Homesteaders murdered by Wyoming ranchers

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/homesteaders-murdered-by-wyoming-ranchers

Having made the mistake of homesteading on land previously controlled by a Wyoming cattle king, homesteaders Ella Watson and James Averell are accused of rustling and hanged.

As the days of the open range cattle industry faded, conflicts between powerful western cattle barons and the homesteaders who were settling on “their” lands were inevitable. The homesteaders had every right to claim their 320 acres of windswept grasslands but some old-time ranchers tried to discourage the settlers in hopes of preserving more rangeland for their cattle. Usually, such discouragement was limited to cowboys cutting the settlers’ barbed wire fences or diverting irrigation water, but the tactics occasionally became more violent.

A common complaint among ranchers was that many of the homesteaders were actually rustlers who stole their cows and horses. The ranchers’ accusations were surely exaggerated, but the charge of rustling allowed them to take drastic actions. Such may have been the case with Ella Watson and James Averell. Watson, who was alleged to be a former prostitute from Kansas, came to Wyoming Territory in 1886. That same year, she received a license to wed James Averell, a Wyoming saloonkeeper who had a homestead on the Sweetwater River. The couple either never married or kept the union secret so that Watson could file a second homestead near Averell’s place. Both claims were located on lands claimed by the powerful rancher Albert Bothwell without legal foundation, and Bothwell used the lands for grazing his herds.

Bothwell–described as one of the most arrogant cattleman in the region–eventually accused both Watson and Averell of rustling. On this day in 1889, Bothwell and five of his men took the couple prisoner and hanged them. Although the men were later charged with murder, a pro-rancher jury acquitted them of any wrongdoing. It was the only incidence of a woman being executed–legally or illegally–in the history of Wyoming.

President Nixon watches first lunar landing

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-watches-first-lunar-landing

On this day in 1969, President Richard Nixon, along with millions of others, watches as two American astronauts walk on the moon. Later that evening, Nixon recorded succinctly in his diary “the President held an interplanetary conversation with Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the Moon.”

America and the Soviet Union had been in a race to see who could get to the moon first ever since the Soviets beat the U.S. into manned space flight with Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight in 1961. Later that year, then-President John F. Kennedy vowed that America would be first to put a man on the moon, saying “To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.” To meet this goal, Kennedy and his successors, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, authorized generous funding for space exploration. Thanks to this support, less than a decade after what became known as Kennedy’s “moon speech,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent the first men to the moon.

Nixon joined approximately 500 million people around the world in watching Armstrong and Aldrin as the astronauts left their lunar landing module and walked on the moon. (The Soviet Union and China, America’s two biggest rivals in the space race, banned the broadcast in their respective countries.) After they planted an American flag on the moon’s surface, the astronauts spoke directly to President Nixon, who congratulated them on their historic mission. His phone was linked via satellite through the NASA control center in Houston, Texas.

Nixon continued to be an influential force in America’s space program. In 1972, he approved development of the space shuttle program. In an ironic twist, by the 21st century, space shuttle flights–especially those to the international space station–had become international cooperative endeavors with Russians and Americans joining forces to conduct missions and sharing space exploration technology.

Neil Armstrong walks on moon

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/armstrong-walks-on-moon

At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy’s bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.”

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

“Buzz” Aldrin joined him on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.”

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy’s 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.

READ MORE:

See Photos of How Astronauts Trained for the Apollo Moon Missions

How Landing the First Man on the Moon Cost Dozens of Lives

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Timeline: From Liftoff to Splashdown

Why Civil Rights Activists Protested the Moon Landing

How Many Times Has the U.S. Landed on the Moon?

Viking 1 lands on Mars

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/viking-1-lands-on-mars

On the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the Viking 1 lander, an unmanned U.S. planetary probe, becomes the first spacecraft to successfully land on the surface of Mars.

Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. The first month of its orbit was devoted to imaging the surface to find appropriate landing sites. On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter, touched down on the Chryse Planitia region of Mars, and sent back the first close-up photographs of the rust-colored Martian surface.

In September 1976, Viking 2–launched only three weeks after Viking 1–entered into orbit around Mars, where it assisted Viking 1 in imaging the surface and also sent down a lander. During the dual Viking missions, the two orbiters imaged the entire surface of Mars at a resolution of 150 to 300 meters, and the two landers sent back more than 1,400 images of the planet’s surface.

