Washington and Lee University

On the Fringe of Fame

by Elizabeth Fleming Rhodes

[Note: Elizabeth "Betty" Fleming Rhodes was a great-great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee II. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1915 to Margaret and Thomas Fleming, Betty moved with her family to Pasadena, California, in 1929. She graduated from Westridge School, attended Scripps College for two years, and graduated with honors from Wellesley College as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Betty began writing at an early age and crafted a sizable body of poetry. In addition to writing On the Fringe of Fame, she was the author of two other books, the biographical Call Me Margaret (Pasadena, Calf., 1984) and her autobiographical Getting There (Pasadena, Calf., 1999), a work that also included poetry.

Betty and her husband Ken raised four children and both were active in their local community as volunteers for a host of poverty, social justice, and educational issues and causes. She and Ken traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, including three treks in the Himalayas and a rough sea voyage to Antarctica on a Russian Ice Breaker. Betty died in 2000 at the age of 84.]


On the Fringe of Fame
THE CAREER OF
RICHARD BLAND LEE II
IN THE SOUTH AND WEST
1797–1875

by Elizabeth Fleming Rhodes


COPYRIGHT © 1990
ELIZABETH FLEMING RHODES
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER:
90-80851

DESIGNED AND PRINTED BY
THE CASTLE PRESS


Zemula Fleming Barr, the Oregon artist who sketched the flags on the title page, was surprised to discover that the Confederate military flag was square, government flags rectangular.


For my favorite explorer,
Kenneth
and Richard Bland Lee's
great-great-great grandchildren,
Richard, Margaret, Thomas, and Edgar.


CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER I. CHILDHOOD AND FAMILY PRIDE

Ancestry.
Childhood in Virginia, 1797–1814.
Uncle Harry lynched.

CHAPTER II. WEST POINT CADET, LIEUTENANT, CAPTAIN

Cadet at West Point, 1814–1817.
Artillery and Ordnance Duty in Virginia and South Carolina.
Marriage.

CHAPTER III. ST. LOUIS

St. Louis, 1833–1834.

CHAPTER IV. ON TO SANTA FE

The Santa Fe Trail, 1833.
Santa Fe and Taos.
Charles Bent.

CHAPTER V. WINTER WEST OF THE ROCKIES

Winter with fur trappers,1833–1834.
Kit Carson, Fitzpatrick.
Return to Washington, A.W.O.L.

CHAPTER VI. VIRGINIA, FLORIDA, AND WAR

Seminole War in Florida.
Wounded, breveted.
Commissariat.

CHAPTER VII. ST. LOUIS AND THE MEXICAN WAR

St. Louis, 1838–1849.
Mexican War.

CHAPTER VIII. CALIFORNIA AND THE PACIFIC, 1849–51

To San Francisco via Mexico, 1849.
Oregon, fall of 1849.
Sandwich Islands, 1850.
South America, 1830–1831.

CHAPTER IX. MORE CALIFORNIA, OREGON, AND WASHINGTON

Board of Commissioners, California Claims, 1852–1855.
Commissariat at Benicia and San Francisco, 1855–1859.
Near shipwreck oon S.S. California, 1855.
Self induced Court Martial, 1857.

CHAPTER X. SOLDIER OF THE CONFEDERACY

War between the States.
Subsistent Department of Confederate Army.
Bull Run.
Chief of Subsistence, Shiloh.

CHAPTER XI. THE LAST DECADE

Old age in Maryland and Virginia.

NOTES [Notes follow each chapter]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

INDEX [Omitted]


ILLUSTRATIONS

[Click to open in new window]

RICHARD BLAND LEE THE CONGRESSMAN
SULLY
RICHARD BLAND LEE II
JULIA ANNA MARION PROSSER
SAN FRANCISCO, 1849
SAN FRANCISCO HARBOR, 1849–1850
FORT VANCOUVER, 1845
SAN FRANCISCO, 1851
JULIA ANNA MARION PROSSER LEE AND EVELINA PROSSER LEE MORGAN
BENICIA, 1851
MAP OF CALIFORNIA
MAP OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON
RICHARD BLAND LEE, MAJOR U.S.A.
FAMILY GENEALOGY
COL. RICHARD BLAND LEE WITH GRANDDAUGHTERS MARION CIVALIER, CLARA FLEMING, AND JULIA FLEMING


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I AM GREATLY INDEBTED to David Lavender who first set me on the trail of Richard Bland Lee II. A footnote in Lavender's Bent's Fort questions whether the Lee who went into the Rocky Mountains in 1833–1834 with Kit Carson was R. B. Lee or Stephen Luis Lee. Confident that I could prove that it was Richard Bland Lee II, I started delving into the records at the National Archives and became so engrossed that I could not stop until the entire biography had been researched.

I am also grateful to the late Allan Nevins for his encouragement, to the late Rodman Wilson Paul, Josephine M. Rodes, Eleanor Lee Templeman, the late Ludwell Lee Montague, Mardee de Wetter, Jerene Hewitt, and Mary Lawrence Test for their careful reading of the manuscript and for their many helpful suggestions and corrections. Thanks are also due to Samuel Exum Cobb and the late Clarissa Fleming for their sleuthing, to the libraries and staffs of all the historical societies who patiently answered my questions, and to the Huntington Library for the privilege of having access to the rare books and assistance from their staff. My greatest gratitude goes to my mother, Margaret Fleming; my daughter, Margaret Louise Rhodes; and my husband, Kenneth O. Rhodes, for their proofreading and general morale bolstering; without these, the manuscript would never have been finished.


INTRODUCTION

THERE ARE GREAT MEN, men of genius, who illuminate the pages of history with their brilliance. Others achieve fame or notoriety through luck, through being on the spot at the right time, or through political machinations. Sometimes a simple backwoodsman soars to national popularity in ballad, book, for film. Forgotten are the many whose courage and plodding steadfastness are unsung or appear merely as a brief footnote in a scholarly treatise.

Relegated to such a footnote is Colonel Richard Bland Lee II. Although Lee participated in the stream of great events of nineteenth-century American history, fame and fortune eluded him. His Santa Fe Trail and Rocky Mountain experiences were eclipsed by the explorations of other army officers such as Pike, Long, and Fremont; his orders to California during the Gold Rush kept him away from the gold fields. The Civil War found him old and infirm, pushed aside by younger officers, remembered only as Robert E. Lee's cousin. His one moment of fame came during the Florida War, but his chance for advancement was aborted by wounds and illness.

Although Lee only once made a headline, his life was interesting and so representative of the era that he deserves to be promoted from footnote to protagonist. As we follow his life from 1797 to 1875, we meet many of the great men who were instrumental in creating the American empire; we suffer the trials of exploration, horrors of four wars and pestilence; we are stirred by the driving force of Manifest Destiny, and we are torn by the threatened disintegration of the Union.