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May Stories Behind the Stamps: Freedom’s Frontier

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.

Eastern National has released their list of new stamps for the month of May:

    • Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument | Washington, DC
    • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail | Woodlawn, VA
    • Valles Caldera National Preserve | Jemez Springs, NM
    • Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area | Lawrence, KS

The stamp for the brand new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument simply replaces the previous stamp for its old designation as the Sewall-Belmont House Affiliated Area.  The story behind this new National Monument is well worth reading, you can check it out in this Parkasaurus post.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is also a relatively new unit of the National Park System.  Ever since it was transferred to the National Park Service by legislation in December 2014, it has been using an unofficial stamp reading “New Mexico” as the location.  The “Jemez Springs, NM” stamp is its first official stamp from Eastern National, and will presumably replace the existing stamp.

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs from the mouth of the Potomac in the Chesapeake Bay all the way up to Cumberland, Maryland and from there, into the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania.  The newest stamp is for a National Trust for Historic Preservation property adjacent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Woodlawn Plantation was given as a gift by George Washington in 1799 to his nephew,  Lawrence Lewis, upon his marriage to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, of all people, Eleanor Custis.  By 1799, George Washington was two years removed from the Presidency, from which he retired from in 1797. The gift was made with some intent of keeping the new family close to home, as it were.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he was just a few months away from his sudden death due to some sort of upper respiratory ailment in December 1799.  Woodlawn Plantation first became a historical house museum in 1949, and it would actually become the very first property acquired and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1957.  In 1961, the property would add the Pope-Leighey House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, that had to be relocated from nearby Falls Church, Virginia due to the construction of Interstate 66.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation now owns or operates nearly two dozen historic buildings, and partners with the administration of a half-dozen others through cooperative agreements.  Of the 20 properties owner or operated the Trust, this is the 5th to be included in the Passport Program.

Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of "Bleeding Kansas," but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces - events commemorated by the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.
Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of “Bleeding Kansas,” but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces – events commemorated by the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.  Photo from 2006.

The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area includes 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri, and principally commemorates the events of the Bleeding Kansas years of 1854 to 1861 leading up to the Civil War.  This stamp is their first Passport cancellation, and will be located at the partnership organization’s headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas.  For more on National Heritage Areas, check out this Parkasaurus post.

The term “Bleeding Kansas” refers to the years of extensive civil conflict between pro-slavery and pro-abolition settlers spurred by the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and culminating in the start of the Civil War in 1861.

The history of the antebellum United States is largely a history of tensions over slavery, divided between the southern states whose economies were largely dependent on slavery, and northern states who became increasingly in favor of abolition of slavery during this time. Following independence from Great Britain, the semi-independent state of Vermont, and the just-across-the-Appalachians states of Kentucky and Tennessee were added to the Union relatively quickly, all during the Presidency of George Washington.  The fertile land of Ohio was added in March 1803, just months before the Louisiana Purchase would be completed.   That would lead to the addition of the state of Louisiana, and its valuable port of New Orleans, in the spring of 1812 – just 49 days before the US would declare war in the War of 1812.

Thus, the initial wave of expansion left the United States with 18 stars on its flag, and a rough parity of 9 southern states (counting Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) where slavery was legal and 9 northern states where slavery had been abolished since at least 1804 (when New Jersey became the last of them to abolish slavery).  Following the War of 1812, the question of how to handle the expansion of the United States into the western territories, and in particular, how that might alter the parity between “slave” and “free” states became arguably the preoccupying political issue of the era.  Indiana and Mississippi would join the Union almost exactly a year apart in December of 1816 and 1817 respectively.  Illinois and Alabama would follow them in the Decembers of 1818 and 1819.  Then the Missouri compromise of 1820 would allow Maine to split off from the rest of Massachusetts in March 1820, followed by Missouri joining as a “slave state” in August of 1821.

The Missouri Compromise was supposed to settle this issue by extending the line of the Virginia-North Carolina, Kentucky-Tennessee, and Missouri-Arkansas Territory borders westward, and providing that future states located within the Louisiana Purchase and to south of that line would be “slave states,” and that future states north of that line would be “free states.”  This compromise more-or-less held as Arkansas was admitted in June 1836 and Michigan was added in January 1837.  So too, with the addition of Florida and Texas in March and December of 1845, and then Iowa and Wisconsin in December 1846 and May 1848.

