippines.

japanese float plane in world war two

World War Two Japanese floatplane

Since the beginning of the war, the West Coast had a case of anxiety which had it’s impact on the thousands of Japanese living mostly in California. Some of the Japanese immigrants were older and had been born on the Home Islands. Many more were younger and were born here in the United States and were naturalized citizens. There were many situations where the children were citizens yet the parents were not.

Fears on the West Coast

California’s anxiety finally manifested itself with the internment of all Japanese residing on the coast. This occurred after much debate and was not something decided on overnight. The California state government put quite a lot of pressure on the federal government to begin the internment program. Native Californians and to a degree the federal government were concerned about security. Speculation at the very beginning of the war was that a Japanese invasion of the West Coast was not out of the question. Although in hindsight it would probably have been a very difficult if not impossible thing to pull off successfully.

 

anti submarine mine

Size 48 Anti-Submarine mine on display at Oregon's Fort Stevens

The primary security concerns were the possible signaling by clandestine radio to enemy submarines off the coast as to U.S. ship departures including troop departures.

The West Coast was also home to nearly all of the military installations engaged in the Pacific therefore sabotage was also not out of the question. Sabotage was carried out during both World War’s but mostly in the east by German agents. While researching I found nothing regarding sabotage carried out by Japanese immigrants in the west. The internment of Japanese Americans during the war involved many western states and was a very controversial program which remains controversial even today.

Attacks on the American Mainland

Regarding the attacks on the American mainland, the first occurred off Santa Barbara California on February 23, 1942. News reports at the time reported that 16 shells were fired on the Ellwood Oil Fields about 12 miles north of the city. Some property was destroyed as well as pumping equipment about 1200 yards inland.

japanese attack on santa barbara california

Map of the Ellwood Oil Fields off Santa Barbara California

The first reports were from a woman who actually observed the submarine through her binoculars. She reported the submarine about one mile offshore. There’s actually an interesting story that was reported about the incident. The story goes that a Japanese tanker captain during peacetime was having his ship loaded at the Ellwood fields and that during a welcoming ceremony he fell upon some cacti at which time the American attendees let out laughs. It’s thought that he was the commander of the submarine involved with the attack therefore attaining some degree of revenge. The attack also happened just minutes after one of president Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats” on the radio. Most specific information regarding Japanese attacks became known after the surrender. If the story is true, it’s quite a tale.

world war two searchlight

World War Two era searchlight on display at Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast

The second Japanese submarine attack on the American mainland occurred on June 21, 1942 when an attack occurred on Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. The only damage that was reported in this attack was the baseball field’s backstop. The batteries at Fort Stevens did not return fire because it would have enabled the sub to better pinpoint it’s target. Military planes set out and located the submarine but it eventually submerged and escaped.

There was also an attack with the goal of setting our forests on fire in the northwest.on September 9, 1942. A special seaplane was launched from a Japanese submarine aircraft carrier. The plane shown at the top of this post dropped two incendiary bombs near Brookings Oregon but the goal was not achieved. There were no forest fires as a result. There was another attempt on September 29th with similar results.

There was actually another prolonged attack not involving submarines. This was the Japanese balloon bomb campaign whose goal was also to start forest fires in the American west.

japanese balloon bomb monument near bly oregon

Monument at the site of the Japanese balloon bomb explosion near Bly Oregon

During 1944 and 1945 the Japanese launched about 9,000 fire balloons toward the U.S. Carried by the jet stream about 300 reached the U.S. mainland but caused little damage. One tragic exception were six deaths (one adult and five children) when a child while on a family picnic started tampering with one of the balloons on the ground and it exploded. This occurred near Bly Oregon and today there’s a monument at the site as a memorial.

Links to two photo articles on our Western Trips site you’ll find interesting include:

San Francisco’s World War Two Defenses

Visit to Fort Point in San Francisco California.

 

Visit the World War Two Submarine USS Pampanito

Interesting Venues to Explore

To see World War Two artifacts from the World War Two West Coast defense effort there are several interesting places to visit.

Fort Stevens State Park on the Pacific coast just west of Astoria Oregon features many interesting exhibits both indoors and outdoors.

