This Month In History: February 2007

  By Act of Oblivion, 28 January 2007; Revised
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Apache Wars

The 19th century ‘Apache Wars’ were reputably among the bloodiest confrontations seen between the Native North American Indians and the United States military. On February 4th, 1861, the Apache Chief Cochise was arrested in Arizona by the United States Army for raiding a ranch. Chochise then escaped and declared war. The ‘Apache wars’ became a series of battles fought in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. Cochise eventually made peace in 1872, but the equally famous Geronimo fought on until 1886. The ‘wars’ are marked by atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict. The Apache Wars were preceded by a line of events and misfortunes, which took the Native American Indians, white settlers, and the United States military to the point of outright confrontation. By 1848, the Californian gold rush had seen hundreds of prospectors and fortune seekers exploring the area looking for gold, silver, and copper. These actions would infringe on the established Apache and Yavapai lands and when Mangas Coloradas, one of the most influential Apache leaders, entered a mining camp in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful co-existence in the land, he was physically attacked and dishonoured by the miners. From that point, Mangas Coloradas’ personal hatred expressed itself in raids on would-be settlers and prospectors, both white and Mexican. Mangas Coloradas had a nephew known as Cochise.

Late in his life, Cochise was summoned by the military to help solve a dispute between local ranchers and the Indian poluation. George Bascom, a recent West Point graduate, had arrived in Arizona and was sent to deal with the problem. Cochise, around fifty years old by this time and a well-respected Apache leader, arrived with varying members of his family along with other Apache band members to talk to Bascom who was flying a white flag of truce. Bascom invited them into his tent but had arranged for United States troopers to surround the tent while Cochise continued the arranged meeting. Cochise and his family were seized, but Cochise took the initiative and took a knife and cut through the back of the tent, and escaped into the mountains. Cochise was hit y several bullets during his daring escape. In the struggle, United States soldiers captured a group of Apaches. Cochise managed to abduct a number of whites and proceeded to negotiate an exchange for the Apache captives. However, Bascom retaliated by hanging six of the Apaches, including some of Cochise’s relatives. Cochise retaliated by killing his own captives.

Tenth Cavalry Regiment
Tenth Cavalry Regiment
Cochise took his place alongside his uncle, Mangas Coloradas, and proceeded to wage war against the white settlers and the military forces. The conflict was so fierce that troops, settlers, and traders all withdrew from the region and Arizona was practically abandoned to the Apaches. In 1862, an army of 3,000 California volunteers under the command of General James Carleton marched to engage the Apache’s in an effort to dispel from the region. Mangas Coloradas was captured, tortured and killed in 1863 at the hands of the Army, but despite this, Cochise and 200 of his followers managed to evade capture for more than ten years by hiding out in the Dragoon Mountains in south-eastern Arizona. From here, Cochise and his men continued their raids, but always retreating to safety into their mountain strongholds. Cochise eventually surrendered but resisted the transfer of his people to the Tularosa Reservation in New Mexico and in 1872, Cochise once again escaped but once more surrendered when the Chiricahua Reservation was established that summer. It was at this reservation in 1874 that Cochise died. 

Geronimo, both a respected medicine man and a leader of the Chiricahua Apache, was chosen to lead his people's defence of their homeland against the United States military after the death of Cochise. In 1874, the United States authorities forcibly moved some 4,000 Apaches to a reservation at San Carlos, an inhospitable wilderness in east-central Arizona. Deprived of traditional tribal rights, short on food and supplies, Geronimo led a rebellion of hundreds of Apaches who left the reservation and resumed their war against the whites. From 1882, a series of military campaigns against the Apaches finally induced Geronimo to surrender. However, in May 1885, Geronimo escaped from the San Carlos reservation accompanied by a band of men, women, and children. Increased efforts by the white authorities saw at least 5,000 white soldiers and 500 Indian auxiliaries employed in the capture of Geronimo's small band. Geronimo surrendered at Cañon de Los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico. However, Geronimo feared that they would be murdered once they crossed into United States territory, Geronimo and a small band fled once again. Geronimo was finally tracked to his camp in Mexico's Sonora Mountains. In September 1886, Geronimo was induced to surrender after he was promised, that following a period of exile in Florida, he and his followers would be allowed to return to the Arizona homelands. However, the promise was never kept and Geronimo and his followers were punished with hard labour. Geronimo never saw Arizona again. Almost fifty years to the month since Cochise declared his war on the white settlers and United States military, Geronimo died a prisoner of war on the 17th, February 1909.
Thomas More