The admission of Wisconsin came just a little less than three months after the Mexican-American had ended in February, after less than two years of fighting.  The results of that war would change the balance between “slave” and “free” states in ways that no way had anticipated.  Unbeknownst to both the treaty negotiators ending the war and also to those in Congress admitting Wisconsin to the Union, gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill in California, less than two weeks before the war had ended.  It would take several months for word of the discovery to reach the wider world, but by 1849 hundreds of thousands of “forty-niners” would be arriving in California, many along what is today marked by the National Park Service as the California National Historic Trail.   Just one year later the massive influx of people would begin raising the question of statehood for California sooner than anyone had previously imagined and would begin the process of unravelling the Missouri Compromise.

Technically, the Missouri Compromise  only applied to those lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, thus a new deal was technically required for how to handle the slavery question in the territories that had been newly conquered from Mexico.  That deal was the Compromise of 1850.  California would be admitted to the Union as a “free state.”  In addition, instead of extending the Missouri Compromise line through the rest of the lands acquired in the Mexican-American War, the newly-formed New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory would each be allowed to decide the slavery question for themselves through popular sovereignty.  This somewhat satisfied both sides as it opened the possibility of additional pro-slavery states in the new lands, but at the same time it was recognized in the north that the largely desert climate of these new states would likely be unsuitable for plantation-style agriculture.  The compromise would also settle the northern and western boundaries of Texas (which had been added five years earlier) and also prohibit the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia.  In exchange for what on balance seemed like a major victory for the pro-abolition forces in the northern states, the southern states gained a truly major concession, passage of a much-stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

The Fugitive Slave Act established severe penalties for aiding an escaped slave, and imposed requirements for helping to return escaped slaves.  The Fugitive Slave Act quickly became resented in the northern states, as in their view it essentially forced northerners to become complicit in the practice of slavery itself.  Thus things simmered for four years until the question of future statehood for Kansas rose to the top of the agenda, especially as Kansas was located to the north of the Missouri Compromise line, and thus should have been a “free” state.  On the other hand, with the admission of new states from the desert lands acquired in the Mexican-American war still many years away, there were no longer any obvious pairings of future “slave” and “free” states for admission to the Union.  Thus, Senators from southern states began holding up legislation applying to the new territories, which not only would hold up their future admission to the Union, but also blocked the legal frameworks necessary for the extension westward of the future trans-continental railroad to California.

A solution to this impasse was struck in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively repealing the Missouri compromise and extending the notion of “popular sovereignty” from the former Mexican territories to the future states of Kansas Nebraska.  In exchange for this victory of southern states, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for construction of the trans-continental railroad to proceed.  Still, the “popular sovereignty” provisions would soon prove disastrous, creating an immediate free-for-all as pro-slavery settlers from the south and pro-abolition settlers from the north flooded into Kansas in the hopes of  altering Kansas’ final orientation as a “slave” or “free” state upon statehood.  Tensions between the two sides were palpable, and violence would regularly erupt between the two sides off and on for the next several years. Even as Minnesota and Oregon would be added to the Union as “free states” in 1858 and 1859 (in part due to Oregon electing two pro-slavery Democrats as Senators, despite being a “free” state), the “Bleeding Kansas” era would only come to an end once the secession of the first six southern states allowed the Senate to ratify Kansas as the 34th (or the 28th, depending on your perspective) state of the Union in January 1861. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area was established to tell the stories from the front lines of the conflict over slavery in the years leading up the Civil War.

With these additions, there are now 2,008 total active cancellations in the Passport to Your National Parks program.   Excluding the cancellations for anniversaries and special events, there 1,912 active cancellations available.

A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
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September New Stamps: Devils Hole, Ice Age Floods, and More!

 

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Fort Pulaski National Monument, near Savannah, Georgia, is one of the many parks with a new passport stamp this month.

 

Since I’ve started tracking the monthly releases of new stamps for this blog last year in September, this may be the single biggest month yet.  Indeed, the last few months may be the single-greatest expansion of the stamp program in a three month period, or at the very least, the largest expansion since the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area added 60+ new stamps in a single month back in the winter of 2008.

