Monthly Archives: April 2019

Arizona Ranger Burton Mossman is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/arizona-ranger-burton-mossman-is-born

Burton C. Mossman, a rancher turned lawman, is born in Aurora, Illinois.

Little is known about Mossman’s childhood in Illinois, though he apparently learned to be self-reliant and resourceful at a young age. When he was 21, Mossman left home and moved to Mexico, where he quickly began proving himself one of the most canny and successful ranchers in the territory. By age 30, he not only had his own spread in New Mexico, but was also the superintendent of a two-million-acre ranch in northern Arizona running 60,000 cattle.

As the size of the southwestern cattle industry increased, cattle rustlers began to take advantage of the lack of surveillance on the isolated ranges to steal stock. In 1901, the territory of Arizona responded by organizing a ranger force to rid the region of rustlers and other outlaws. The governor of Arizona convinced Mossman to sign on as the first captain of the Arizona Rangers.

Mossman was suited to the task. Courageous and skilled with a pistol, he had a knack for surprising rustlers while they were still in possession of stolen cattle, freshly butchered beef, green hides, and other incriminating evidence. Though he could use violence to good effect when needed, Mossman preferred to trick his quarry into giving up peacefully when possible. In one instance, Mossman rode south alone in pursuit of the multiple-murderer Agostine Chacon, who had fled to Mexico. Clearly out of his jurisdiction, Mossman had to act with finesse. With the assistance of Burt Alvard, an outlaw turned lawman, Mossman convinced Chacon that he and Alvard were also outlaws and would help him steal several top horses from a ranch in southern Arizona. When the men crossed the border into Arizona, Mossman revealed his true identity and arrested Chacon, who was later hanged.

The Chacon arrest was a typical example of Mossman’s approach to dealing with Arizona rustlers and outlaws. “If they come along easy, everything will be all right,” he once explained. “If they don’t, well, I just guess we can make pretty short work of them… Some of them will object, of course. They’ll probably try a little gunplay as a bluff, but I shoot fairly well myself, and the boys who back me up are handy enough with guns. Any rustler who wants to yank on the rope and kick up trouble will find he’s up against it.”

After a long and adventurous career with the Arizona Rangers, Mossman eventually returned to the more peaceful life of a rancher. By the time he retired from ranching in 1944, he had business interests in cattle operations from Mexico to Montana, and more than a million cattle wore his brand. He lived out the remainder of his life at his comfortable ranch in Roswell, New Mexico, and died in 1956 at the age of 89.

George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/george-washington-gives-first-presidential-inaugural-address

On this day in 1789, George Washington is sworn in as the first American president and delivers the first inaugural speech at Federal Hall in New York City. Elements of the ceremony set tradition; presidential inaugurations have deviated little in the two centuries since Washington’s inauguration.

In front of 10,000 spectators, Washington appeared in a plain brown broadcloth suit holding a ceremonial army sword. At 6′ 3, Washington presented an impressive and solemn figure as he took the oath of office standing on the second balcony of Federal Hall. With Vice President John Adams standing beside him, Washington repeated the words prompted by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, kissed the bible and then went to the Senate chamber to deliver his inaugural address.

Observers noted that Washington appeared as if he would have preferred facing cannon and musket fire to taking the political helm of the country. He fidgeted, with his hand in one pocket, and spoke in a low, sometimes inaudible voice while he reiterated the mixed emotions of anxiety and honor he felt in assuming the role of president. For the most part, his address consisted of generalities, but he directly addressed the need for a strong Constitution and Bill of Rights and frequently emphasized the public good. He told the House of Representatives that he declined to be paid beyond such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require. In deference to the power of Congress, Washington promised to give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good.

After delivering his address, Washington walked up Broadway with a group of legislators and local political leaders to pray at St. Paul’s Chapel. Later, he made the humble and astute observation that his presidency, and the nation itself, was an experiment.

Tennis star Monica Seles stabbed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tennis-star-monica-seles-stabbed

Top women’s tennis player Monica Seles is stabbed by a deranged German man during a match in Hamburg. The assailant, a fan of German tennis star Steffi Graf, apparently hoped that by injuring Seles his idol Graf would be able to regain her No. 1 ranking.

Seles became the youngest woman to win the French Open in 1990 when she defeated No. 1-ranked Steffi Graff in the finals. In 1991, Seles, a power player with a habit of grunting loudly during matches, replaced Graf as the top-ranked women’s player. At the time of the 1993 attack, she had won eight Grand Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 in the world. On April 30, 1993, Seles, then 19, was sitting on a courtside seat during a changeover in her match against Magdalena Maleeva at the Hamburg Open when 38-year-old Gunter Parche leaned over a fence and stabbed her between the shoulder blades with a knife. Parche was quickly apprehended by security officials and Seles was taken to the hospital. She recovered from her physical injuries but was left with deep emotional scars and didn’t play again professionally for another two years.

Parche, who was described as a mentally unbalanced loner, contended he was only trying to hurt Seles, not kill her. A German court convicted him of grievous bodily harm in October 1993 and he received a two-year suspended sentence. Seles, along with many others, was angered by the lenient verdict and prosecutors eventually won the right to a re-trial. However, the judge at Parche’s second trial in 1995 upheld the suspended sentence.

