Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Days before Custer’s Last Stand

Mark Kellogg, a roving reporter considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty, was born 190 years ago today. He died young, along with General Custer and over 200 US soldiers at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Remarkably, though, a short diary he had been keeping while travelling with Custer survived, and is now considered a primary historical source for details of the days preceding the infamous battle - known by some as Custer’s Last Stand.

Kellogg was born in Brighton, Ontario, Canada, on 31 March 1831. He was one of ten children, and his family moved several times before settling in La Crosse, Wisconsin. There, Kellogg learned to operate a telegraph and worked for both the Northwestern Telegraph Company and the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. He married Martha Robinson in 1861 and they had two daughters. During the American Civil War, he was assistant editor for the La Crosse Democrat newspaper. After Martha died, in 1867, he left his daughters with an aunt, and began drifting around the Midwest, taking up local newspaper reporting jobs. In the early 1870s, he moved to Bismarck, North Dakota, where he helped editor Clement A. Lounsberry found The Bismarck Tribune.

In 1876, when Lounsberry learned that a military column - including the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer - would soon leave Fort Abraham Lincoln for the Montana Territory, he agreed to accompany Custer and provide news coverage. However, at the last minute his wife fell ill, so Kellogg took his place. Kellogg sent several dispatches back to The Bismarck Tribune before, on 25 June, being killed along with Custer and over 200 soldiers at the (now infamous) Battle of Little Bighorn. When Lounsberry learned of these events, he worked through the night to produce a special edition of the Tribune which would prove to be the first full account of the battle. As a newspaper stringer whose reports on route with Custer were picked up around the country, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty. Further information is available at Wikipedia, HistoryNet and The Duluth News Tribune.

Some of Kellogg’s diary (37 sheets dated up to 9 June) survived, and are held today by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. They are considered one of the primary historical sources for information on the days preceding the battle. Images of every page can be viewed online at Digital Horizons along with a full transcription (which, however, is not always accurate when compared to the text in the images). Here are several extracts (with one or two minor corrections/edits to the transcription provided online).

26 May 1876
‘Broke camp 5:30 A.M. crossed run on bridge. Marched 4.2 miles to another feeder of Big Heart, put in bridge, thence to another feeder of Big Heart, going into camp at 2:30 P.M. marching 12 4/10 miles. Scouts from Lincoln on road at 3 A.M. with a mail. Weather hot and dry, first day of real heat yet experienced. Good grass, and water, no wood. Marched over considerable cactus growth today & some red gravel beds seen, first indications of approach to Bad Lands. Gen Custer, pioneering at front all day. Lays all the camps, & attends in person to much of detail of march. [. . .] 

Antelope plenty, no signs of other game - No Indian signs for past three days. Mail brought news by telegraph to Gen Terry, of Cabinet changes. Some astonishment expressed because of appointment of Don. Cameron, as Secy of War. Hardly expected in military circles. Past 2 days we have marched between the Stanley trail west of 73. It is an excellent route thus far. Sent. Should properly be called Terrys Trail’

1 June 1876
‘Reveille at 3 A.M., looked out found 2 inches on ground & snowing hard. Has snowed nearly all day. Have not moved. 7 P.M. snowing harder than ever wind blowing fr N.W. growing colder. Stock feeling the storm

Very dull in camp, some card playing, no incident wood plenty, & fires kept burning all around, but few Sibley stoves, at HD Qrs & 3 or 4 officers tent. Yesterday 8 miles W.L. Mo. camp. Saw a coal strata on fire, looked like whole side mountain on fire vein about 4 ft thick. Lignite cropping out all along.’

5 June 1876
‘Broke camp usual time Marched mostly a South Course 10.4 miles, struck Stanleys return 72 trail again descended into Bad Lands crossed Cabine Creek at 11 AM, Marched 20.2 miles & camped, grass fair, water ditto, no wood, used dried sagebrush for cooking. Worse road have had & worst country. Chief products sagebrush, cactus & rattlesnakes. Antelope very plenty. No Indian signs today. Been ahead with Reynolds. Killed 2 Black tailed deer & 2 Antelope. Tonights camp on open plains. Hd Qrs on hill top, handsome and convenient camp, but for lack of wood. 2 mules died last night. Saw 1st Buf. signs today, tracks fresh, since snow.’