With such a long list, I am going to break the listings into two parts, starting with the new passport stamp additions for parks that are counted among the 408 units of the U.S. National Park System.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area | Charit Creek Lodge

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park |

  • Ashton, RI
  • Pawtucket, RI
  • RI / MA

Bryce Canyon National Park | Bryce, UT

Death Valley National Park | Devils Hole

Fort Pulaski National Monument | Sutler Store

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area | St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam

There were also two special event stamps discovered this month:

Andersonville National Historic Site | Funeral for 13,000

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens | Lotus & Water Lilly Festival

Most notable among these new stamps are the three new ones for the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.  This is one of the new national parks that was established in last December’s Defense Authorization Act.  In fact, this national park is still so new, that the National Park Service doesn’t even have a website up and running for it, although once the website is ready, it looks like you’ll be able to find it at www.nps.gov/blac*.  Pawtucket, Rhode Island is the home of the Slater Mill, which is arguably the centerpiece of the new national historical park, and has a claim to be one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.  Ashton, Rhode Island is the home of Blackstone River State Park, which features a canal towpath and riverwalk, as well as the Captain Wilber Kelly House Museum.

Fort Pulaski National Monument is the local national park in Savannah, Georgia, and is one of several “coastal fortification” sites in the National Park System.  The Sutler Store is the park bookstore, located inside the fort, and previously housed a second copy of the stamps found in the visitor center at the entrace to the fort.  It looks like it will now have a stamp of its own.

The Charit Creek Lodge is one of a handful of unique, backcountry lodges located in the National Park System.  A hiking trip out to this lodge is another good reason for a trip out to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.  Meanwhile, the new stamps at Bryce Canyon National Park and Mississippi National River and Recreation Area appear at first glance to simply re-issues of stamps for existing stamp locations.  The St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam, for example, are located directly behind the Mill City Museum which is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Minneapolis, regardless of whether you are visiting the national parks or collecting the passport stamps.  The Mill City Museum does a really fantastic job telling the story of the Twin Cities, and the history of milling industry in the area.

The Funeral for 13,000 program at Andersonville National Historic Site will commemorate the Civil War dead who are buried there.
The Funeral for 13,000 program at Andersonville National Historic Site will commemorate the Civil War dead who are buried there.

At Andersonville National Historic Site, the “Funeral for 13,000” is a special event held this September to commemorate the burying at the end of the Civil War of the numerous Union soldiers who died there.  According to the park’s website, this will be a very limited-edition cancellation, only available in September – which will surely be frustrating to the “passport completists” out there.   On the other hand, the Lotus and Water Lilly Festival at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC is an annual event held each July – so enthusiasts will have another opportunity to collect that stamp next summer.

Perhaps the most striking of the new stamps, however, is the new stamp for Devil’s Hole at Death Valley National Park.   Devil’s Hole is home to what most scientists consider to be the world’s rarest fish.   The tiny, inch-long, Devil’s Hole pupfish lives nowhere else on earth but this small desert pond of only about 500 square feet in surface area – a space that’s smaller than some master bedrooms that are built these days.

I first learned about Devils Hole when it was mentioned in one of the most memorable and formative stories that I read while growing up.  I suppose it says a lot about me, with no further commentary needed, that I was reading Natural History magazine  on a monthly basis as a teenager.  Make of that what you will, but the January 1993 issue had a haunting article entitled “Species in a Bucket” – the memory of which has still stuck with me.  The subject of this story was a close relative of the Devil’s Hole pupfish, this one called the Owens pupfish.   The story relates an incident from 1969 in which the author, a wildlife biologist, found himself carrying the entire surviving population of Owens pupfish in two buckets in order to save the species from near-certain extinction due to declining water levels in its native habitat.   Fortunately, restoration efforts for this species have led to four established populations, leaving it slightly less-endangered than the Devils Hole pupfish.   Nonetheless, this article is worth reading, and Natural History magazine has made it available for free online, so I encourage you to check it out and see if it impacts you as much as it did my younger self.

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The St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam are part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in Minneapolis, Minnesota and are commemorated in a new passport stamp this month.

Finally, a number of National Park Service partners also received stamps this month.   Due to limitations of space and time, I’ll simply list them without extensive commentary this month:

Coal National Heritage Area | Princeton Railroad Museum

Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area |

  • Corinth, MS
  • Tishomingo County
  • New Albany, MS
  • Holly Springs, MS
  • DeSoto County
  • Oxford, MS
  • Starkville, MS
  • Columbus, MS

The Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area is located in northeast Missouri.  These eight stamps join two existing stamps for a total of ten.   The awkwardly named  National Coal Heritage Area is located in southern West Virginia, and now has nine active passport stamp locations.