Sitting Bull surrenders

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Five years after General George A. Custer’s infamous defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader Sitting Bull surrenders to the U.S. Army, which promises amnesty for him and his followers. Sitting Bull had been a major leader in the 1876 Sioux uprising that resulted in the death of Custer and 264 of his men at Little Bighorn. Pursued by the U.S. Army after the victory, he escaped to Canada with his followers.

Born in the Grand River Valley in what is now South Dakota, Sitting Bull gained early recognition in his Sioux tribe as a capable warrior and a man of vision. In 1864, he fought against the U.S. Army under General Alfred Sully at Killdeer Mountain and thereafter dedicated himself to leading Sioux resistance against white encroachment. He soon gained a following in not only his own tribe but in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Native American groups as well. In 1867, he was made principal chief of the entire Sioux nation.

In 1873, in what would serve as a preview of the Battle of Little Bighorn three years later, an American Indian military coalition featuring the leadership of Sitting Bull skirmished briefly with Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. In 1876, Sitting Bull was not a strategic leader in the U.S. defeat at Little Bighorn, but his spiritual influence inspired Crazy Horse and the other victorious American Indian military leaders. He subsequently fled to Canada, but in 1881, with his people starving, he returned to the United States and surrendered.

He was held as a prisoner of war at Fort Randall in South Dakota territory for two years and then was permitted to live on Standing Rock Reservation straddling North and South Dakota territory. In 1885, he traveled for a season with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show and then returned to Standing Rock. In 1889, the spiritual proclamations of Sitting Bull influenced the rise of the “Ghost Dance,” an American Indian religious movement that proclaimed that the whites would disappear and the dead American Indian and buffalo would return.

His support of the Ghost Dance movement had brought him into disfavor with government officials, and on December 15, 1890, American Indian police burst into Sitting Bull’s house in the Grand River area of South Dakota and attempted to arrest him. There is confusion as to what happened next. By some accounts, Sitting Bull’s warriors shot the leader of the police, who immediately turned and gunned down Sitting Bull. In another account, the police were instructed by Major James McLaughlin, director of the Standing Rock Sioux Agency, to kill the chief at any sign of resistance. Whatever the case, Sitting Bull was fatally shot and died within hours. The American Indian police hastily buried his body at Fort Yates within the Standing Rock Reservation. In 1953, his remains were moved into Mobridge, South Dakota, where a granite shaft marks his resting place.

Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” hits #1

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jan-and-deans-surf-city-hits-1

“Two girls for every boy!” went the immortal opening line from Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” the song that reached the top of the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1963. It was a claim that wasn’t actually supported by the facts, but it helped create a popular image of California as a paradise of sun and sand and endless summers.

To anyone with just a passing familiarity with 1960s pop music, “Surf City” might easily be mistaken for a Beach Boys record, though in fact, the Beach Boys had yet to have a #1 of their own when Jan and Dean scored theirs on this day in 1963. Still, “Surf City” owes its existence directly to the Beach Boys and their resident genius Brian Wilson.

High-school classmates Jan Berry and Dean Torrance earned a pair of minor hits while still in their teens, including one — “Baby Talk” (#10 1959)— that Beach Boy Mike Love would later credit as an inspiration for his group’s 1961 debut single, “Surfin’.” But by 1962, the direction of influence between the two groups had shifted. Jan and Dean’s doo-wop flavored sound was passing out of fashion, and when the duo met the Beach Boys while appearing on the same bill at a Los Angeles record hop, they heard the sound that would reinvigorate their career. They became good friends with the Beach Boys and with Brian Wilson in particular, and when they asked Wilson if they could record one of his songs, he declined to give Jan and Dean their first choice, the then-unrecorded “Surfin’ Safari,” but he did give them the instrumental track and opening line to “Surf City.”

In a year that also saw the debut of the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon Beach Party movie franchise, “Surf City” became the first chart-topping surf song ever. Jan and Dean would go on to have four more significant surf hits in their career:: “Honolulu Lulu” (#11, 1963); “Drag City” (#10, 1963); “Dead Man’s Curve” (#8, 1964); and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” (#3, 1964).

Aurora shooting leaves 12 dead, 70 wounded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/12-people-killed-70-wounded-in-colorado-movie-theater-shooting

On this day in 2012, gunman James Holmes started a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb, killing 12 people—the youngest a 6-year-old girl—and injuring at least 70 others.