6 June 1876
‘Broke camp and under march at 4.30 A.M. Weather clear, cool, breezy. March 10.4 miles to near head O. Fallons Creek crossed and marched 22.3 miles where we crossed fork again and went into camp at 4.45 P.M. having marched miles. Had some difficulty in finding crossing Country along creek flat, very broken, and soil soft. Are making new trail entirely. Marching been generally excellent today. Reynolds guiding discretionanly [sic] Timber heavy all cottonwood, plenty fair water, grazing not good. Sage brush & cactus principal growth today.

First Buffalo Killed today. Two privates Troop H, out hunting yesterday not returning last night, fears they had been captured by hostiles; but they reached column about 10 A.M. all night got lost, & belated in bad land region, which we are yet in. Priv. McWilliams Troop H, accidentally shot himself with a revolver today; ball took effect calf leg ran down tendon, and lodged just under skin top of foot, flesh wound lay him up a month. Marched through Prairie dog village containing 700 or 800 acres. Little fellows surprised & barked top of voices. Saw while with advance today deserted wood hovel, evidently put together without use of axe, Rough, dry logs piled together with broken limbs and stick placed in then mudded. A mere hovel. Some white men wintered there evidences of horse, & well beaten path in front extending some distance each side of structure. Saw 1st wind puff today.’

7 June 1876
‘Under March 4:45 A.M. Weather misty, clouds heavy threatening rain. Marched today 32 miles & camped on Powder River. Cavalry Gen Custer, at 3.30. Gen T. and head of column 5 P.M. & the rear of Col. at 8 P.M. Terribly rough country. Gen C- with Col Weirs troops, used as videttes, scouted ahead & succeeded finding a passable trav route over a country would seem impractical, up, up, down, down, zig zag, twisting turning &c Gen C. rode 50 miles, fresh when arrived. Told Terry last eve, would succeed finding trail & water horse in P. River. 3.0 P.M. today, succeeded at 3.30 P.M. Most attractive scenery yet. Spruce & Cedar on Buttes, marched on “hogs back” highest Buttes in country for mile or two, if teams went either side roll down hundreds feet. Only route could be found in this direction. Saw, what seemed like Ancient ruins. Buffalo seen today, none taken, order no firing. This camp excellent, wood, water, grass plenty. Timber all Cottonwood of smallish or medium size. Every one tired out, & stock completely so. Several mules & few horses played dropped out of teams today. Some breakage to wagons slight damages. Remarkable march. We are 26 miles in direct line from camp on. OFallon Creek last night. Have marched thus far 32.3 miles. Its 20 miles from here to mouth P. River. Fish’

Saturday, March 27, 2021

When you win

’It is an amazing rush of emotion that flows through your whole body when you win. I certainly don’t get that feeling in anything else I do in life. It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy, a physical sensation that is almost sexual.’ Happy birthday David Coulthard - 50 today. At the time of his retirement as a Formula 1 racing driver in 2008, he had competed in the most races and amassed the highest points total of any other British driver. He won his first F1 Grand Prix in 1995, and then two in 1997. The following year, 1998, the media made him favourite to win the championship, and he kept a diary of his efforts to do so. 

Coulthard was born on 27 March 1971 in Twynholm, southwest Scotland, into a family with a racing history: his grandfather had competed in the Monte Carlo Rally, and his father was a Scottish karting champion. He went to school locally, did well at O-Levels, but was increasingly drawn into the racing world. From the age of 11, he was racing karts, and by the age of 18 he was racing cars. He was the first recipient of the McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year award. In 1991, he signed with Paul Stewart Racing to compete in the British Formula 3 series, taking five victories and finishing second in the Championship. Several further jobs followed before, in 1993, he joined Williams Grand Prix Engineering team as their official test driver. After the death of Ayrton Senna in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Coulthard himself was given the chance to race.

In 1995, Coulthard remained with Williams, winning his maiden Grand Prix in Portugal, but then, for 1996, he switched to McLaren-Mercedes alongside Mika Häkkinen, scoring his first win for McLaren in Melbourne at the start of 1997. In all, he scored 12 of his 13 grand prix wins and 51 of his 62 podium finishes with McLaren, and, after supporting team-mate Häkkinen to the drivers’ championship in 1998 and 1999, he finished runner-up to Michael Schumacher in 2001. In 2005, he moved to the newly formed Red Bull Racing team. By the time he retired from Formula 1, in 2008, he had notched up 535 points, making him then the highest scoring British driver of all time.

