Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 1998 Mrs. Custer described frontier life
By Jim Blount
Hamilton was abuzz Monday, Jan. 23, 1893, as the widow of a controversial military leader visited the city. That evening, Mrs. Elizabeth Bacon Custer presented a "parlor talk" at the home of Colonel and Mrs. J. C. Hooven.
Her husband had been George Armstrong Custer, a Civil War general and frontier Indian fighter who had died nearly 17 years earlier in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Dakota Territory (now within the state of Montana). Historians and military buffs still debate what went wrong and who was to blame for the June 25, 1876, disaster.
Elizabeth Bacon was married to Custer during the Civil War. The native of New Rumley, Ohio, ranked last among 34 West Point graduates in 1861. But that standing didn't stop him from becoming a brigadier general at age 23 and a major general at age 25. Although he had 11 horses killed under him, Custer was wounded only once.
After the Civil War, he became a lieutenant colonel in the regular army and the leader of a new regiment. Custer's Seventh Cavalry was ordered west to help control Indians. Mrs. Custer accompanied her 26-year-old husband into hostile Indian territory in the West.
After his death, she pressed for an unbiased inquiry and worked to clear her husband's name. Nine years after his death, she wrote a book, Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer, published in 1885.
For her Hamilton talk, a newspaper report said she "was attired simply, but elegantly in a gown of exquisite black silk, relieved with collar and cuffs of daintiest linen." She was described as having "that rare charm which delights and holds all listeners." The writer said she talked 90 minutes, "and when she had finished, expressions of regret were on the faces of all. Her discourse throughout teemed with wit, pathos and humor, the audience now laughing, now in tears."
The report said "Mrs. Custer went into the garrison quarters while a bride and for several years shared with her husband and the entire company the life in a garrison far away from home and friends, with little of life's comforts and none of the luxuries."
"Her talk was of garrison life on the frontier, relating her own experiences of several years life in a garrison on the extreme western frontier," the reporter said.
"She opened her remarks with the dawn of a day in camp, and related the incidents of a day from the first salute of guns until the signal 'lights out.' She then took the year through, speaking of the social life during the winter seasons and the hardships and constant anxiety of the spring and summer, when the soldiers were preparing for and resisting the attacks of the Indians."
The reporter called Mrs. Custer "a woman of national reputation," who had "gained a name for heroism during her husband's life and since his death has held aloft that name with a devotion worthy of her great name."
Her host, J. C. Hooven, was a Hamilton industrialist and an investor in interurban systems in the 1890s, when the electric-powered passenger service came to this area.
The Hooven home stood at the northeast corner of Ross Avenue and South B Street until razed in 1869 to make way for the eastbound Ross Avenue ramp to the High-Main Street Bridge.
It was one of Hamilton's showpiece residences and social centers after it was purchased by Hooven in 1882. A long list of 19th century celebrities, including presidents and governors, visited the home.
In its final years, the building was occupied by Campbell Gard Post 1069, Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was appropriated by the City of Hamilton for $37,500 early in 1969 as new traffic patterns were established west of the High-Main Street Bridge.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1998
Sheriff Ferdinand Van Derveer was lured away by California gold
By Jim Blount
A carpenter building a sawmill on the south fork of the American River in California discovered gold Jan. 24, 1848, setting off a migration that attracted some Butler County residents, including a former sheriff and future general and judge.
James W. Marshall, the carpenter, was a partner of Captain John A. Sutter. He was working on their land when he found gold. Word gradually spread east and President James K. Polk heralded the find in a Dec. 5, 1848, message to Congress. When eastern newspapers published the report, the California Gold Rush was on.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people crossed the continent in wagons, on horseback or walking in the summer of 1849. Other 49ers found circuitous water routes. By land and sea, from 80,000 to 100,00 people arrived within a year. Territorial population jumped from 10,000 in 1846 to more than 250,000 in 1852, two years after California became a state.
Ferdinand Van Derveer was among the Butler Countians who sought riches in California. He had been born in Middletown Feb. 27, 1823, and educated at Farmers College in College Hill (now a northern Cincinnati neighborhood). He was admitted to the bar in Memphis in 1845, but soon came to Hamilton to continue reading law under John B. Weller.