The Aurora shooting took place shortly after the start of a crowded midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, which opened across the United States that day. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Colorado since the 1999 Columbine shooting, in which 12 high school students and a teacher were murdered.

The massacre in Aurora began when 24-year-old James Holmes entered theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex through a parking lot exit door and threw gas canisters into the theater. He was dressed in a gas mask and black combat gear, leading some audience members to initially think he was performing a stunt for the film, a Batman sequel eagerly anticipated by fans.

Instead, Holmes opened fire at the audience, shooting people at random. Police quickly arrived on the scene, and Holmes was apprehended behind the movie theater; he put up no resistance.

Not long after, law enforcement agents evacuated buildings near Holmes’ Aurora apartment after he told them he had booby-trapped his home with explosive devices. When Holmes made his first appearance in court, on July 23, his hair was dyed neon orange and he seemed dazed and devoid of emotion.

Investigators learned that in the months leading up to the Aurora movie theater shooting, Holmes had acquired weapons from Colorado gun shops and ordered thousands of rounds of ammunition online. A native of San Diego, he had enrolled in a Ph.D. neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora in 2011 but dropped out in June 2012 after failing an important exam.

Court documents later revealed that a month before the Aurora shooting, a University of Colorado psychiatrist who had treated Holmes reported to campus police that he could be a danger to the public and had threatened her.

Holmes, who has offered no motive for the shooting spree, eventually was charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. In May 2013, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In a 2015 trial, Holmes was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences without parole.

Doc Holliday kills for the first time

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Doc Holliday commits his first murder, killing a man for shooting up his New Mexico saloon.

Despite his formidable reputation as a deadly gunslinger, Doc Holliday only engaged in eight shootouts during his life, and it has only been verified that he killed two men. Still, the smartly dressed ex-dentist from Atlanta had a remarkably fearless attitude toward death and danger, perhaps because he was slowly dying from tuberculosis.

In 1879, Holliday settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon with a partner. Holliday spent his evenings gambling in the saloon and he seemed determined to stress his health condition by heavy drinking. A notorious cad, Holliday also enjoyed the company of the dance hall girls that the partners hired to entertain the customers–which sometimes sparked trouble.

On this day in 1879, a former army scout named Mike Gordon tried to persuade one of Holliday’s saloon girls to quit her job and run away with him. When she refused, Gordon became infuriated. He went out to the street and began to fire bullets randomly into the saloon. He didn’t have a chance to do much damage–after the second shot, Holliday calmly stepped out of the saloon and dropped Gordon with a single bullet. Gordon died the next day.

The following year, Holliday abandoned the saloon business and joined his old friend Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would kill his second victim, during the famous “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” in October 1881. During the subsequent six years, Holliday assisted at several other killings and wounded a number of men in gun battles. His hard drinking and tuberculosis eventually caught up with him, and he retired to a Colorado health resort where he died in 1887. Struck by the irony of such a peaceful end to a violent life, his last words reportedly were “This is funny.”

Rosetta Stone found

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rosetta-stone-found

On this day in 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic. The ancient Greek on the Rosetta Stone told archaeologists that it was inscribed by priests honoring the king of Egypt, Ptolemy V, in the second century B.C. More startlingly, the Greek passage announced that the three scripts were all of identical meaning. The artifact thus held the key to solving the riddle of hieroglyphics, a written language that had been “dead” for nearly 2,000 years.

When Napoleon, an emperor known for his enlightened view of education, art and culture, invaded Egypt in 1798, he took along a group of scholars and told them to seize all important cultural artifacts for France. Pierre Bouchard, one of Napoleon’s soldiers, was aware of this order when he found the basalt stone, which was almost four feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide, at a fort near Rosetta. When the British defeated Napoleon in 1801, they took possession of the Rosetta Stone.

Several scholars, including Englishman Thomas Young made progress with the initial hieroglyphics analysis of the Rosetta Stone. French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), who had taught himself ancient languages, ultimately cracked the code and deciphered the hieroglyphics using his knowledge of Greek as a guide. Hieroglyphics used pictures to represent objects, sounds and groups of sounds. Once the Rosetta Stone inscriptions were translated, the language and culture of ancient Egypt was suddenly open to scientists as never before.

The Rosetta Stone has been housed at the British Museum in London since 1802, except for a brief period during World War I. At that time, museum officials moved it to a separate underground location, along with other irreplaceable items from the museum’s collection, to protect it from the threat of bombs.