Coulthard switched to working for the media, a pundit for the BBC and then Channel Four; but he also returned to racing as an active driver in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series in 2010-2012, piloting a 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class for Mücke Motorsport. In 2018, he was appointed spokesperson and advisory board member of the forthcoming W Series, a racing championship for women based on Formula 3-homologated Tatuus T-318 chassis. According to his own website, Coulthard ‘now uses his talents in the business arena from starting a number of successful businesses to ambassador roles to guest speaking’. According to Wikipedia, Coulthard was engaged to Karen Minier, a Belgian Formula 1 correspondent for French TV channel TF1, in 2006, and they had a child in 2008. He lives in Monaco, but has homes in London, Belgium and Switzerland; also, he owns several luxury hotels in Britain. Additional further information is available at RaceFans

In 1998, Simon & Schuster published David’s Diary - The quest for the Formula 1 1998 Grand Prix Championship by David Coulthard with Gerald Donaldson. See Goodreads for several reviews. Here are two extracts.

25 April 1998
‘In morning practice I was quickest, by eight tenths of a second over Mika, even though I spent much of the session working with different set-ups to try to reduce the understeer I had been experiencing while turning into the corners.

After the first qualifying runs I was fastest. Then, when we changed the set-up to reduce the understeer so I could attack the corners harder, Mika nipped ahead. For my third run we returned my car to its original settings. Three quarters of the way through the lap I was a couple of tenths slower than Mika’s time, so I threw everything I had into the final sector and finished up on pole by a tenth of a second over Mika.

It was my second pole in succession and very satisfying to get it. There was an element of relief to it because I had made it hard work for myself. Near the end, I knew Mika had improved, and that it was always going to be tight. So it was a good feeling to go out and do what I had to do, and react positively to the pressure of qualifying.’

26 April 1998
‘In the warm-up I was fastest by a considerable margin and felt very content with the car in race trim. The spare car was set up for me this weekend and I even had time to check it out for a few laps. Mika wound up fourth quickest after losing time with boiling brake fluid. I had a similar problem but chose not to come in and have the brakes bled the way he did.

To me, this was an indication that Mika was not as settled in his mind as I was. In a situation like this both drivers are thankful, in a way, that they are suffering with the same problem. It's easier to deal with in your mind when you know fate hasn’t singled you out. But it seemed like a push too hard. There was no need to be on the limit at every corner and as I had not won a race yet it would be foolish to risk making a mistake. I just quietly eased away.

The early laps went by without incident and then on lap 17 I was informed over the radio that Mika was out of the race. I didn’t see his car anywhere on the circuit so I presumed he had retired in the pits, which meant it was unlikely he had an engine failure. A few laps later I was instructed to short shift - shift gears earlier than usual at a lower rpm.

I never questioned why the team wanted me to do this, though ! suspected it had something to do with whatever Mika’s problem had been. I didn’t want to have to worry about it. When your team mate has a mechanical failure you have to be prepared for a similar problem in your car, but there is very little you can do about it other than follow the team’s instructions. You don’t want any unnecessary information. As it turned out Mika had a gearbox problem, but there seemed to be nothing wrong with mine.

Everything continued to go fairly smoothly and on lap 44 peeled off into the pits to make my second stop. I came in slowly to avoid overheating the brakes and the guys put in the fuel and changed the tyres with their usual efficiency. When I regained the circuit I immediately saw in my mirrors a red Ferrari. I then wondered at the wisdom of being so cautious on the entry to the pits, because I wasn’t sure if the Ferrari behind me was being driven by Michael or Eddie Irvine, who had been running second and third.

Since I was quite busy trying to get the most out of my new tyres I didn’t want to ask over the radio which Ferrari was behind me. When you’re concentrating hard a conversation can be distracting and any information you receive may not be immediately absorbed. So I focused on keeping the gap to the Ferrari and when I came around after the first lap my lead had actually increased. At this point I became more relaxed because If I could open up the gap with a full load of fuel and new tyres I was obviously in good shape.

It was Michael in the following Ferrari. He made a pit stop, after which he began to close up on me quite quickly. To counteract this threat Dave Ryan came on the radio and said I should go back to normal shifting. It was funny, because Dave said I needed to do a certain lap time to maintain the gap to Michael, and when I came around again I had actually gone a tenth of a second quicker than instructed. I felt like going on the radio and apologizing.

