Monday, July 4, 2016

July 4th

When the first Monday in the month falls on July 4th, what more obvious than to write about how July 4th was observed in the Wild West? Once again adopting 1868 – 1908 as the period of our

Independence Day

Starting 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 Events

What 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 Flag

To finish our review of July 4th during the Wild West, here are the flags and their changes.

37 Stars,   Nebraska, July 4, 1867 – July 3, 1877

      38 Stars, Colorado, July 4, 1877 – July 3, 1890

43 Stars, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota,Washington
July 4, 1890 – July 3, 1891

44 Stars, Wyoming, July 4, 1891 – July 3, 1896

45 Stars, Utah, July 4, 1896 – July 3, 1908

       46 Stars, Oklahoma, July 4, 1908 – July 3, 1912

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.


  1. My wife who's a naturalized citizen got curious about the National Anthem, which she thinks is a beautiful song, and started looking up its background and origins. She enjoyed this article. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Great info - I'll have to work that 37 star flag into the conversation somewhere in my next book!

    1. Exactly. I am always intrigued by what is going on in our life today as a means of better understanding what went on in our Western Literature fictional lives. Edward

  3. Edward, what a wonderfully informative post! I really enjoyed this. Thanks so much for your research.

    I love alternate history, and in Eric Flint's book 1812: The Rivers of War--there's a section where Francis Scott Key was trying to compose The Star Spangled Banner. He keeps trying to come up with the words he needs for the rhyme and is having such trouble...I think of that often and laugh about it. It was probably close to the truth! And though many have suggested changing our National Anthem, I hope I am dead and gone by the time that ever happens. It's a lovely song, and though it might be difficult to sing, it gives me chills to hear it even now, and conjures that feeling of patriotism and love of country that nothing else can.

    Hope you're having a wonderful 4th!

  4. I still remember Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes'. It was played by many a band on the 4th in the midwest.

    Thank you for the short history. Loved it.Doris and PS the anthem is hard to sing, done it many a time for events.