John’s Believe It Or Not… February 27th

* 1900 – Royal Canadian Regiment plays a decisive role in the Battle of Paardeburg. * 1827 New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras * 1897 Britain recognizes U.S. authority over Western Hemisphere * 1973 AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins * 1936 Shirley Temple receives $50 thousand per film

Shirley Temple

It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…

* 1900 – Royal Canadian Regiment plays a decisive role in the Battle of Paardeburg.

On 18 February 1900, British forces began to besiege a Boer army commanded by General Piet Cronje at Paardeberg Drift on the banks of the Modder River. Among the attacking force were 31 officers and 866 other ranks of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. This was the first major Canadian action of the South African War. The first day’s assault was extremely bloody, with the Canadians suffering 18 dead and 60 wounded, their worst losses in a single day during the war. The British high command decided to wait out the surrounded Boers. 

Day by day, the British tightened their cordon around the Boer position until conditions seemed right to force a Boer surrender. On the night of 26-27 February, the Canadians were in the lead of a British attempt to seize a section of the Boer trenches by a surprise attack. At 2:00 a.m. on 27 February, the Canadians cautiously advanced in two ranks towards the Boer lines less than half a kilometer away. They had nearly reached the enemy trenches when they ran into a trip-wire and came under heavy rifle fire. The front rank returned the Boer fire while their comrades began to hack trenches out of the hard-baked earth. Suddenly, someone called out “Retire”. Men began to drop back, confusion set in, and most of the battalion returned to the start line. Only “G” and “H” Companies from the Maritimes held firm and poured fire into the Boer positions. It was not much, but it was enough to convince Cronje that his position was untenable. He surrendered later that morning. 

Over four thousand men, or nearly ten percent of the Boer army, surrendered. It was the first significant British victory of the war. The Royal Canadians received much of the credit. The victory provided a boost to the morale and confidence of the troops and to Canadian nationalism.

The Victors of the Battle of Paardeberg on 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War
The Victors of the Battle of Paardeberg on 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War (British Battles)

* 1827 New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras

On this day in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

Though early French settlers brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to Louisiana at the end of the 17th century, Spanish governors of the province later banned the celebrations. After Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, New Orleanians managed to convince the city council to lift the ban on wearing masks and partying in the streets. The city’s new Mardi Gras tradition began in 1827 when the group of students, inspired by their experiences studying in Paris, donned masks and jester costumes and staged their own Fat Tuesday festivities.

The parties grew more and more popular, and in 1833 a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. After rowdy revelers began to get violent during the 1850s, a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus staged the first large-scale, well-organized Mardi Gras parade in 1857.

Over time, hundreds of krewes formed, building elaborate and colorful floats for parades held over the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Riders on the floats are usually local citizens who toss “throws” at passersby, including metal coins, stuffed toys or those now-infamous strands of beads. Though many tourists mistakenly believe Bourbon Street and the historic French Quarter are the heart of Mardi Gras festivities, none of the major parades have been allowed to enter the area since 1979 because of its narrow streets.

In February 2006, New Orleans held its Mardi Gras celebrations despite the fact that Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the city with massive flooding the previous August. Attendance was at only 60-70 percent of the 300,000-400,000 visitors who usually attend Mardi Gras, but the celebration marked an important step in the recovery of the city, which counts on hospitality and tourism as its single largest industry.

Feb 27, 1827: New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras
Feb 27, 1827: New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras (Bowie News)

* 1897 Britain recognizes U.S. authority over Western Hemisphere

Great Britain agrees to U.S. arbitration in a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, defusing a dangerous U.S.-British diplomatic crisis.

In 1841, gold was discovered in eastern British Guiana, intensifying a long-standing boundary dispute between Britain and Venezuela. In 1887, Venezuela accused Britain of pushing settlements farther into the contested area and cut diplomatic ties with Great Britain. In 1895, Britain refused to submit the quarrel to U.S. arbitration, which provoked a belligerent reaction from U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s administration.