Another interesting stop is Fort Point National Historic Site in San Francisco located directly under the far south portion of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort was originally constructed by the Spanish, taken over by the U.S. in 1848 and was the home to 6th U.S. Coast Artillery during World War Two. Plenty of great exhibits there.

Another excellent venue in southern California is the Fort MacArthur Military Museum in San Pedro.The museum exhibits photos, drawings,and memorabilia from 1920 through World War Two. Fort MacArthur housed giant 14 inch guns behind walls up to thirty feet thick capable of firing shells at a distance of fourteen miles.

(Photos of Fort Stevens cannon and anti-submarine mine are from the author’s collection. Remaining photos are from the public domain)

Events of the Civil War

 

There have been thousands of books, movies and articles written about America’s Civil War. The vast majority of these chronicle the conflicts that occurred from the deep South all the way north to Gettysburg. This of course was for good reason because the most large and decisive battles took place in this eastern area of our country. Events of the Civil War that haven’t been publicized near as much were the battles and skirmishes that occurred as far west as the Arizona Territory border with California.

u.s. grant and robert e lee

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

The Remote Southwest

At the time of the Civil War, the Arizona region represented the southern part of the New Mexico Territory which was acquired from the Mexican government in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War. Because of it’s geographic location in the southwest, the New Mexico Territory was a bit cut off from the Union states to the east as well as from Washington D.C. where most of the decisions were made. In addition to being remote the New Mexico Territory had a majority of it’s population emigrating from southern states, ex-Texans being one of the largest groups.

The Fight For Succession and the Southwest

There were several key events of the Civil War in the far west during the Civil War years. In Texas which was aligned with the Confederacy, Union forts which were established along the line of settlement were under attack by southern sympathizers. In most cases the outnumbered Union troops simply surrendered the fort.

confederate mountain howitzer

Confederate Mountain Howitzer display at Old Town Albuquerque NM

The Comanche Indians who roamed throughout central and west Texas were able to take advantage of the Civil War turmoil to step up attacks on settlers. The Texas Confederate sympathizers were no more close to the Comanches than the Union troops were and for decades these Texans also had battled the Comanches. The absence of Union troops to guard the settlements during the war just made things more dangerous for non-combatants on the southern plains.

Another situation at the same time was playing out in Arizona, then the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. Because of the vast size of the territory and it’s capitol being in the far north, Santa Fe, many of the southern territory occupants felt ignored by both Santa Fe and by the federal government in Washington D.C. This was the official reason however it was only part of the story. The other part that influenced events of the Civil War in the west was that the Confederacy was quite interested in establishing a route to the Pacific. If for no other reason it would be a new supply route which was needed badly.

john r baylor

John R. Baylor of the Confederacy

The Confederate John Baylor

A man by the name of John Baylor decided to take action. Baylor who was born in Kentucky spent time as a Texas politician and when the war broke out organized the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles. This occurred in 1861. Their purpose was to drive the Union forces out of the southwest.

Moving westward, Baylor prevailed in several battles and eventually made his way to Arizona and declared it part of the Confederacy. When word of Baylor’s southwest success reached Jefferson Davis he wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. The Confederacy and Baylor went ahead and proclaimed Arizona as being a Confederate state. John Baylor was thereby named governor of this new territory. He designated Tucson as it’s capitol.

It was during this time that what historians call the westernmost battle of the Civil War occurred. The site was a small distance northwest of Picacho Peak in southern Arizona between Tucson and Fort Yuma near the Butterfield Stagecoach route. The conflict was called the Battle of Picacho Pass involving the 1st California Cavalry led by a Lieutenant Barrett riding east from Fort Yuma California and a group of Arizona Confederates led by a Sergeant Henry Holmes.

picacho peak arizona

Picacho Peak Arizona

Another decisive battle took place at Glorietta Pass in New Mexico about 30 miles east of Santa Fe.

This battle was between Southern troops and the Colorado Militia. The southerners wanted to move north and engage Union forces in the western great plains. The Colorado militia prevailed and the Confederate attempt was thwarted. This battle ended the advance of Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley and his hoped for conquest of New Mexico. The events of the Civil War in the southwest were at first a breakthrough for the South but ended in defeat.