It was important to let Michael know that he could chase me all he wanted but if he got too close I could still go quicker than him. If you are chasing someone and they start to open up a bigger gap it can be demoralizing and they tend to back off. That’s what Michael did and he settled for second place.

On the final lap I spoke to the team over the radio, saying my usual thing when I am about to win: ‘Here I come!’ All the guys were leaning over the pit wall as I crossed the finish line and I jinked over close and gave them a bit of a victory wiggle.

It is an amazing rush of emotion that flows through your whole body when you win. I certainly don’t get that feeling in anything else I do in life. It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy, a physical sensation that is almost sexual.

This victory was especially satisfying because it was so timely. I had to come here and do exactly what I did. It is important not to allow people a comfort zone. That gives them extra confidence, so I had to take pole and lead from the start. When you’re under such pressure you have to take yourself back to the core of your self belief and motivation. You have to keep reminding yourself that you have what it takes to do the job. When you get proof of that, with a w it can put you on a roll.

In the post-race interviews I made a point of saying that my result was the best response to the earlier criticism, and to the rumours that my future in the team was not secure. It brought me to within three points of Mika in the championship, which meant the team would continue to focus on us both. If Michael had retired, it would have been perfect, but I was still three points ahead of him.

There was no partying or celebrating after the race because I was actually feeling unwell. I had a very sore stomach, probably from something I ate, and had to lie down for a couple of hours in the back of the team motor home. Heidi and I didn’t leave the circuit until late and it was well after midnight when we got home to Monaco. The next day I was involved in a Mercedes ‘A’ Class promotion with Mika and Ron near Nice, and that night we went to Barcelona to begin a week’s testing.’

Friday, March 12, 2021

Hammy is dead

‘As bad a thing happened this morning as ever could happen. Hammy is dead, and we lose a splendid soldier and I a very good friend. [. . .] One bullet hit him in the forehead, and he died almost immediately. He never spoke or opened his eyes.’ This is from the war diary kept by young Billy Congreve, born 130 years ago today. He quickly rose to the rank of brigade-major, was Mentioned in Dispatches, earned a DSO but was then killed in action aged by 25. So bravely had he fought, though, that he was soon awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

William La Touche ‘Billy’ Congreve was born on 12 March 1891 at Burton Hall, Cheshire. He went to Summerfelds School in Oxford and then Eton, before attending a crammer in London and, finally, joining the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1909. In 1911, he obtained a commission in the 2nd Light Rifle Brigade and, in the same year, was posted to the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in Tipperary where he spent three years. By early 1913 he had been promoted to lieutenant. With the outbreak of the war, his battalion was sent to France where he was appointed to the staff position of Aide de Camp to major-general Hubert Hamilton. In the summer of 1915, he was made a captain.

That autumn, Congreve’s 3rd Division was involved in the huge operation around Hooge which failed badly and resulted in great loss of life. Nevertheless, for his actions, he was awarded the Military Cross. Further promotion followed, to brigade-major to the 76th Brigade, and further honours. In February 1916, he was awarded the Legion of Honour Croix de Chevalier, in May the DSO, and in June he was Mentioned in Despatches. Also in June, he returned to Britain on leave and married his long-time girlfriend Pamela Cynthia Maude before returning to the front line. A few weeks later, in July, he was killed by a sniper. But for his many acts of gallantry he was awarded the highest honour of all, a (posthumous) Victoria Cross. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Nestonpast and VC online.

Congreve kept a detailed diary for much of his war service, though in the months before his death the entries had become rather scanty. It was edited by Terry Norman and first published by William Kimber in 1982 as Armageddon Road: A VC’s Diary, 1914-1916. More recently, in 2014, it was republished by Pen & Sword Military with a foreword by Nigel Cave. Several pages can be previewed at Googlebooks or Amazon.

In his foreword Cave provides this overview: ‘The diary provides a fascinating mixture of material, revealing his close and affectionate family life, his heart felt reaction to the loss of friends, his almost forensic analysis of many of the actions in which he was involved - accompanied, in many cases, by very fine sketch maps, critiques of some of the commanders, battalions and formations, his sense of humour and an insight into a young officer who in rather less than two years served as an ADC to several divisional commanders, was a G Ops staff officer and finally, the job that he prized above all the others, that of a brigade major. He provides a useful commentary from one who was more “in the know” than most other officers, supplemented by close contact with his father who was, in the same time period, General Officer Commanding a brigade.’