In July 1895, Secretary of State Richard Olney, invoking a new and broader interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, demanded U.S. arbitration on the basis that any quarrel in the Western Hemisphere directly affected American interests and thus the United States had a right to intercede. The Marquis of Salisbury, the British prime minister, rebuffed Olney, prompting President Cleveland to appeal to the U.S. Congress in December 1895 to denounce British authority over the disputed zone. Congress, in support of the president, created a committee to settle the boundary, and there was talk of war in both the Capitol and the British Parliament.

Britain, however, was suffering from European troubles and increasing difficulties in South Africa, and on February 27, 1897, Prime Minister Salisbury sent a conciliatory note to the United States recognizing Cleveland’s broad interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine and agreeing to U.S. arbitration. A U.S. commission was appointed, and in 1899 a border was decided on that largely upheld Britain’s original claims.

Framed Print featuring MONROE DOCTRINE, 1896. American cartoon by F. Victor Gillam, 1896, invoking the Monroe Doctrine against Great Britain and other European powers
Framed Print featuring MONROE DOCTRINE, 1896. American cartoon by F. Victor Gillam, 1896, invoking the Monroe Doctrine against Great Britain and other European powers (mediastorehouse.com)

* 1973 AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupy Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. The AIM members, some of them armed, took 11 residents of the historic Oglala Sioux settlement hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation.

AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization. From November 1969 to June 1971, AIM members occupied Alcatraz Island off San Francisco, saying they had the right to it under a treaty provision granting them unused federal land. In November 1972, AIM members briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to protest programs controlling reservation development. Then, in early 1973, AIM prepared for its dramatic occupation of Wounded Knee. In addition to its historical significance, Wounded Knee was one of the poorest communities in the United States and shared with the other Pine Ridge settlements some of the country’s lowest rates of life expectancy.

The day after the Wounded Knee occupation began, AIM members traded gunfire with the federal marshals surrounding the settlement and fired on automobiles and low-flying planes that dared come within rifle range. Russell Means began negotiations for the release of the hostages, demanding that the U.S. Senate launch an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all Sioux reservations in South Dakota and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings on the scores of Indian treaties broken by the U.S. government.

The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents and several more were wounded. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after officials promised to investigate their complaints. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but on September 16, 1973, the charges against them were dismissed by a federal judge because of the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.

Violence continued on the Pine Ridge Reservation throughout the rest of the 1970s, with several more AIM members and supporters losing their lives in confrontations with the U.S. government. In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native man were killed in a shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In the trial that followed, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. With many of its leaders in prison, AIM disbanded in 1978. Local AIM groups continued to function, however, and in 1981 one group occupied part of the Black Hills in South Dakota. Congress took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts, some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims. Russell Means continued to advocate for Native rights at Pine Ridge and elsewhere and in 1988 was a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. In 2001, Means attempted to run for the governorship of New Mexico, but his candidacy was disallowed because procedure had not been followed. Beginning in 1992, Means appeared in several films, including Last of the Mohicans. He also had a guest spot on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, was published in 1997. Means died on October 12, 2012, at age 72.

Leonard Peltier remains in prison, although efforts to win him pardon continue.

Members of the American Indian Movement and local Oglala Sioux stand guard outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church after taking control of the town and eleven hostages during a 71 day standoff
Members of the American Indian Movement and local Oglala Sioux stand guard outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church after taking control of the town and eleven hostages during a 71-day standoff (gettyimages.com)

* 1936 Shirley Temple receives $50 thousand per film

On this day in 1936, Shirley Temple receives a new contract from 20th Century Fox that will pay the seven-year-old star $50,000 per film.