In August 1995, Seles, who became a U.S. citizen the previous year, made her tennis comeback by winning the Canadian Open. The next month, she lost the U.S. Open finals to Steffi Graf. In January 1996, she won her fourth Australian Open and final Grand Slam title. In 2003, a foot injury forced Seles out of competition, and she played only sporadically. In February 2008, Seles officially retired.

South Vietnam surrenders

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/south-vietnam-surrenders

By dawn, communist forces move into Saigon, where they meet only sporadic resistance. The South Vietnamese forces had collapsed under the rapid advancement of the North Vietnamese. The most recent fighting had begun in December 1974, when the North Vietnamese had launched a major attack against the lightly defended province of Phuoc Long, located due north of Saigon along the Cambodian border, overrunning the provincial capital at Phuoc Binh on January 6, 1975. Despite previous presidential promises to provide aid in such a scenario, the United States did nothing. By this time, Nixon had resigned from office and his successor, Gerald Ford, was unable to convince a hostile Congress to make good on Nixon’s earlier promises to rescue Saigon from communist takeover.

This situation emboldened the North Vietnamese, who launched a new campaign in March 1975. The South Vietnamese forces fell back in total disarray, and once again, the United States did nothing. The South Vietnamese abandoned Pleiku and Kontum in the Highlands with very little fighting. Then Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast toward Saigon, defeating the South Vietnamese forces at each encounter.

The South Vietnamese 18th Division had fought a valiant battle at Xuan Loc, just to the east of Saigon, destroying three North Vietnamese divisions in the process. However, it proved to be the last battle in the defense of the Republic of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese forces held out against the attackers until they ran out of tactical air support and weapons, finally abandoning Xuan Loc to the communists on April 21.

Having crushed the last major organized opposition before Saigon, the North Vietnamese got into position for the final assault. In Saigon, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and transferred authority to Vice President Tran Van Huong before fleeing the city on April 25. By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and began to maneuver for a complete takeover.

When they attacked at dawn on April 30, they met little resistance. North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace and the war came to an end. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin accepted the surrender from Gen. Duong Van Minh, who had taken over after Tran Van Huong spent only one day in power. Tin explained to Minh, “You have nothing to fear. Between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy. The war for our country is over.”

Adolf Hitler commits suicide

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/adolf-hitler-commits-suicide

On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.

Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.

In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just two days before his suicide.

In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs, before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.

Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.

Louisiana Purchase concluded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/louisiana-purchase-concluded

On April 30, 1803, representatives of the United States and Napoleonic France conclude negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, a massive land sale that doubles the size of the young American republic. What was known as Louisiana Territory comprised most of modern-day United States between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, with the exceptions of Texas, parts of New Mexico, and other pockets of land already controlled by the United States. A formal treaty for the Louisiana Purchase, antedated to April 30, was signed two days later.

Beginning in the 17th century, France explored the Mississippi River valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the 18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other European power: from New Orleans northeast to the Great Lakes and northwest to modern-day Montana. In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded its America territory west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. Spain, no longer a dominant European power, did little to develop Louisiana Territory during the next three decades. In 1796, Spain allied itself with France, leading Britain to use its powerful navy to cut off Spain from America.

In 1801, Spain signed a secret treaty with France to return Louisiana Territory to France. Reports of the retrocession caused considerable uneasiness in the United States. Since the late 1780s, Americans had been moving westward into the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys, and these settlers were highly dependent on free access to the Mississippi River and the strategic port of New Orleans. U.S. officials feared that France, resurgent under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, would soon seek to dominate the Mississippi River and access to the Gulf of Mexico. In a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, President Thomas Jefferson stated, “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans…we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.” Livingston was ordered to negotiate with French minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand for the purchase of New Orleans.

France was slow in taking control of Louisiana, but in 1802 Spanish authorities, apparently acting under French orders, revoked a U.S.-Spanish treaty that granted Americans the right to store goods in New Orleans. In response, President Jefferson sent future president James Monroe to Paris to aid Livingston in the New Orleans purchase talks. On April 11, 1803, the day before Monroe’s arrival, Talleyrand asked a surprised Livingston what the United States would give for all of Louisiana Territory. It is believed that the failure of France to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great Britain and probable Royal Navy blockade of France, and financial difficulties may all have prompted Napoleon to offer Louisiana for sale to the United States.

Negotiations moved swiftly, and at the end of April the U.S. envoys agreed to pay $11,250,000 and assumed claims of its citizens against France in the amount of $3,750,000. In exchange, the United States acquired the vast domain of Louisiana Territory, some 828,000 square miles of land. In October, Congress ratified the purchase, and in December 1803 France formally transferred authority over the region to the United States. The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory for the bargain price of less than three cents an acre was Thomas Jefferson’s most notable achievement as president. American expansion westward into the new lands began immediately, and in 1804 a territorial government was established. On April 30, 1812, exactly nine years after the Louisiana Purchase agreement was made, the first of 13 states to be carved from the territory–Louisiana–was admitted into the Union as the 18th U.S. state.