California National Historic Trail | Fort Bridger, WY

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Fort Bridger, WY

Oregon National Historic Trail | Fort Bridger, WY

Pony Express National Historic Trail | Fort Bridger, WY

Pony Express National Historic Trail | St. Joseph, MO

Its worth noting that Fort Bridger is a Wyoming State Historic Site, and was a notable trading outpost on the western trails.   St. Joseph, Missouri is the famous starting point of the short-lived overland mail route.

Santa Fe National Historic Trail | El Rancho de los Golondrias, NM

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail | New Mexico History Museum, NM

North Country National Sceni Trail | Carlton, MN

Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail |

  • Havre de Grace, MD
  • Oxon Hill, MD
  • Fort Washington, MD
  • Piscataway Park
  • Smallwood State Park, MD
  • Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum
  • Historic St. Mary’s City, MD
  • Point Lookout State Park, MD
  • Deltaville, VA
  • Urbanna, VA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Onacock, VA

Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail |

  • Montana Natural History Center
  • National Bison Range
  • Fort Spokane
  • Dry Falls State Park
  • Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
  • Multnomah Falls
  • Vista House

This is the second stamp for El Rancho de los Golondrias, which already had a stamp for the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.   The town of Santa Fe, New Mexico was a hub of trading activity first for Spanish Mexico, and then for independent Mexico after 1821.  The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro is literally the “Royal Road to the Interior” and connected the colonial capital of Aguascalientes, located in the center of present-day Mexico, to the trading post of Santa Fe.   Following Mexican independence in 1821, trade was opened with the United States, and the Santa Fe Trail was a trading route from Missouri to Santa Fe.  El Rancho de los Golondrias, literally, “Ranch of the Swallows,” is located about a days’ walk to the south and west of Santa Fe, and so was a popular “last stop” for traders arriving on the camino real for the south.   Its a little surprising to see this location receive a stamp for the Santa Fe NHT, as it does not appear to be located on the trail route itself, located as it is just to the west of Santa Fe.   However, today the site operates as a living history museum, and its possible that they have added some educational exhibits on the Santa Fe Trail, given the site’s proximity to Santa Fe.

For the North Country National Scenic Trail,  Carlton, Minnesota is located just outside of Duluth, on the southwest tip of Lake Superior.  It is located adjacent to Jay Cooke State Park, which has long had a passport stamp reading “Minnesota” on it, and so this is probably its first place-specific passport stamp.

The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail may bring travelers to discover the landscapes of eastern Washington. Photo from 2004.
The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail may bring travelers to discover the landscapes of eastern Washington. Photo from 2004.

 

Finally, perhaps the highlight of this month’s stamps are the first seven stamps for the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.   Imagine a lake larger than the State of Delaware and more than twice as deep as Lake Superior suddenly letting loose in a massive flood, sending all that water racing at once across hundreds of miles towards the ocean.  The force an power of these floods would surely alter the shape of the landscape for thousands of years to come!  Geologists tell us that that is exactly what happened approximately 12,000 years ago on the plains of western Montana and easter Washington.

In fact, geologists tell us that similar events happened several times during the previous 5,000 years.  The sources of these floods were water and ice from the melting glaciers of the last ice age.  Periodically, ice would form a natural dam in a valley, causing a large lake to form.   When the ice dam would melt or break, the lake would drain – sometimes violently.

The largest of the floods, which I described above, was also one of the last such floods.  Geologists call the source of this flood Glacial Lake Missoula, and when the ice gave way, it let loose at speeds up to 45 miles an hour.  At its peak, the flood may have released a torrent of water at the rate of 400 million cubic feet of water per second.   As a comparison, the Amazon River only flows at 6 million cubic feet per second.

Its not known if any human had yet arrived in the area to witness this cataclysmic event.   Archeologists date the first arrival of humans in the United States right around 12,000 years ago as well.  If any early settlers were in the area, the sheer noise of this event must have been as terrifying as the scouring of the landscape.

Congress established the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail in 2009, and this is the first trail to bear the designation “National Geologic Trail.”  Its obviously been quite an effort to get this first National Geologic Trail up and running – but the release of these seven passport stamps is perhaps the first indication that this program is open and ready for discovery.

With this month’s additions there are now 1,981 active passport cancellations to collect.  Excluding anniversary and special-event stamps, there are 1,883 passport stamps.

Source:  Weis, Paul and William L. Newman. The Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington: The Geologic Story of the Spokane Flood 2nd Edition. U.S. Department of the Interior and Eastern Washington University Press.  1999.

Update (September 2016): The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park now has its own website, separate from the National Heritage Corridor.  It can be found at http://www.nps.gov/blrv 

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