Here are several extracts from the first months of the war.

4 September 1914
‘Still waiting. A week ago tomorrow we were shifted from Cambridge to here - Newmarket - as being a better camping place and where we eventually entrain if we ever do.

Much has happened on the Continent; the result being that the Germans are within thirty miles of Paris. We heard from the 1st Battalion that they have had a bad time of it. They were hurried up to the front (near Mons), slept the night in a wet cornfield and, at 6 p.m., were engaged. All morning they were marching, countermarching and fighting and, at 5 p.m., found themselves divided into two halves. One half of the battalion took up a position in a sunken road under heavy shrapnel and machine-gun fire. At 5.30 there was a council of war held by Sam Rickman to all officers and company sergeants. There were three possible things they could do: 1. To surrender; 2. To die where they were; 3. To try and get back.

They naturally decided on the latter course. Leaving everything but rifles and swords, they went across three-quarters of a mile of fire-swept ground, but lost heavily. Sam is believed to have a mortal stomach wound. Coryton, Lane and de Moleyns were also hit - of course none of them knew where the other half of the battalion had got to. So far we have no other news of them and nothing has come out in the newspapers.

Cis, John and Maggie turned up at Cambridge for the weekend and good it was to see them. Cis is off on Red Cross work to Belgium this week. I have kept John and he is living in my bivouac - as happy as the day is long. He comes out with ‘Wumps’ on our field days. Godders takes him on the machine-gun limber, and everyone spoils him.’

13 September 1914
‘We were kept on board till yesterday morning, when we went in and disembarked, a longish job, as the quay was a long way below us. I and others made several journeys into town and laid in vast stores of eatables. Many times was I asked for my silver cap badge as a souvenir. There were a lot of our wounded in the town. I saw Musters of the 60th who was hit in the chest by a shrapnel bullet. Luckily for him, it hit a bone and glanced off. He was in the retreat and never saw a German the whole time. The marching, he said, was awful: twenty-five miles a day and in very hot weather. About 4.30 we started to entrain in pouring rain.

I managed to sleep all right last night, and about 6 a.m. we reached Tours where we had breakfast. I ran up and got some boiling water out of the engine and made some chocolate for Godders and I - jolly good it was. All day we have been rolling along. About 5.30 this evening, we passed Paris.

All the way up we have seen French soldiers in their blue coats and red trousers, and at the halts we had great talks with them. They seem very intelligent fellows and I take it were all reserves of some type. It was amusing to see the scramble for the train when it suddenly started. Luckily it was so cumbersome a show that one could let it go for a hundred yards and still catch it. Everywhere we were given apples and cigarettes by the people. The country was pretty at first and it was hard to believe war even existed, except that one saw sentries everywhere guarding the line. There was a constant demand for souvenirs and a lot of men are now minus their cap badges.’

1 October 1914
‘What might have been a rather serious accident took place yesterday afternoon. The Norwegian minister in Paris got leave from GHQ to come over here and to be shown round. Instead of coming to us to ask his way, he must needs go off on his own, apparently thinking that he could drive his car right up to the trenches. He went up through Brenelle to carry out this plan and set off across the plateau towards the river. He was half-way over when the Germans spotted the car and opened on it with ‘crumps’.

The first shell made the chauffeur pull up! They began to try to turn the car, and that was as far as they got, for ‘crumps’ began to arrive in quantities and they fled to the shelter of some neighbouring haystacks, leaving the car to its fate. They saw the chauffeur get hit as he was getting out of the car; whether he was killed or not they did not know. Eventually and with great good fortune they got back to General Wing’s HQ unhurt, but covered with mud and dust and bits of haystack. The Royal Artillery sent them on down here and the Duke of Marlborough (who is doing King’s Messenger) happening to be with us, took them back in his car.

The minister, a fat middle-aged gentleman, was awfully pleased with himself, but was scared lest it should get into the papers, in which case the Germans would say that Norway had broken her neutrality! We calmed his fears, picked straw and mud out of his hair, and sent him off to GHQ with his two ADC’s and the Duke, after we had given them tea.