The Divisions in the Southwest

It’s interesting to note that the southwest was not the only area with divided loyalties. An example would be the mining camps spread throughout the west all the way from Montana down to Arizona including California.

confederate henry hopkins sibley

General Henry Hopkins Sibley of the Confederacy

All of these camps had people from all parts of the Union. Divisiveness was found in almost all camps. It usually just depended on where someone was from. Divisiveness was also very heavy in the states of Missouri and Kansas which during the 1860’s could be considered the west in some respects. The 1860’s saw much bloodshed in both states by opposing bands of militia who carried on an extremely violent campaign. The most publicized was the Massacre at Lawrence Kansas on August 21, 1863. Upwards of 200 men and boys were killed in this attack carried out by a group led by William Quantrill. The guerrilla group was referred to as Quantrill’s Raiders and were aligned with the Confederacy.
Significance of the Western Theater of the Civil War

Obviously the reason that so much more has been chronicled about the Civil War battles east of the Mississippi River is that more battles involving more soldiers took place there. The east is where the major battles were fought. The capitol’s of both sides were in the east and the population centers were in the east.

The far west was still a developing region with exception to California which gained statehood in 1850. All else were territories with limited troops spread over vast areas. Regardless, both sides understood that there were benefits to whoever gained control. The Confederacy looked at it as a kind of rearguard action. If possible they wanted to gain access to the Pacific Ocean through San Diego. They also tried to use the west as a way to attack the Union from the other direction.

prescott arizona

Today's Prescott Arizona, Arizona Territory's first capital

The Creation of the Arizona Territory

The Union on the other hand simply wanted to hold on to what they gained from the Mexican-American War and at the same time drive the southern forces out. The conflicts in the southwest during the war expedited the Union’s decision to carve out two territories in the region after the war ended. Creating the Arizona Territory alongside the Territory of New Mexico allowed the Union to govern the area much better. Becoming a territory was the first step to statehood. The Civil War was just the catalyst needed for the Union to organize the southwest territories more efficiently .

Links to additional articles you’ll enjoy include:

The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

People of the Civil War

The Surrender of Robert E. Lee / The Ironic Details

Historic Civil War Sites and Museums to Add to your Trip Planner

Arizona Military Museum

The Arizona Military Museum is operated by the Arizona National Guard Historical Society, a private non-profit corporation. The officers and directors serve as docents, and they perform other necessary functions in conjunction with National Guard support to operate and maintain the museum. The museum is located at the Papago Park Military Reservation, 5636 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, Arizona.

new mexico civil war volunteers

Civil War soldier reenactment at New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe

New Mexico History Museum / Palace of the Governors

Located in Santa Fe New Mexico, the 96,000 square foot museum behind the Palace of the Governors on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, presents six time periods key to the development of New Mexico and the American West. From the Civil War through the Lincoln County War and the Railroad Wars, New Mexico was a violent, vibrant place during its 63 years as a U.S. Territory.

Arizona History Museum

Located at 49 E. 2nd Street, Tucson Arizona, this museum’s focus is southern Arizona history from Spanish colonial through territorial eras. Included among the many exhibits are Geronimo’s and Wyatt Earp’s personal possessions.

Picacho Peak State Park

Lots of Civil War history at this site of a key Civil War Battle. Among the events held at Picacho Peak State Park are re-enactments of an Arizona Civil War skirmish and the New Mexico battles of Glorieta and Val Verde. The park is closed from late May through the summer. The 2013 reopening will be on September 14th. The park is located about 75 miles east of Phoenix Arizona just south of Interstate 10.

Two very interesting books I would recommend for a more detailed account of the Civil War in the southwest include The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865 by author Andrew E. Masich and Civil War in Apacheland: Sergeant George Hand’s Diary, 1861-1864  by author Neil B. Carmony.

