Fort Vasquez

Fort Vasquez t-shirt

Fort Vasquez

Fort Vasquez was named for Louis Vasquez, who along with Andrew Sublette, came from St. Louis and founded the fort along a north fork from the Santa Fe Trail.  Sublette was one of five brothers well known in the fur trading business, including William Sublette, who was one of the “Ashley’s Hundred” mountain men.

The design shows a buffalo (well, bison, to be painfully correct) because it was the specialty of Fort Vasquez.  Other forts had traded in beaver and other small animal furs, but as the fashion changed from beaver fur for hats (silk top hats were now all the rage) to buffalo for robes, Fort Vasquez specialized in trading in the new market of buffalo hides.

The original Fort Vasquez was made of adobe, a material that could be said to be self-recycling – so after the fort was abandoned in 1942, it eroded back into being part of the Plains.  The reconstructed fort is part of the Fort Vasquez Museum built between the northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 85 from Denver to Greeley.

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Mountain Men

Green Mountain Rendezvous t-shirt image

Green Mountain Rendezvous

Enterprising Young Men t-shirt

Enterprising Young Men

The design for this t-shirt that is currently sold at the Museum of the Mountain Man in Wyoming just says “Green River Rendezvous”.  A mountain man rendezvous was when trappers would come down from the mountains with their furs and sell them to traders who had come across the plains to buy the furs and sell other things mountain men would want, such as supplies for feeding themselves and trapping during the next year.  The Green River Rendezvous is a commemorative living history rendezvous held in Pinedale, Wyoming annually.

Mountain men are known for being antisocial, bearded men with raccoon hats dressed in leather shirts and pants.  Actually, as shown in the design, they were likely to be cleanshaven, which was the current fashion, as well as easier than keeping a beard clean in the wild and less offensive to Indians they might be trading with. They would dress in fabric such as wool, which was more suitable than leather for standing in icy mountain streams, and wear “white man” styles.  The reason for not wearing the same clothing as local Indian tribes was that if Tribe A was at war with Tribe B, looking too much like either one could get a man killed by the other one.  But local Indians were less likely to be currently at war with distant white men, and many mountain men had good working relationships with multiple tribes and married local women.  Also, mountain men were not necessarily antisocial; for an industrious young man, trapping was a good way to build up some money to take back East and start a business, and many mountain men were only in the mountains long enough to do so.  Then they became successful businessmen, presumably with good stories to tell their grandchildren.

The original design for this shirt, shown above, included a famous notice by William H. Ashley that appeared in 1822 in the Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser and the St. Louis Enquirer, and inspired many young men, now called “Ashley’s Hundred”, to head west.  Ashley was only asking for a hundred men, but over two hundred applied.


Enterprising Young Men

The subscriber wishes to engage ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years. For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the Lead Mines, in the County of Washington, (who will ascend with, and command party) or to the subscriber at St. Louis.

Biographies of some well-known mountain men are at the Manuel Lisa Party website.

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Boot Hill, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday

Boot Hill, Dodge City, Kansas

T-shirt design for Boot Hill, Dodge City, Kansas

Boot Hill was a term applied to many cemeteries in the Old West because of the violent nature of life out west.  Men often “died with their boots on”, which could be a compliment meaning that they died fighting rather than not; however, it also meant not living to old age.

This t-shirt design remembers the Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas, where legend has it that three notable lawmen, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday, helped populate Boot Hill.  All three pretty much started their career in Dodge City.  Doc Holliday was a dentist from Atlanta with consumption (now called tuberculosis) who came out West for the dry air. He became a gambler and a friend of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, having once saved Earp’s life.  Earp is known for being a marshal in Dodge City.  However, he moved from town to town and was also famous as a marshal in Tombstone, Arizona, where he and Doc were involved in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, a struggle between the town marshals and the cowboy faction the marshals considered to be outlaws.  The marshals won the shootout; three of the cowboys were killed in the minute the fight lasted.  Bat Masterson was the county sheriff for Dodge City, and led posses including men such as Wyatt Earp.

None of these three men were buried in Dodge City’s Boot Hill.  Doc died in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, of tuberculosis in 1887 at the age of 36.  Bat Masterson spent a lot of time in Colorado, but died as a newspaperman in New York City at the age of 67.  Wyatt Earp traveled all over, from Alaska to Mexico, before dying in Los Angeles at the age of 80.

The tombstone in the design is a carved wooden headstone from Dodge City’s Boot Hill Cemetery.  With men dying so quickly, and stone not very plentiful, tomb”stones” were frequently carved on a plank of wood.

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B-17 Flying Fortresses and December 7, 1941

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 Flying Fortress

When the new invention of radar picked up a flight of aircraft approaching Pearl Harbor 74 years ago today, the radar operators reported it, but their officer wasn’t alarmed – he knew there was a flight of 12 B-17s coming in from California.  The B-17s were actually homing in on the same Hawaii radio station as the Japanese, and when the B-17s first saw the Japanese aircraft they thought it must be American aircraft sent to escort them in.  Even when the “escort” started firing, some B-17 crew thought it was just a very realistic war game.  The B-17s were coming in unarmed and low on fuel, which, as expressed by the one pilot in the Tora! Tora! Tora! movie, is not such a great way to fly into a war. But of the 12 B-17s, the crews survived, one aircraft was destroyed, three badly damaged, and the others managed to land reasonably safely.

