I have to admit that I have not read the Edgar Rice Burroughs series about John Carter of Mars, and didn’t know what to expect from the movie, but I thought “why not?” and went to see it a few weekends ago.
For those of you not familiar with the original story, and since it is now out of copyright, I would encourage you to find a free online copy of A Princess of Mars. In summary, the movie version is the movie is told from the perspective of John Carter’s nephew, Edgar “Ned” Rice Burroughs who learns of his uncle’s adventures after he is proclaimed dead. John Carter is a Confederate veteran soldier who finds himself in Arizona and is being “requested” to serve at Fort Grant. He escapes eventually, but not before Apache warriors come after him and the Federal soldiers at the Fort. He and another soldier hide in a gold-filled cave held sacred by the Apache tribe. A being appears to him in the cave and John Carter kills him. He takes a medallion from his victim and is transported to Mars where he comes to the aid of a Martian Princess.
It is an amusing tale and escapist fantasy. I enjoyed it and was sorry to hear that it is considered a “flop.” Nevertheless, it remains interesting to me for another reason.
In 1889, Royal Emerson Whitman purchased land from Storer College in order to build a house. He was yet another Maine native drawn to Bolivar and Harper’s Ferry. He served in the Federal Army during the Civil War and lived many years in Washington, DC. It is called “The Scottish Castle“, but there is nothing other than appearance which explains why it was considered Scottish. At one point it was called “Greystone” and sat perched at Bolivar Heights from about 1890 until 1963.
After the Civil War, Whitman continued serving the in the Army and was Breveted First Lieutenant, United States Army on July 2 1867 for gallantry in the battle of Sabine Cross Roads, Louisiana. He then served at Camp Grant where he became witness to one of the most notorious massacres in United States history.
Apaches settled near Camp Grant at the encouragement of Lieutenant Whitman in 1871 so that they could be clothed and fed. “On April 28, 1871, a group of nearly 150 men, Anglo-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Tohono O’odham,5 set off under stealth with the intent to make war with the Apaches at Camp Grant.” quoted from The “Camp Grant Massacre” in the Historical Imagination, by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Arizona History Convention, April 25-26, 2003. The group attacked upon arrival and within half an hour, the Tuscon attackers murdered at least 100 Apaches. Approximately 30 children were captured and many sold into slavery.
According to Mr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh’s report, “Although the Tucsonans returned home to great celebration, the reaction in the eastern United States was revulsion. Less than a year later, 100 men were put on trial, charged with 108 indictments for murder, and three misdemeanors. The trial lasted over a week, but focused almost entirely on previous Apache raiding in Arizona Territory. Judge Titus instructed the jury that based on this evidence they only had to decide if the defendants acted defensively or by malice—in other words, if the massacre could be justified. After nineteen minutes of deliberation, the jury read a verdict of “not guilty.” And here, most typically, the story of the Camp Grant Massacre ends.” p. 4.
Royal Whitman was a lieutenant at the Camp and sent numerous dispatches about the impending attack and was questioned about events extensively. He was unable to protect the Apaches and although he sent word to the settlement that they should move within the fort, the message was received too late. Royal Whitman retired in 1879. He had a patent for a horse saddle which was used by the United States Military. The Whitman Saddle was displayed at the Colombian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. He sold the property to a man named Judge Vail, also a resident of Washington, DC that same year. Colonel Whitman continued to live in Washington, DC and died on February 12, 1913.
Camp Grant was re-named Fort Grant after the massacre, the place where Edgar Rice Burroughs was stationed in 1896, and where he sets the first story of John Carter.
Whitman Avenue joins with Washington Street in Bolivar. It leads to Bolivar Heights, which is part of Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park. A painting by Urszula Andrejczuk of Colonel Whitman’s house can be seen at Steam at Harper’s Ferry.