This Day In History

Alexander Murray Departs for the Yukon

June 18, 1847

Planning to build a fort for trading furs with the local Indians, Alexander Murray leads a heavily armed party into the Yukon River region of North America.

By 1847, Murray was already an experienced fur trader and wilderness explorer. A native of Scotland, he emigrated to the United States in the 1830s. He found a job working for the rapidly growing American Fur Company, and in 1842 became the commander of the company’s new fur trading post on the Yellowstone River in present-day southern Montana. Determined, strong-willed, and confident, Murray was well suited to the difficult and often dangerous task of trading furs on the frontier.

In 1845, Murray left the American Fur Company to join the Canadian-controlled giant of the North American fur industry, the Hudson’s Bay Company. Murray’s bosses immediately sent him north into the wild arctic regions straddling the border between the present-day Canadian Yukon and the American state of Alaska. There, he eventually became the commander of the company’s Northern Department.

In 1847, the Hudson’s Bay Company, determined to expand its fur-trading empire, ordered Murray to travel into the upper regions of the Yukon River and establish a new fort. On this day in 1847, Murray and a small party of men headed down the Porcupine River towards its confluence with the Yukon. Fearing attacks from hostile Indians–or perhaps from competing Russian fur traders–Murray insisted that his men carry a heavy supply of armaments in addition to the plentiful supplies they would need to establish the fort.

After a week of travel down the Porcupine, Murray reached the Yukon. “I never saw an uglier river,” he wrote in his journal, “everywhere low banks, evidently lately overflowed, with lakes and swamps behind, the trees too small for building, the water abominably dirty and the current furious.” The feared Indian attacks never materialized, but the party did come under constant assault from bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

Despite these drawbacks, Murray deemed the site suitable for a new fort. He began construction on June 26 and started trading with the local Native Americans. Unlike most frontier trading posts that were often only “forts” in name, Murray’s new Fort Yukon was a genuine fortress. He built Fort Yukon to withstand a potential attack by any small party of Indians or Russians that might dare to challenge the right of the Hudson’s Bay Company to dominate the Yukon fur trade.

Eventually joined by his young wife, Anne, Murray remained at Fort Yukon for four years. During that time, Anne gave birth to three daughters. The family returned to Canada in 1852, and Murray subsequently served at a variety of Canadian posts, always taking Anne and his growing clan of children with him. The couple eventually raised eight children in the isolated Canadian frontier.

Murray retired from the company in 1867 and bought a farm on the Red River in southern Manitoba, Canada. He lived for another seven years before dying at the age of 56. Anne, 10 years his junior, survived him by 33 years and died in 1907.

Novelist Gail Godwin Is Born

June 18, 1937

On this day in 1937, Gail Godwin is born in Birmingham, Ala.

Godwin’s father abandoned his family when Gail was very young. The family lived with Godwin’s grandmother in Asheville, North Carolina, while Gail’s mother worked as a teacher, newspaper reporter, and fiction writer. When Godwin was 16, her mother married a salesman, and the family moved frequently. Godwin attended five different high schools and ultimately invited her estranged father to her graduation. He not only attended but also offered to put her through college, which would have been financially impossible for Godwin’s mother.

Godwin attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied journalism. Her father, a longtime victim of depression, committed suicide her junior year-the first of many suicides to occur within her family. Godwin struggled with depression during much of her life.

After college, she worked as a reporter writing obituaries for the Miami Herald but was fired for being “too ambitious,” according to Godwin. She married briefly, divorced, moved to London, remarried again, and divorced a year later.

In 1966, she returned to the United States and pursued a doctorate in English at the University of Iowa, where she wrote her first novel, The Perfectionists, as her thesis. The book was published in 1970. She became a professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and wrote four more books before publishing her first bestseller, A Mother and Two Daughters (1981), which sold more than her first five books combined. She continued writing novels that were both critical and popular successes, including A Southern Family (1987), Father Melancholy’s Daughter (1991), The Good Husband (1994), Evenings at Five (2003), and Unfinished Desires (2010).

The Monterey Pop Festival Reaches Its Climax

June 18, 1967

By the time they got to Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who and the Grateful Dead were established superstars—heroes to the roughly half a million worshipful fans who trekked up to Max Yasgur’s farm to see them in the summer of 1969. Yet just two years earlier, they were entirely unknown to most of those worshipers. All four iconic figures on the 1960s music scene entered the American popular consciousness at an event that preceded and provided the inspiration for Woodstock itself: the Monterey Pop Festival. Held over three days during the height of the Summer of Love, the Monterey Pop Festival came to a close on this day in 1967, with a lineup of performers that included all of the aforementioned acts as well as Ravi Shankar, Buffalo Springfield and the Mamas and the Papas.

From a purely musical perspective, the Monterey Pop Festival was a groundbreaking event, bringing together nearly three dozen well-known and unknown acts representing an eclectic mix of styles and sounds. The great soul singer Otis Redding, the Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and South African singer/trumpeter Hugh Masekala, for instance, all had their first significant exposure to a primarily white American audience at the Monterey Pop Festival, which also featured such well-known acts as the Animals, the Association, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas. In this sense, the festival not only pioneered the basic idea of a large-scale, multi-day rock festival, but it also provided the creative template that such festivals still follow to this day.

The organizers of the charitable Monterey Pop Festival also set a standard for logistical organization that the organizers of the for-profit Woodstock festival would attempt to follow, only to fall short under the immense pressure of overflow crowds and bad weather. In addition to arranging for private security and medical staff, the organizers of Monterey also deployed a staff of trained volunteers, for instance, whose sole task was to manage episodes among audience members partaking in the nearly ubiquitous psychedelic drugs.

Some 200,000 people attended the Monterey Pop Festival over its three-day schedule, many of whom had descended upon the west coast inspired by the same spirit expressed in the Scott McKenzie song “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” written by festival organizer John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas expressly as a promotional tune for the festival. The Summer of Love that followed Monterey may have failed to usher in a lasting era of peace and love, but the festival introduced much of the music that has come to define that particular place and time.

First American Woman in Space

June 18, 1983

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, the space shuttle Challenger is launched into space on its second mission. Aboard the shuttle was Dr. Sally Ride, who as a mission specialist became the first American woman to travel into space. During the six-day mission, Ride, an astrophysicist from Stanford University, operated the shuttle’s robot arm, which she had helped design.

Her historic journey was preceded almost 20 years to the day by cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova of the Soviet Union, who on June 16, 1963, became the first woman ever to travel into space. The United States had screened a group of female pilots in 1959 and 1960 for possible astronaut training but later decided to restrict astronaut qualification to men. In 1978, NASA changed its policy and announced that it had approved six women to become the first female astronauts in the U.S. space program. The new astronauts were chosen out of some 3,000 original applicants. Among the six were Sally Ride and Shannon Lucid, who in 1996 set a new space endurance record for an American and a world endurance record for a woman during her 188-day sojourn on the Russian space station Mir.