I then took a car and two chauffeurs up to see what I could do to their car, expecting to find it smashed to pieces. We waited till dusk and then walked out to it. The car was intact, but the chauffeur dead, and every piece of glass in the car was smashed to atoms - big, strong plate glass. It was a lovely brand-new Panhard limousine, and beyond the glass, a few bits off the paint and a small hole in the petrol tank, there was no great damage which, considering the number of ‘crump’ holes around it, was a marvel. Inside the car was a good mixture of glass and mud which we cleared out and, while the hole in the tank was being mended, I finished off the old boy’s luncheon basket - chicken there was, and great fat pears, also a huge supply of cigarettes and tobacco for the men in the trenches! There were also heaps of matches. Before he left, the ‘minister’ said that I might keep all this ‘pour les braves soldats’, so I did so, and sent the car on to GHQ under the second chauffeur, who shed tears.’

14 October 1914
‘As bad a thing happened this morning as ever could happen. Hammy is dead, and we lose a splendid soldier and I a very good friend. He and Thorpe were out to the north of Vieille Chapelle; he had gone to see personally why our left wing was hung up. They were dismounted and standing on the road when a salvo of shrapnel burst right over them. One bullet hit him in the forehead, and he died almost immediately. He never spoke or opened his eyes. There were several other officers there besides Thorpe, yet nobody else was hit.

We brought his body back here tonight in a motor ambulance. We had to wait till night, as the road was still being shelled. During the day I had a rough coffin made and a grave dug under the walls of the old church here. At 7.15 p.m., when the ambulance arrived, we put him into it just as he was, wrapped in a blanket. I had to take the spurs off his poor feet though, as they would not fit, and then we nailed on the lid. I then put a guard around him with fixed bayonets and left him.

At 8.30 we all assembled. There was a representative from each unit and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien turned up also. Poor Lindsay, Hammy’s servant, kept breaking down. It was a pitch-dark night and had been raining hard all day, so there was mud everywhere and a cold wet ‘feel’ in the air. The rifle and machine-gun fire was very heavy, and it sounded but a few yards away, so loud was it and so still the night. Stray bullets now and then knocked up against the church and gravestones, but somehow nobody bothered about them.

Just before the chaplain arrived the firing almost ceased, but while the short service was being read it commenced again, louder and nearer than ever, so loud indeed that the chaplain’s voice could hardly be heard.

The scene was the strangest and most beautiful I have ever seen. The poor church battered by shells, the rough wooden coffin with a pewter plate nailed on the lid on which we had stamped his name, a rough cross of flowers made by the men, the small guard with fixed bayonets and the group of twenty or thirty bareheaded officers and men. Above all, the incessant noise, so close, sometimes dying down only to seem to redouble itself a few minutes later. A ghastly sort of light was given by a couple of acetylene lamps from a car. It was soon over, and then each officer and man stood for a moment by the grave, saluted, and went back to his work. 

Sir Horace, in that rather wonderful voice of his, said: ‘Indeed, a true soldier’s grave. God rest his soul.’ Nobody else spoke. I wanted to cry. I stayed and saw the filling in of the grave, and now I must see to putting up a cross.’

Monday, March 1, 2021

Settling in California

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Juan Crespí, a Spanish missionary and explorer. He is remembered today not only for taking part in the expedition that led to the first settlements ever made in the present-day state of California, but for keeping a journal - now historically important - of the journey.

Crespí was born in Majorca, Spain, on 1 March 1721. He entered the Franciscan order at the age of 17. Junipero Serra was his teacher of philosophy at the Convent of San Francisco. When Serra decided to become a missionary in New Spain, Crespí and another missionary Francisco Palóu agreed to join him - they arrived in Vera Cruz in 1749. In 1767, Crespí went to the Baja California Peninsula where he was put in charge of the Misión La Purísima Concepción de Cadegomó. Two years later, he joined an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá to occupy San Diego and Monterey. The expedition continued up the coast, and the following year the Mission San Carlos Borromeo was founded (in present-day Carmel-by-the-Sea), Crespí served as chaplain of the expedition to the North Pacific conducted by Juan Pérez in 1774. He died in 1882. A little further information is available at Wikipedia and Spartacus Educational.

While there is sparse biographical information available online about Crespí, he left behind a detailed and informative diary kept during his 1769-1779 expedition. This was used by H. E. Bolton for his 1927 biography of Crespí, and has been mined by other historians as a valuable first hand source of information about his expeditions. However, the diary was only published for the first time in an unexpurgated edition, edited by Alan K. Brown, in 2001: A Description of Distant Roads Original Journals of the First Expedition Into California, 1769-1770 (San Diego State University Press). Crespí’s journals have a chequered past, according to Brown, which he unravels in his introduction, alongside plenty of historical context. Here is part of his preface.