The B-17s are remembered as America’s primary heavy bomber throughout the rest of the war, though more B-24s were built, because B-17s were easier to fly than the B-24.  The B-17 flew in all theaters of operation, and in the Pacific nothing supplanted it until the B-29, which could fly higher and further.

This shirt was designed for the Barksdale Global Power Museum gift shop, because Barksdale AFB, in Louisiana, was a training base for the B-17 as well as headquarters for the 8th Air Force (“Mighty 8th”) which flew B-17s and B-24s over Europe.  The bomber crews over Germany were famous for their short lifespans, and over the course of the war the 8th AF took half the casualties of the entire Army Air Corps.

Remember December 7, 1941 by watching Tora! Tora! Tora!, then read T. Martin Bennett’s book Wounded Tiger for what happened to the Japanese leader of the attack, Mitsuo Fuchida, after the war.  What happened to Fuchida was itself a result of what happened to Jake DeShazer, who hated the Japanese for Pearl Harbor and in April 1942 he joined the Doolittle Raid counterattacking Japan.  But that’s another story.

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George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer as cadet and general

George Armstrong Custer as cadet and general

The youngest general in the US Army, Custer graduated from West Point as a lieutenant and became a one-star general in three years.  This was partly because the Civil War was just starting when he graduated, and his wartime rank of general was later returned to the rank of lieutenant colonel.  Still, it was a record, and in comparison, without wartime promotions it usually takes twenty-something years to go from lieutenant to general, and fewer than one percent of officers get there.

Custer received the flag of truce at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.  Afterwards Custer was sent west to fight the Plains Indians, who called him “Son of the Morning Star” because he often attacked at dawn when Venus was prominent in the morning sky.

Custer was known for being impetuous, charging in when others sat back to assess the situation.  He was thus able to surprise the enemy and get the tactical advantage.  This was a strategy also used by Napoleon and Patton, and its effectiveness is summed up in a quote attributed to Napoleon: “Audacity succeeds as often as it fails; in life it has an even chance.”  For Custer, most of the time it worked, except for his last major engagement at Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, where his enemies were ready for him. On June 25, 1876, he was leading the 7th Cavalry, with the Crow as his scouts, against the Lakota and Cheyenne.  Trapped by a group led by Crazy Horse, Custer and 265 men were killed in less than an hour.  The event was remembered in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face“, the last line of which, “In the Year of a Hundred Years”, refers to America’s centennial.

This shirt was designed for the West Point Museum gift shop to commemorate one of West Point’s more colorful graduates, and shows Custer as a cadet and a general.

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Lowry AFB Commemorative

Lowry AFB Commemorative T-shirt Design

Lowry AFB Commemorative T-shirt Design

Lowry Air Force Base, on the east side of Denver, Colorado, started in 1937 as a training base for the Army Air Corps.  The base was named for 2Lt Francis Brown Lowry, a Denver native and an aerial observer in the 91st Observation Squadron in WWI who was killed by German anti-aircraft fire.  He is remembered in the collection at the Vintage Aero Flying Museum.

Lowry AFB continued to train US and international air force personnel, mainly in aerial photography, bombing, missile, and gunnery skills, until it closed in 1994.  After the United States Air Force became a separate service in 1947, Lowry AFB was the temporary location of the Air Force Academy before it moved to Colorado Springs in 1958.  Since the base was so close to downtown Denver, and there was an active runway at the nearby Buckley AFB, flights from Lowry stopped in 1966.

Lowry AFB was used as a set for the 1954 movie The Glenn Miller Story starring James Stewart.  (Glenn Miller was in the Army Air Corps and died in 1944; Jimmy Stewart, besides being an actor, flew for the Army Air Corps in WWII as a bomber pilot and stayed on after the war in the reserves, retiring from the AF Reserves as a brigadier general.)

This shirt was designed to commemorate Lowry AFB for the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum gift shop, which is in Lowry’s old Hangar No. 1. The design on the shirt shows the seal of Lowry AFB and the roundels used on USAF aircraft from the time the base opened until it closed.

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What was Gallipoli?



We are currently in the centennial of World War I’s Gallipoli campaign (April 1915-January 1916), a failure that bred later successes.  This Allied campaign against the Turks was supposed to open up the sea route to the Black Sea, where Russia’s southern ports are.  The landing was effective, but the support collapsed, and Gallipoli turned into a nine-month stalemate as the forces could not advance off the beach.

The design on the shirt depicts ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) troops with one of the inventions they came up with during Gallipoli:  the periscope rifle.  It was such a useful weapon it was adopted by both sides of the conflict.  Gallipoli is remembered rather favorably by the ANZACs, who built an elaborate trench network and successfully attacked some of the important Turkish trenches, making some of the few advances in the nine-month campaign.