Thomas More; lawyer, scholar, and a Lord Chancellor of England, was born in London, England, on February 7th, 1478 (or possibly 1477). Thomas More’s father was determined that his eldest son would follow a chosen career path in the legal profession and Thomas’s education ensured that he would get a suitable grounding in the practise of law. Thomas spent some formative years learning the fundamentals of Latin grammar and composition, and at the age of 12, he was placed as a page in the court of Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, John Morton, who also happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas spent some time at Canterbury College, Oxford honing his new-found skills, and at the age of 16, he returned to London to begin his formal legal training in the Inns of Court. During his training, More became increasingly influenced by scholars who reflected personal interest in the emerging tradition of Renaissance humanism in England. In 1499, More was fortunate to meet Erasmus when the great Dutch humanist first visited England. It was during this period of More’s life that he appeared intent on pursuing seriously a literary scholarship as well as a legal career; it was even possible that he considered becoming a priest. Indeed, it was Erasmus himself who wrote of Thomas More, that he “applied his whole mind to the pursuit of piety, with vigils and fasts and prayer and similar exercises preparing himself for the priesthood.” Nevertheless, by the early 1500’s, More had placed his loyalties firmly in the legal profession. More rose rapidly through his chosen career path and eventually he entered into the council of Henry VIII, and became Lord Chancellor in

Thomas More
Thomas More

Thomas More is perhaps more broadly known for being the author of one the most famous political exposés in history. The term ‘utopia’ entered into the world in 1516 with the publication of More’s Latin version of the book. In two parts, the first being effectively a ‘debate’ concerning the role men could play in politics, the second focussed on a ‘fictional’ island called ‘Noplace’ and the social and political infrastructure of the island population. The full title of the book was ‘Concerning the Best State of Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia,’ and as such, the word ‘utopia’ has often been employed to define a ‘perfect society’ or a personal state of ‘ideal well-being’. The English version was published in 1551. ‘Utopia’ became a rapid success throughout Europe and the work established More’s reputation as one of the most influential humanist writers. During his lifetime, More managed to produce a substantial amount of literary scholarship. As a ‘moral and political’ philosopher he wrote ‘Utopia’, and his unfinished ‘History of King Richard III’ was the main source for William Shakespeare’s play.

More eventually fell foul of Henry VIII’s patronage. A loyal Catholic, More refused to acknowledge the divorce of King Henry VIII from Queen Catherine of Aragon, and in doing so, undermined the King's religious supremacy. More found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the dilemma between personal belief and royal wishes. Thomas grew ever more isolated from King Henry’s inner circle of advisors as they worked on a proposal to break with Papal authority. In May 1532, More resigned the chancellorship and his relationship with Henry became torrid and hateful. More became an obvious symbol of resistance to the king’s wishes, and eventually, Thomas was charged with treason, found guilty and beheaded in 1535. Thomas More is one of the most recognisable figures in British political and social history, and his spiritual position was assured in 1935 when he was canonized by Pope Pius XI.

Soviet Union leaves Afghanistan


On February 15th, 1989, the government of the Soviet Union announced that the last of its troops had left Afghanistan after a presence of almost ten years. Soviet troops had entered Afghanistan in 1979 at the country's leadership request for military assistance against the armed opposition against the central government in Kabul. The Soviets completed their military withdrawal from Afghanistan after an unsuccessful involvement in the civil war between Muslim rebel groups and the Soviet backed government. In 1978, the Stalinist People's Democratic of Afghanistan had come to power after a coup d'etat, and had attempted to establish a socialist society in the deeply conservative and Islamic country. Not surprisingly, rebellion against the new government sprung up almost immediately, and the Afghan army found itself involved in a civil war against various Islamic groups that conducted a guerrilla war from the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. The Central Government had signed a number of bi-lateral treaties with its Soviet neighbour that at first supported the regime logistically, but soon began to send military advisors into the country, and a very familiar scenario soon developed. By the end of 1979, the situation of the Central Government had become so hopeless that it saw no other choice than to appeal for direct help from the Soviets and Leonard Brezhnev finally sent his troops into the country in December 1979.