‘Overdue for publication by two hundred years and more, these are the genuine journals kept by the missionary explorer Juan Crespí in 1769 and 1770 during the Spanish-American expedition that searched overland for the long-lost harbor of Monterey, and, after many hardships permanently established the first settlements ever made in the present-day state of California. The author, through the ongoing entries in his journals, carefully documented this whole progress and his own participation in it. Equally important, or perhaps even more at the present day, is the description of the native landscape and its inhabitants that he produced through his eye for detail and his extraordinary diligence in keeping the record.

This edition and translation, taken from manuscripts in the original author’s own handwriting, represents a first publication of much of the texts. The versions previously available to historians, scientists, and the reading public were deeply curtailed and adulterated by others than the original author, so much so that it is fair to say that his name has been falsely attached to the traditional editions and translations. Those very well known pseudo-Crespí texts are still often consulted and cited as though they were genuine, a circumstance that unfortunately has been allowed to feed upon itself for more than half a century.’

And here are a few extracts of Crespí’s diary from Brown’s edition.

18 March 1769
‘I set out from this spot early in the morning, but at about two or three leagues past Yuvai. one of the mules which was carrying my effects gave out and lay collapsed upon the trail, unable to go on. It was necessary for the soldier who had been accompanying me to stav behind with some Indians, in order to see whether the might bring it on after resting it, and for me to leave in order to reach the old mission of Santa Maria called Calamofué. I went onward with my own two Indian boys whom I have with me, in company with some other Indians belonging to the missions who are following me; I went the whole day at a good pace, stopping for a while only to eat a bite at midday, and I came about ten o’clock at night to the aforesaid mission of Calamofué, where I met a courier from Santa Maria mission, sent by Reverend Father Preacher Fray Fermin Lasuen, with the vestment and everything else needed in order to be able to say Mass her on the following day, Palm Sunday, as I had requested of him from back at his own mission of San Borja. As it was so late at night upon my reaching here, I told them to make me some chocolate and retired to rest, for I was truly worn out.’

3 May 1769
‘Invention of the Most Holy Cross. I said Mass here at this spot, and it was heard by all of this Expedition, and we lay resting in order for our beasts to approve the occasion of the fine grass here, and for the country to be scouted in the meanwhile to see whether they might find a watering place, in order for us to continue. On reaching this spot, close to one of the aforesaid pools we came across a village, who as soon as they saw us ran off to the hill and commenced shouting at us a great deal, seeming by their gesturing to be telling us to turn back; they were all naked and heavily beweaponed. Several times our commander called to them to come down to the camp without fear, but they never showed themselves nearby. I took the north altitude and made it 32 degrees 14 minutes.’

12 May 1769
‘We set out early in the morning from the small Saint Pius valley here, following a northward course veering a bit north-northwestward, along the shore and guided by some heathens belonging to this spot who had offered themselves as guides. They accompanied us a part of the way and left us. It was a march of a bit over three hours, over country that was all very easy going, crossing some gorges though not such difficult ones as those before were. We must have made three leagues, and came to a heathen village upon a tableland that looks to be an island, as it is surrounded by a gorge wherever not laved by the sea. As soon as they saw us, the heathens tried to have us stop close to their village, upon the aforesaid tableland. We thought it better, however, to cross to another one upon the other side of the gorge, where there was grass at the edge of the sea. The village here has, in the gorge, a middling-sized pool of good water that they supply themselves from. Though they might have done so, they refused to water our beasts there, in order not to do anything to spoil these poor souls’ watering place, inasmuch as our beasts had drunk their fill before setting out. The whole village, men, women, and children, came over to the camp at once, without a single weapon, nowise unruly, not wearing paint and not in any way like the last people all of them very friendly and cheerful. As though they had always dealt with us, they spent the entire day sitting down along with us, telling us with great pleasure of the ships, which they said were close by now. The four islands called Los Cuatro Coronados lie about opposite this spot. I named this place The little pool of the village of    Santos Martires Nereo y Sus Companeros, The Holy Martyrs Nereus and Companions. The same spot was ailed La Carcel de San Pedro, Saint Peter’s Prison, by the Reverend Father President.’