Temple was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California, and started appearing in a series of short films spoofing current movies, called Baby Burlesks, at the age of four. At six, she attracted attention with her complex song-and-dance number “Baby Take a Bow,” performed with James Dunn, in the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer. Based on the film’s success, 20th Century Fox signed little Shirley to a seven-year contract. She would appear in a string of films that year and the next, including Little Miss Marker, Change of Heart, Bright Eyes (which featured one of her most famous songs, the bouncy tune “On the Good Ship Lollipop”), and Curly Top. At the depths of the Great Depression, Temple’s films provided a cheery alternate universe for audiences suffering the effects of widespread unemployment and general economic hardship.

Knowing they had a cash cow on their hands, 20th Century Fox refined the terms of Temple’s contract in 1936, paying her the unprecedented sum of $50,000 per picture. They also famously altered the year on her birth certificate, making it appear that she was a year younger in order to prolong her adorable child-star status. By 1938, Temple was the No. 1 box-office draw in America. The public loved her, and she routinely upstaged her adult counterparts on the big screen. Over the course of the 1930s, the box-office success of her more than 40 films, including Poor Little Rich Girl, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, went a long way towards helping Fox weather the Depression.

Temple’s career began to peter out in her teenage years, however, and her later films met with less and less success with audiences. In 1950, she retired from movies, though she narrated the television series Shirley Temple’s Storybook from 1957 to 1959. Also in 1950, she married naval officer Charles Black, changing her name to Shirley Temple Black. (She had been previously married to Jack Agar; they wed when she was 17 and divorced after having one child, Linda.) With Black, she had two more children, Charles Jr. and Lori.

Some 20 years after retiring from Hollywood, Temple Black launched a political career, running as the Republican candidate for a congressional seat in San Mateo, California, in 1967 and coming in second of 14 candidates. The following year, President Richard Nixon appointed her as an ambassador to the United Nations; she worked for the State Department in the United States and overseas for more than two decades. She was the first woman to ever serve as chief of protocol, a post she held for 11 years under President Gerald R. Ford, and President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989; by the end of her term in 1993, it had become the Czech Republic.

Temple Black published her autobiography, Child Star, in 1988. She still serves on the Institute of International Studies. The former child star also became a spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness after she discovered a malignant lump in her breast in 1972 and underwent a simple mastectomy. In 1999, at an event hosted by then-President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, Temple Black received a medal from the Kennedy Center for lifetime achievement to the United States and the world.

On February 10, 2014, Temple died at her Woodside, California, home at 85.

Shirley Temple Received New Contract from Studio - February 27, 1936
Shirley Temple Received New Contract from Studio – February 27, 1936 (hollywoodreporter.com)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* Canadian War Museum                                               http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/battlepaardeberg_e.shtml

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                                

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 27th”

  1. I’ve never experienced Mardi Gras except glimpses on film. But, like most I loved Shirley Temple. I began following Native Americans through literature when I was in college. And, later, I took my kids on a road trip through New Mexico to one reservation after another. Some places did not even have running water. Heartbreaking situations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The conditions on our reserves are similar. Many have running water that is putrid. It infuriates me that all they get is empty promises. Racism reigns supreme. Thanks, Gwen.

      Like

  2. Enjoyed the stories about Mardi Gras and Shirley Temple. Her movies were rerun standards in the early days of television. Wounded Knee was a stand that I thought would accomplish more than it did. Thanks, John

    Like

  3. It would have been interesting to take part in that very first Mardi Gras. 🙂

    I’ve done a lot of reading on Native American cultural and the clash that began with the Plains-Indian War, but most of it relates to the 19th century. The post on Wounded Knee was eye-opening. It brings to mind the movie Thunderheart, still an all-time favorite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if I ever visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I’d like to watch everything from a balcony above the main street. I’d likey get myself killed otherwise! 😉

      Wounded Knee was not unlike the Oka Crisis that took place not far from Montreal in 1990. Some of the Natives were well armed and former members of the US military (Canadians often volunteered to fight with US troops – as in Vietnam). When Quebec Provincial Police stormed the compound they were humiliated by the Native warriors. I should do a post about this someday. Thanks, Mae!

      Liked by 1 person

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