(Photos and images of Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John R. Baylor and Henry Sibley from the public domain. Remaining photos from author’s collection)

 

American Military Aircraft

 

In this article Trips Into History will highlight several American military aircraft that made a difference. Each of the military planes featured here have made large contributions to America’s military effort and each has a historic story to tell. These historic aircraft are on display at various venues around the U.S. and we will highlight some of these excellent air museums.

b-29 bomber

B-29 Superfortress in flight

The B-29 Superfortress

Everyone knows that it takes time between the design phase of an aircraft to it’s actual production. In the case of the B-29, the original designs were submitted to the U.S. Army in 1939. This was prior to the U.S. entering World War Two.

As military aircraft went, the B-29 was radically new in a number of ways. A pressurized crew area was one. The B-29 was also designed to carry remote controlled guns. The plane was also the heaviest to date built to carry bombs over very long distances. The plane was designed as a replacement for the B-17 and B-24.

Boeing built the B-29 in two plants. One was located in Wichita Kansas and the other in Renton Washington. Two other companies also manufactured B-29’s. These were the Bell Aircraft Company who constructed in Georgia and the Glen L. Martin Company who built the planes in Nebraska. Total B-29 production by all three companies which ceased in 1946 totaled just under 4,000 planes.

b 29 superfortress

Tail section of B-29 Superfortress

When you view these aircraft today, take special note of the airfoil and flaps. These are the Boeing 117 airfoil and the Fowler flaps which gave the B-29 superior left. The Boeing 117 airfoil had much lower drag and could provide better per pound of lift than any other airfoil. In addition to this the plane had the biggest flaps to date. The flaps provide more of a climb rate at takeoff and provide a lower stalling speed while landing. The Fowler flap was a  trailing edge flap that moves out of the wings on tracks. The Boeing 117 airfoil and the Fowler flap gave the B-29 a big advantage as a long range heavy bomber.

The B-29 Superfortress was ideal for operations during World War Two in the Pacific largely because of it’s extended range. Many of the bombing runs in the Pacific theater required very long distances from island bases. A very interesting book and great read is The Last Mission by author Jim B. Smith, a radio operator on the B-29 named “Boomerang“. This book chronicles the last mission of World War Two and how it inadvertently had a part in actually ending the war. The Boomerang flew over Japan while a failed coup by hard line Japanese military officers was underway.

b 52 bomber

B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52 Stratofortress

Just like the B-29, the B-52 was designed to be a long range heavy bomber. This aircraft can operate at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet and carry both nuclear and conventional precision bombs and missiles.

The military issued specifications for a new heavy bomber in November of 1945. Plans and designs for the B-52 were submitted in 1946. The B-52 was meant to be a replacement for the jet propelled B-36 Convair. Differing from the B-29, the B-36 was the world’s first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range.

The B-52 (B-52A) had it’s first flight in 1954 and became operational in 1955. During it’s production span, the B-52 was built as several models. The B-52 B was first manufactured in January 1955 and delivered to the Air Force six months later. The year 1956 saw the addition of a B-52 C and B-52 D.

b-52 stratofortress

One of the engine pods on the B-52 holding two Pratt and Whitney engines

In 1957 we saw the B-52 E roll out then in 1958 the B-52 F and G models. A total of 102 B-52 H’s were delivered to the Strategic Air Command beginning in 1961. The H model is capable of carrying up to 20 air launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile that was launched in several contingencies during the 1990s, starting with Operation Desert Storm and ending with Operation Allied Force. The B-52 H is equipped with eight Pratt and Whitney engines each delivering 17,000 lbs of thrust. The aircraft has a range of 8,800 miles unrefueled and a speed of 650 MPH.

a-7 corsair

A-7 Corsair !!

The A-7 Corsair II

The Ling-Temco-Vought built A-7 Corsair II is a carrier-capable subsonic light attack aircraft. This plane was one of the most successful military aircraft of modern times. In addition to having one of the lowest loss rates during the Vietnam War, the planes cost a little over one million dollars each and delivered weapons with an accuracy unheard of in their era. The carrier based A-7’s were one of the Navy’s most potent striking weapons during the Vietnam War.

