Independence DayStarting with the birth of American Independence, July 4th was celebrated (except by John Adams who believed July 2d was the correct date and refused to celebrate July 4th, presumably right up to the day he and Thomas Jefferson both died on that day in 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.)
Even though John Adams insisted on the second, the rest of his prescription proved joyously fulfilled: “…celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” and the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
After the Revolutionary War, Americans commemorated Independence Day every year, and the tradition of patriotic celebration became even more widespread after the War of 1812. From about 1820 – 1860, during the period of the formation of the two-party system, it had the tenor of a very political, debate-filled day. Following the Civil War, many whites in the South refused to celebrate the holiday and newly-freed blacks celebrated the day with gusto. With regional prejudices extending throughout the west immediately after the Civil War, we can assume these strains carried over.
Military bases offered an afternoon “Salute to the Union,” ceremonially firing off a cannon or gun for each state of the Union, a tradition officially begun by the War Department in 1810. New states to the Union are also added as stars on the American flag on the Fourth of July following their admittance. (see below)
Western Americans continued to join their ancestors by celebrating the day with parades, patriotic songs, speeches, American flags, and, of course, fireworks. In 1870, the U.S. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday (and in 1941 this concept of holiday was expanded to make it a paid holiday for all federal employees.)
Falling in mid-summer, the Fourth of July became in the late 19th century a major focus for family get togethers, leisure activities, fireworks, community celebrations and festive group meals (variously called banquets, picnics, and, today, barbecues.) The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag, and the most common musical accompaniment is “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Star-Spangled Banner"Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, and put to the tune of a popular British drinking song, became a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being difficult to sing. Only the first of four stanzas is commonly sung today. The United States adopted the motto "In God We Trust" by law in 1956 following the urging from the fourth stanza ("And this be our motto: In God is our Trust")
The song did not become the national anthem until more than a century after it was written. Along with “Hail Columbia” and “Yankee Doodle,” it was among the prevalent patriotic airs in the aftermath of the War of 1812, and during the Civil War, an anthem for Union troops.
The song gained popularity throughout the 19th century and bands played it during public events, such as July 4th celebrations. The earliest documented performance in pro sports was on opening day at a baseball game in 1862. The earliest documented performance at a rodeo is apparently not known for sure, but believed to be in the 1880s.
On July 27, 1889, the Secretary of the Navy signed a General Order making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag. The president designated it “the national anthem of the United States” for all military ceremonies in 1916 and the congress made in The National Anthem of the United States by resolution in 1931.
Rodeos and Sporting EventsWhat besides flags, picnics, and songs accompanies our July 4th celebrations? Baseball games and rodeos, of course. So, in the spirit of Western literature, a brief look at rodeos seemed appropriate.
Rodeos were first extensions of work, undertaken in California, by vaqueros who challenged each other. Not until July 4, 1883 can we find a rodeo performance for celebration and entertainment, recorded in Pecos, Texas. Prescott, Arizona, however, became the first to catch on that this entertainment had value—the first to charge admission. Payson, Arizona lays claim to the oldest annual continuous running rodeo, stretching back to August, 1884,
Finally, to acknowledge our western colleagues to the north, The Raymond Stampede is recognized as Canada’s first professional rodeo, in 1902.
The FlagTo finish our review of July 4th during the Wild West, here are the flags and their changes.
43 Stars, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota,Washington
July 4, 1890 – July 3, 1891
44 Stars, Wyoming, July 4, 1891 – July 3, 1896
E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.