New York World’s Fair opens

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/new-york-worlds-fair-opens

On April 30, 1939, the New York World’s Fair opens in New York City. The opening ceremony, which featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York.

Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, the fairground was marked by two imposing structures–the “Perisphere” and the “Trylon”–and exhibited such new technology as FM radio, robotics, fluorescent lighting, and a crude fax machine. Norman Bel Geddes designed a Futurama ride for General Motors, and users were transported through an idealized city of the future. Sixty-three nations participated in the fair, which enjoyed large crowds before the outbreak of World War II interrupted many of its scheduled events.

The first presidential inauguration

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-presidential-inauguration

In New York City, George Washington, the great military leader of the American Revolution, is inaugurated as the first president of the United States.

In February 1789, all 69 presidential electors unanimously chose Washington to be the first U.S. president. In March, the new U.S. constitution officially took effect, and in April Congress formally sent word to Washington that he had won the presidency. He borrowed money to pay off his debts in Virginia and traveled to New York. On April 30, he came across the Hudson River in a specially built and decorated barge. The inaugural ceremony was performed on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, and a large crowd cheered after he took the oath of office. The president then retired indoors to read Congress his inaugural address, a quiet speech in which he spoke of “the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” The evening celebration was opened and closed by 13 skyrockets and 13 cannons.

As president, Washington sought to unite the nation and protect the interests of the new republic at home and abroad. Of his presidency, he said, “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.” He successfully implemented executive authority, made good use of brilliant politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet, and quieted fears of presidential tyranny. In 1792, he was unanimously re-elected but four years later refused a third term. In 1797, he finally began a long-awaited retirement at his estate in Virginia. He died two years later. His friend Henry Lee provided a famous eulogy for the father of the United States: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Operation Frequent Wind begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/operation-frequent-wind-begins

Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation on record, begins removing the last Americans from Saigon.

The North Vietnamese had launched their final offensive in March 1975 and the South Vietnamese forces had fallen back before their rapid advance, losing Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Qui Nhon, Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang, and Xuan Loc in quick succession. With the North Vietnamese attacking the outskirts of Saigon, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin ordered the commencement of Frequent Wind.

In 19 hours, 81 helicopters carried more than 1,000 Americans and almost 6,000 Vietnamese to aircraft carriers offshore. Cpl. Charles McMahon, Jr. and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge, USMC, were the last U.S. military personnel killed in action in Vietnam, when shrapnel from a North Vietnamese rocket struck them as they were guarding Tan Son Nhut Airbase during the evacuation. At 7:53 a.m. on April 30, the last helicopter lifted off the rook of the embassy and headed out to sea. Later that morning, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin accepted the surrender from Gen. Duong Van Minh, who had taken over from Tran Van Huong (who only spent one day in power after President Nguyen Van Thieu fled). The Vietnam War was over.

U.S.-South Vietnamese forces launch Cambodian “incursion”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-south-vietnamese-forces-launch-cambodian-incursion

U.S. and South Vietnamese forces launch a limited “incursion” into Cambodia. The campaign included 13 major ground operations to clear North Vietnamese sanctuaries 20 miles inside the Cambodian border. Some 50,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and 30,000 U.S. troops were involved, making it the largest operation of the war since Operation Junction City in 1967.

The operation began with South Vietnamese forces attacking into the “Parrot’s Beak” area of Cambodia that projects into South Vietnam above the Mekong Delta. During the first two days, an 8,000-man South Vietnamese task force, including two infantry divisions, four ranger battalions, and four armored cavalry squadrons, killed 84 communist soldiers while suffering 16 dead and 157 wounded.

The second stage of the campaign began on May 2 with a series of joint U.S.-South Vietnamese operations. These operations were aimed at clearing communist sanctuaries located in the densely vegetated “Fishhook” area of Cambodia (across the border from South Vietnam, immediately north of Tay Ninh Province and west of Binh Long Province, 70 miles from Saigon). The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, along with the South Vietnamese 3rd Airborne Brigade, killed 3,190 communists in the action and captured massive amounts of war booty, including 2,000 individual and crew-served weapons, 300 trucks, and 40 tons of foodstuffs. By the time all U.S. ground forces had departed Cambodia on June 30, the Allied forces had discovered and captured or destroyed 10 times more enemy supplies and equipment than they had captured inside South Vietnam during the entire previous year.

Many intelligence analysts at the time believed that the Cambodian incursion dealt a stunning blow to the communists, driving main force units away from the border and damaging their morale, and in the process buying as much as a year for South Vietnam’s survival. However, the incursion gave the antiwar movement in the United States a new rallying point. News of the incursion set off a wave of antiwar demonstrations, including one at Kent State University that resulted in the killing of four students by Army National Guard troops and another at Jackson State in Mississippi that resulted in the shooting of two students when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory. The incursion also angered many in Congress, who felt that Nixon was illegally widening the scope of the war; this resulted in a series of congressional resolutions and legislative initiatives that would severely limit the executive power of the president.