Built originally on the airframe of the F-8U Crusader, the A-7 underwent several modifications since its introduction in 1965. The A-7 Corsair II, was used by TAC for close air support attack missions. There were several A-7 models with the A-7E  being the final version. The A-7’s were eventually replaced with the F/A-18s in 1992.

a 7 corsair II

Nose of carrier based A-7 Corsair II

Though the exterior of the aircraft appears bulky, the plane had extraordinary power. The single seat plane with an official range of 2,280 miles, an Alison 15,000 lbs thrust engine and a top speed of 691 MPH, the A-7 Corsair II was quite an attack aircraft.

Links to two additional photo articles on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy include the Grumman S-2A Tracker and the F-15 First Responder both on display a the Pacific Coast Air Museum located near Santa Rosa California.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History photo article about the first transcontinental air route involving passenger trains. This is the story about Transcontinental Air Transport and the creation of TWA.

See the B-29, the B-52 and the A-7 Corsair II

The venues listed below are great low cost travel stops and feature a good collection of vintage and classic military aircraft.

All three of the military planes featured in this article can be viewed at the National Nuclear Science and History Museum in Albuquerque New Mexico. The museum is located just north of the Albuquerque International Airport and Kirtland Air Force Base, about six miles east of the downtown area.

carrier plane tail hook

Tail Hook on A-7 Corsair

The Pacific Coast Air Museum located just north of Santa Rosa California and about 65 miles north of San Francisco has an excellent display of military aircraft including the F-15 First Responder that took to the air over New York City during the September 11th attacks.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the largest in the U.S. Located a few miles east of Tucson Arizona, the Pima Air and Space Museum features over three hundred aircraft including a B-29 and a B-52 G.

The Planes of Fame has two locations. One is in Chino California and the other just north of Williams Arizona between Williams and the Grand Canyon. This is a unique air museum because planes are not only restored but several are also in flying condition. Many World War Two planes are on display including a Grumman Bearcat, a Grumman/ General Motors Avenger TBM and a Mitsubishi Zero. The Arizona location is a great stop to add to your trip planner when visiting the Grand Canyon.

(Photo of B-29 Superfortress in flight is from the public domain. Remainder of photos are from author’s collection)

 

Early Air Travel / Planes Trains and Automobiles

 

Early air travel in the U.S., especially the transcontinental variety, was a unique adventure to say the least.

One of the most ambitious forays into this field was quite imaginative. It involved cooperation between the new airline industry and the well entrenched passenger railroad industry.

transcontinental air transport ford tri motor aircraft

Transcontinental Air Transport Ford Tri-Motor Aircraft

Two people who had a vision of transcontinental travel that included both airplanes and trains were the creators of Transcontinental Air Transport which incorporated in May 1928. They were a businessman named Clement M. Keys, at the time president of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motors Company and Charles Lindbergh. The vision was to transport people across the nation from New York City to Los Angeles California in just 48 hours. This was quite a novel idea in 1928. From the Atlantic to the Pacific in 48 hours was an aggressive plan. A connection to San Francisco was also available to passengers.

The idea, while novel, was not that complicated. Travelers would ride on Pullman rail cars by night and fly on the airline’s Ford Tr-Motor airplanes by day. The theory of course was by mixing in air travel with rail travel you’d greatly reduce travel time.

tat airlines transcontinental route map

Transcontinental Air Transport advertisement poster

Small Towns Help to Connect Transcontinental Air Travel

An interesting aspect of this endeavor was how elevated several small towns to national prominence. Among these towns were Winslow Arizona in the north Arizona desert, Waynoka Oklahoma about 75 miles northwest of Oklahoma City and Clovis New Mexico on the Texas border. Waynoka Oklahoma’s selection was in part because it had a new Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway railroad yard which ended up being the largest in Oklahoma.

The Route

TAT began operations on July 7, 1929. Of special note is that Charles Lindbergh piloted the first eastbound leg between Los Angeles and Winslow Arizona.

If you were traveling from New York to Los Angeles, yor first leg was the overnight Pennsylvania Railroad train to Columbus Ohio. In Columbus you would be put on a Ford Tri-Motor aircraft. at the Columbus Airport. Heading southwestward you would have four intermediate stops on you way to Waynoka Oklahoma’s newly constructed airport. In Waynoka, passengers would then board an AT &maddux airlines,mt taylor new mexico, SF Railroad overnight train to Clovis New Mexico. In Clovis you would again board the airline’s Ford Tri-Motor with stops including Albuquerque, Winslow Arizona on the way west to Los Angeles.

tat train airplane transcontinental route

TWA transcontinental air/train route advertisement

There were several firsts with this new travel plan. Transcontinental Air Transport offered some of the first airborne meals as well as the first time the Ford Tri-Motors were used for passenger service. Most of the aircraft at that time were designed for mail service rather than passenger service.