Then the Mexican War interrupted his practice. Van Derveer joined Company I of the First Ohio Regiment in May 1846. The company was commanded by Weller until October 1846 when Captain Van Derveer succeeded him. He resumed his law practice in 1847 and was elected Butler County sheriff in 1848.
At the end of his two-year term, when he failed to win re-election, the disappointed Van Derveer headed to the gold fields. He left behind his wife, Emily, who he had married in 1848. In a March 1852 letter from Trinity River, Calif., he informed her that he expected to return to Hamilton in July.
"Misfortunes have been the realization of every golden hope," he wrote, noting "that I have been unfortunate because I did not obey may wife and stay at home." Speaking of money, he said "now I think that I can make more at home than here."
Van Derveer also instructed his wife on family finances. "I have left you so unprovided for -- do forgive me and get along the best you can -- sell anything we have, no difference what it is. There is that silver ladle or bowl that I got in Mexico. Any silversmith will give you its weight in dollars, as it is purer silver than they can get," he said.
"It is provoking to think how foolishly I acted in the purchase of that house and the costly improvements made by me without being sure that it would be in my power to make the payments. If property has advanced in price, as I expected it would on the completion of the railroad, it may be disposed of advantageously," he said, referring to the September 1851 opening of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad into Hamilton.
In the letter, after describing his one-room log cabin, he told of his personal appearance.
"But how does Ferd look? In truth, good woman, I cannot brag much on his appearance. He looks rather seedy as all miners do," he wrote. "His face is rough. Much too rough for you to think of kissing him, for he does all his shaving with a pair of scissors." He said his appetite "is far too good for a land where provisions cost so much."
"We have no way to tell time of day, except that when the shadow of the shade tree before the door comes upon an old pair of pants, then it is 12 o'clock," he reported.
Van Derveer -- his "gold fever" cured by disappointment -- returned safely to Hamilton and resumed his law practice. During the Civil War (1861-1865), he rose to the rank of brigadier general. After the war, he was a common pleas judge until his death Nov. 5, 1892.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 1998
Did 1868 impeachment have local link?
By Jim Blount
The word impeachment has been used with increasing frequency in recent weeks. The constitutional process -- in which a government official is accused of a crime that could result in removal from office -- was first used against a president in 1868. The target was Andrew Johnson, who had several Hamilton connections. There also may have been some local resources involved in his acquittal.
Johnson had been born Dec. 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N. C., but later moved to Greeneville, Tenn., where he worked as a tailor. After election to local offices and the Tennessee state legislature, Johnson served five terms in the House of Representatives (1843-53), two terms as governor of Tennessee (1853-57), and in the U.S. Senate (1857-62).
After 11 southern states formed the Confederacy in 1861, Johnson was the only senator from a seceding state to remain loyal to the Union.
After the Civil War started, Johnson was reluctant to return to Tennessee while Congress was in recess. For some of the summer and fall of 1861, he found refuge in Hamilton. He was the guest of Lewis D. Campbell, a former congressional colleague. Campbell resided at the southeast corner of High and Second streets. Johnson was highly visible in Hamilton, attending church services and speaking at recruitment rallies and send-offs for soldiers.
March 4, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee. Johnson chose Campbell -- then a colonel -- to be his provost marshal. The 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment -- commanded by Campbell and including many Butler County men -- became Johnson's provost guard in Nashville.
Two years later, he was Lincoln's vice-presidential running mate. Lincoln, a Republican, and Johnson, a Democrat, were elected on the Union ticket in 1864. When Lincoln was assassinated April 15, 1865, Johnson succeeded to the presidency.
His was a turbulent term. Johnson and Congress disagreed on how to treat the seceded southern states after the war. In a test of power, Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton Feb. 21, 1868. The next day, the House of Representatives, by a 126-47 vote, adopted resolutions of impeachment.
He was charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors." This included the charge that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act when he removed Stanton from the cabinet without the consent of the Senate. Congress had passed the act over Johnson's veto March 2, 1867. It restricted the traditional powers of the president to appoint and remove officeholders.
Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presided over the trial, and the U.S. Senate sat as jury. The trial stretched from March 13 to May 16, 1868. The final vote was 35-19, one short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction.
For decades, there were Hamilton people who said that local money had bought one or more votes among the 19 senators who supported Johnson.
According to the various hearsay reports, the money came from political and business leaders in Butler County. Some had become his friend during Johnson's brief stay in Hamilton. Others simply agreed with his policy on Reconstruction for the South.
How much secret money was involved; how many people contributed; how the cash was delivered; and if Johnson knew about it are among many unanswered questions. Obviously, such a scheme would leave little if any documentary evidence.
The vote-buying story may be entirely unfounded. It's possible it was concocted as a political dirty trick to defame one or more local candidates, and in being retold became regarded as fact.
Johnson completed his term in 1869. Later, he became the only president to return to the Senate, serving less than five months before his death July 31, 1875.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1998
Altitude record set over Butler County
By Jim Blount
In 1921, when the air age was in its uncertain infancy, a world's altitude record was set in the skies over Butler County. Lt. John A. Macready established the mark while flying between Hamilton and Middletown Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, 1921.
Macready was the chief test pilot at McCook Field, a predecessor of the present Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio.
His flight started as a routine test of a supercharger, and "the pilot did not anticipate an attempt at an altitude record," a newspaper reported. As he flew large circles around Dayton, he gradually surpassed the previous mark set by another pilot in the same plane.
Major Rudolph W. Schroeder had attained 33,000 feet Feb. 27, 1920. Nineteen months later, Macready soared to 37,800 feet after an adjustment of original estimates of 41,200 feet.
Both men piloted a two-seater biplane known as a LePere, or the LUSAC-11. Captain Jean LePere of the French Air Service drew the plans at McCook Field and production began at the Packard Motor Car Co. in Detroit.
It was intended to be the prime aircraft of the U. S. Army Air Service in France during World War I. Three test planes were sent to France, arriving one week before the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice ended the war. Tests indicated that the LePere had several deficiencies -- poor lifting qualities, excessive weight, poor carburetion and engine cooling problems.
Instead of being junked, the planes were returned to Dayton for use by the Air Service's engineering division. At McCook Field, they were modified for test flights.
Macready's LePere was 25 feet, 3.375 inches long with a wing span of 41 feet, 1.25 inches. It was powered by a 1918 model 400-horsepower Liberty 12-A engine and had an extended propeller (10 feet, six inches).
The plane's empty weight was 2,959 pounds. During the record flight, it weighed 3,750 pounds, including the 189-pound pilot, 150 pounds of equipment, 415 pounds of fuel in four tanks, and 37 pounds of oil.
Macready said his speed ranged from 79.3 miles per hour at 6,500 feet to 101.4 mph at 25,000 feet. "It was an ideal day for an altitude flight," he said. "The visibility was perfect at all times and I was able to see land, as no cloud intervened."
His takeoff from McCook Field was clocked at 10:05 a.m., his landing at 11:52 a.m., a flight of one hour and 47 minutes. The successful flight in an open-cockpit plane was not without some problems.
"The only time that I was scared was just as I reached the 30,000-foot mark," Macready explained. "At this point, I slowed up my motor. This cooled the cockpit of the machine and my oxygen supply pipe froze on me. I grabbed an emergency bottle of oxygen and inserted it through a valve in the side of the helmet. I broke the bottle and revived myself. Upon speeding the motor up, I found that the ice melted as I was able to breathe again," said the pilot, who had been commissioned a first lieutenant Dec. 27, 1917.
"I suffered more from the lack of the air pressure on my body than I did from any cause. I noticed all during the trip above 25,000 feet that my hands felt like lead, and that I could not move freely," said Macready, who wore several layers of extra clothing during the flight.
"I owe the lack of suffering," he said, "to the new and scientific appliances which have been invented within the last year." One of those advances, he said, was "a special gelatin on the inside of my goggles to prevent freezing. Although some ice did freeze on them, I was able to see fairly well at all times."
The record set over Butler County stood for five years and one week. Macready surpassed it Sept. 29, 1926, flying an XCO5A from McCook Field.
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