Soviet army leaving Afganistan
Soviet army leaving Afganistan

Over the next ten years, as the tensions between the two superpowers gained new momentum when Ronald Reagan came to power in Washington, Afghanistan turned into yet another ‘Cold War’ battleground. Whilst the Soviets supported the Afghan government, the Islamic guerrilla forces were backed by the United States and its allies in the conservative Islamic countries like Saudi-Arabia or Pakistan, which also provided the logistic base for the guerrilla operations. During the increasing escalation of the war in the mid 1980s, the Mujahedeen, the Islamic insurgents that counted Osama bin Laden amongst their supporters, succeeded to control most of the countryside, while the Afghan and Soviet Army’s' zone of influence was restricted largely to Kabul and the other few larger cities of the country. When Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, his subsequent radical reforms of his country, ensured that the days of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan became numbered. He announced the Soviet withdrawal in February 1988 and a year later, on February 15th 1989, the last troops had left the country. It has been estimated that over 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in the ten-year adventure, and probably more than a million Afghan civilians. Without support, the pro-Soviet Afghan government was doomed. It managed to hold on until February 1992 and after its collapse the country descended into anarchy as the various factions of the Islamic Mujahedeen began to fight each other. The Taliban eventually emerged as the victor of this internal struggle and the rest is history. (by Komnenos)

Reichstag Fire

On February 27th, 1933, the seat of the German parliament in Berlin went up in flames and large parts of the Reichstag building were destroyed. The exact circumstances have never been fully explained, but as the Nazis were the only ones that could have profited, and indeed did, from the fire, there can be little doubt that they were involved in one way or the other in the arson. The fire happened barely a month after Hitler's assumption to power, and a week before the general elections called for by President Hindenburg. The NSDAP were far from certain to increase their 30% share from the previous elections, and as Hitler's position was not yet fully secured and as he had thus to keep up the democratic pretensions, the still strong left opposition parties, the social-democratic SPD and the communist KPD posed somewhat of a problem for the Nazis. The Reichstag fire couldn't have come at a better time for Hitler. The symbol of democracy was up in flames and all the Nazis had to do was to present a culprit that ideally would belong to one of the opposition parties.

It was thus no miracle that a Dutch communist was discovered in the burning building, Marinus van der Lubbe, a member of a left Communist splinter group (whose leader was the wonderfully named Anton Pannekoek [pancake]). After a few hours in the Gestapo headquarter, v.d. Lubbe duly confessed to having the Reichstag set on fire in protest again

Fire of Reichstag
Fire of Reichstag
st Hitler, and the Nazis had discovered the communist ‘conspiracy’ they so desperately wanted. It was all they needed over the next few days to arrest the leaders of the KPD, to dismantle their organisation, to confiscate their property and on March 1st, to ban the KPD all together. However, even without the KPD participating, the Nazis didn't win the necessary majority in the German parliament, now convened in a Berlin opera house, that would have allowed them to implement the emergency laws needed for ruling the country without the legislative body. It took some more bullying and arm-twisting before they gained the 2/3 majority necessary to suspend democracy and rule with dictatorial powers. In order to demonstrate the full extent of the alleged communist conspiracy, the Gestapo arrested three itinerant Bulgarian Communists; the most prominent was Georgi Dimitrov, a high-ranking Comintern official who after the war became Bulgaria's first Communist Prime Minister. In two separate trials Dimitrov's group and v.d. Lubbe were accused of conspiracy, and whilst the Dutch Communist was found guilty and executed, the three Bulgarians were acquitted, to Hitler's great consternation, in what must have been the last fair political trial in Germany.

During his trial, Dimitrov accused the Nazis of starting the fire themselves, and thus instigated a debate that still lingers today. There are a large number of theories about possible culprits and their motives ranging from the thesis that the mentally unstable v.d. Lubbe was solely responsible, to the presumption that Herrmann Göring himself started the fire, with numerous variations in between. Whatever the truth, the Reichstag fire on February 27th, 1933 gave the Nazis the perfect excuse to smash their strongest political enemies and establish a dictatorship. (by Komnenos)



February 1st 1895. Hollywood director John Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Known for The Grapes of Wrath and The Searchers, he also served in World War II as chief of the Photographic Unit of OSS, and earned two Academy Awards for documentaries made during the war.

February 4th 1902 - Aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan. He made the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris, May 20-21, 1927.

February 19th 1473. Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland. Considered the founder of modern astronomy, he theorized that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the solar system.

February 15th 1564 - Astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy. He was the first astronomer to use a telescope and advanced the theory that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the solar system.