The end of the campaign was handled better than the start.  The Allied troops were evacuated at night, with wet straw laid down on the roads to reduce dust, and other tricks to disguise what was happening.  When morning came the Turks found the Allied forces – gone.

Gallipoli was Winston Churchill’s idea and his first major assignment in the Admiralty. Though his strategy of landing was sound, the execution was flawed because with this first amphibious landing of troops in combat, the logistics of landing and resupply weren’t properly worked out.  Churchill’s career almost didn’t survive, but by refusing to give up, he went on to become one of the most famous leaders of WWII.

The US Marine Corps also learned from Gallipoli, even though after WWI, Gallipoli was considered the example of why amphibious landings don’t work.  The USMC studied what worked and didn’t, and used the lessons to successfully make amphibious landings on many Pacific islands in WWII, particularly on Iwo Jima.

The Gallipoli shirt is on sale at the National WWI Museum.  As Veteran’s Day (formerly Armistice Day remembering the end of WWI) approaches, the museum points out that ”there is no place more fitting to recognize and honor those who have served their country on Veterans Day than at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.”

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Janitor work in mining saloons paid gold

Sweeping up gold

Well-paid janitor work

This picture is based on the saloon in the South Park City Museum, where buildings from Colorado history have been preserved as an open-air museum.

Back in the boom days of the Colorado mining camps, miners paid with gold dust.  Prices would be described as “a pinch of gold”.  They greased their hair in those days, so, depending on who was taking the pinch of gold, he might run his finger through his hair first so more gold would cling to his finger.  But when the miners wiped their fingers, some gold dust would get wiped off and fall on the floor.  Saloons in particular ended up with enough gold dust on the floor to make extra money for the saloon keeper when he swept the floor.

In one mining camp in Colorado, some enterprising miners decided to tunnel underneath the town to collect the gold dust that fell through the floorboards of establishments. Though it really happened, the idea is probably best known today for how it was used in the musical Paint Your Wagon (note that it is rated PG-13 for, among other things, joking about polyandry).

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Telluride ski history

There was Telluride!

There was Telluride!

Back when snow was snow and not atomized ice; when all skis were skis and not snowboards, sleds, or something halfway inbetween; when bindings were closer to leather straps than to jet aircraft ejection systems; when skiers wore warm, mostly wool, clothes and anyone with formfitting clothes obviously couldn’t ski; when poles looked more like upside-down holey umbrellas than javelins, when skiing downhill required some physical effort to get uphill…way back then, there was Telluride!

Telluride is one of the Colorado towns named for an element (tellurium), and it did start as a mining town.  Like many Colorado mining towns, Telluride was almost a ghost town before discovering the white gold of ski tourists.  With around 300 inches of snow a year, it always had the ski terrain for anyone courageous or crazy enough, but its ski resort only began in the early 1970s. At that time ski boots were usually leather, and ski clothes were often a sweater over stirrup pants made not to be form-fitting but to keep your pants from pulling out of your boots and letting the loose snow in.  Telluride’s ski resort had five chairlifts at a time when other ski areas might have rope tows, a T-bar, and maybe a chairlift.

Telluride worked at becoming a world-class ski destination; in the late 1970s a resort village was built and now Telluride has groomed slopes, lifts, terrain parks, heli-skiing, festivals, golf, mountain biking, and cultural events.  But underneath the glitz of its new prosperity is a lot of history, and part of Telluride is actually a National Historic Landmark District that could possibly become a national park someday.

Visit the Telluride Historical Museum, and read more here about Colorado’s ski areas, especially about the ones that didn’t survive such as “New Mexico’s Only Colorado Ski Area”!

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Benny Havens Oh

Going down to Benny Havens

Going down to Benny Havens

Benny Havens Oh

Benny Havens Oh

Two shirt designs drawn for the West Point Museum were considered but not used, because though the Benny Havens Oh song is a part of cadet tradition, it is not well known outside West Point, and the song is not exactly celebrating the highest virtues and self-discipline of the corps.

Though cadets of the 1800s may have remembered with fondness sneaking out to visit the tavern named for its proprietor, Benny Havens, it was not officially popular with the Army.  Originally the tavern was on what is now West Point grounds, but Benny Havens got kicked off the grounds for selling strong drinks to cadets.  So he set up shop again just off West Point grounds down by the Hudson River, where the cadets could climb down a long staircase to it, or in the winter, skate to it on the river.  The tavern operated there for decades, well-known to many who became famous names of the Civil War.

The most famous non-graduate of West Point is associated with the tavern – Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe didn’t like the Army much and the Army didn’t like him much.  But it is said that he did like Benny Havens.

The song about “reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!” was written a couple decades before the Civil War and for a while each graduating class composed a new verse. Benny Havens died in 1877 at the age of 90, and the original tavern no longer exists, but there is a bar near West Point with the same name.

The history of Benny Havens can be found at the West Point Museum, and several other designs by Historyonashirt are sold there.

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