Mergers

It wasn’t long before TAT merged with Maddux Air Lines in California. The merger took place in late 1929 and added more Tri-Motors to the airline’s fleet. Maddux, a Los Angeles car dealer, owned a good sized fleet of Ford aircraft and had air operations ongoing in the west.

A String of Air Crashes

Transcontinental Air Transport suffered their first air crash during September 1929, just a few moths after it’s service began. The crash occurred on New Mexico’s Mt. Taylor west of Albuquerque. Mt. Taylor is one of the highest peaks in New Mexico. The press described the accident as the first commercial passenger airline crash. The TAT crashed flight was not found until six days after the crash occurred.Eight people died in the air crash. Five were passengers and three were crew members. One passenger had been a prominent Albuquerque and Gallup New Mexico businessman.

This crash on Mount Taylor was just the first of three crashes during the airline’s first eight months of operation. To say the least, the air crashes and the fatalities put a damper on the traveling public’s enthusiasm.

 

old newspaper stories of winslow arizona

Winslow Arizona newspaper stories concernin TAT airlines and Amelia Earhart visit

The Merger Creating TWA

Although Transcontinental Air Transport carried about 40,000 passengers during it’s first eighteen months of operation, it was losing a great deal of money. In November of 1930, TAT was forced to acquire Western Air Express.

Western Air Express was a mail carrier in California with federal airmail contracts. WAE found itself a victim to a newly organized air route system for the mails created by the Postmaster General. Esssentially, the Postmaster General at the time felt that no more than one airline company should service a particular air mail route.

This new merger was the creation of TWA. TWA received it;s first government mail contract in August of 1930. It’s coast to coast mail service began in October of that year and was an all airmail route, not a plane and train combination.

The New TWA

The new TWA concern, although eventually growing to be one of the largest of U.S. air carriers, was not a sure bet for success at it’s beginning. The main reason for this was the Great Depression which would get a lot tougher during the 1930’s before it would get better. During this period government mail contracts were the life blood of financial survival.

Following are two links on our Western Trips site that you’ll find interesting.

The F-15 First Responder on display at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

The Beech 18 on display at the Western Aeroplane and Antique Car Museum.

On our Trips Into History site see the photo article on the Pullman Railroad Cars.

knute rockne of notre dame

Knute Rockne in gum advertisement

The Kansas Air Crash

TWA, struggling financially from the start, suffered a terrible setback with a crash in a Kansas wheat field in March 1931. This was merely five months after the new company’s start. The Kansas crash received enormous press coverage since one of the passengers killed in the crash was Notre Dame’s popular football coach Knute Rockne. Seven others aboard were also killed. The aircraft in the Kansas air crash was a Fokker Tri-Motor.

Sites to Visit to Learn More About TAT and TWA

If your travels take you to northern Arizona you’ll want to visit the Old Trails Museum in Winslow Arizona. Here you’ll view a lot of artifacts and posters relating to the first transcontinental air/train route.

In Waynoka Oklahoma you’ll want to stop by the Waynoka Air-Rail Museum. Lots of history on display there regarding the Waynoka connection on the transcontinental route. Waynoka was a stop where air passengers transferred to an overnight train to Clovis New Mexico.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. also has information regarding Transcontinental Air Transport in addition to a Ford Tri-Motor aircraft on display.

For those wishing to learn much more detail regarding this 1929 aviation/railroad venture, look for the book Steel Rails and Silver Wings:The Lindbergh Line to the Birth of TWA by authors Robert J. Serling and George H. Foster. You may also be interested in the book Howard Hughes Airline: An Informal History of TWA by author Robert J. Serling.

(Ford Tri-Motor, Winslow Newspaper stories and Knute Rockne photos and images from the public domain. Remainder of photos from author’s collection)