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Utah’s First Annapolis Cadet (Utah history)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 15, 2008

Robley Evans was a fatherless schoolboy living in Washington, D.C., in 1859, running errands for Congressmen and dreaming of running away to sea. William Hooper, Utah’s delegate to Congress, took a liking to the 13-year-old and made him an extraordinary offer: Would Evans accept Utah’s nomination to the Naval Academy at Annapolis?

Four days later, the Virginia native was heading west to establish Utah residency. Evans rode a mule across the plains in the company of five California-bound strangers. He stayed with the Hooper family in Salt Lake, and in 1860, technically a Utahn, Evans became a naval cadet.

Fast forward to 1908: In a display of American might on two oceans, the “Great White Fleet,” composed of 16 battleships, steamed out of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Commanded by Rear Admiral Robley Evans, hero of two wars and the nation’s most experienced naval officer, the fleet cruised down the coasts of North and South America (the Panama Canal was six years from completion), through the Straits of Magellan, and up the west coasts of both continents.

Americans eagerly followed the ships’ progress. That spring, tens of thousands planned trips to watch the fleet arrive at California ports. “Fleet fever” reached Utah in April, when the leaders of Salt Lake High School’s cadets decided their 300 boys should greet the navy in San Francisco.

The cadets, organized in 1901 by Spanish-American War veterans, learned military discipline through marching drills and summer encampments, where uniformed boys carried borrowed National Guard rifles. In 1908, Salt Lake High (now West) had three squads; East High had one. Three Utahns at Annapolis and one at West Point were former cadets, as were leaders of the Utah National Guard. The cadets were considered citizen-soldiers in the best American tradition.

But when they decided to go to California, the fleet was already in sight of San Diego. The boys had only two weeks to raise more than $12,000. Utahns pitched in, with daily bulletins tallying donations. Organizations as diverse as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the anarchist pressman’s union contributed. The Tabernacle Choir gave a benefit performance. Greek fruit peddlers took up a collection. The high school drama club gave $100, abandoning plans to perform that year. The school erupted in cheers upon word that Ogden High had raised $150.

The cadets went to San Francisco, camping at the Presidio and, to all reports, impressing military and civilian viewers with their discipline in camp and their precision marching through city streets behind their own 40-piece band. The boys’ hopes of marching in a parade to honor the fleet were more than met: Evans sent word that he wanted Salt Lake’s cadets as his personal escort. The boys arrived early at their rendezvous and accompanied the admiral to the parade route at the precisely scheduled time, leaving San Francisco’s tardy civic leaders to catch up if they could.

Although the fleet would continue their round-the-world tour, San Francisco was Evans’ final port. Ill and on crutches, the last active-duty Civil War veteran retired there. The admiral’s flag was lowered for the last time in a solemn shipboard ceremony attended only by close associates and honored guests. To their surprise and great pleasure, the Salt Lake cadets were invited as witnesses.

Exhausted by adventure and exercise, the cadets slept most of the way home. Their 10-car chartered train stopped in Ogden long enough for the boys to march to the high school and salute the students who had helped pay their expenses.

Evans himself passed through Utah the next day. He praised the cadets and thanked Utah: “A Utah man was kind enough to give me my chance. I have always tried to act, to do my duty so that you would not be sorry.” Evans made a longer visit to Utah in 1909; he died in 1912, worn out in service to his country.



16 Comments »

  1. An amazing story, Ardis.

    My favorite part is a bit trivial, but I wish all of the bishops in the Church could read it:

    “The boys arrived early at their rendezvous and accompanied the admiral to the parade route at the precisely scheduled time, leaving San Francisco’s tardy civic leaders to catch up if they could.” *grin*

    Comment by Ray — May 15, 2008 @ 6:58 am

  2. I love the heroic way that they did things back then!

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  3. Thank you for your work. Thank you for sharing stories and histories that inspire.

    Comment by Dane — May 15, 2008 @ 8:00 am

  4. The arithmetic is instructive: $40/boy for the trip to San Francisco. Sounds as if they saved hotel costs by camping at the Presidio, but they still needed train fare and food!

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  5. By the way,

    Thanks Ardis for this interesting Utah angle to the story.

    For more about Admiral Evans, the navy’s official history is here.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  6. Thanks, old friends Ray and Researcher and Mark B., and first-time commenter Dane — I hope you’ll be back. Thanks especially for the link to Robley’s biography, Mark. I should put a copy of his photo here, don’t you think? He was a looker! (Or is that just the uniform?)

    I really like to find the links between local history (whether “local” means geography or Mormonism) to the broader stories.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 15, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  7. I think it was the sword and the epaulets, Ardis.

    As long as you’re on the service academies trail, you should find and publish some interesting tidbit about Capt. Mervyn Bennion, a member of the Utah Bennion clan who graduated first in his class at Annapolis in 1910, married a daughter of J. Reuben Clark, commanded the battleship West Virginia, which was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions that day.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

  8. Good lead, Mark B., thanks. I’ve just done some googling and see that Mervyn Bennion is very much the kind of Utahn I like to write about.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 15, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  9. If you’re taking requests, Ardis, I have some genealogical work that needs to be done. :)

    Comment by Ray — May 15, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

  10. What’s in it for me, Ray? I mean, really — isn’t it obvious that Keepapitchinininininin is a real moneymaker for me? And you want me to take time off from blogging to WORK? Hmm?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 15, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  11. Selfish! I was only thinking of you. :(

    Comment by Ray — May 15, 2008 @ 6:49 pm

  12. Ardis, I love your posts and hope that you keep them coming!

    Comment by Joey — May 16, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  13. Thanks, Joey; I will.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 16, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

  14. Ardis,
    At about the time that Territorial Delegate William H. Hooper secured the appointment of Robley Evans to Annapolis, Brigham Young asked Hooper to do likewise re the half-brother of U.S. Army Capt. Stewart Van Vliet of Fort Leavenworth, the quartermaster who had paid him that fateful visited in Salt Lake City during September 8-14, 1857 in the early weeks of the Utah War. B.Y. considered Capt. Van Vliet a friend of the Mormons, and in 1859 he believed that the times were not “right” for Utah to use its quota for service academy appointments for Mormon lads. So, in 1859 when Van Vliet asked a favor on behalf of his half-brother, B.Y. asked Delegate Hooper to secure the appointment to West Point. A year or so later, the same logic (and process) brought about the appointment to West Point from Uath Territory of the non-Mormon son of Utah’s new chief justice (for the second time) John F. Kinney. After graduating from West Point Lieut. Kinney found himself among the first U.S. Army officers to garrison the new possession of Alaska, an area that the Russians had begun negotiations to sell in December 1857 because of fear that during the Utah War B.Y. would simply seize it (without compensation) as a Mormon refuge. As the 1860s wore on, the greyness and cultural isolation of Sitka (Baranoff Island)grew so oppressive that Lieut. Kinney shot himself in a hotel-rooming house, where, by coincidence, he shared quarters with a civilian adventurer, Charles Kinkead, who in the 1850s had survived an Indian attack on a mail coach traversing the plains east of Utah that left him so full of arrows that he resembled a porcupine. A lot of interesting (and strange) tales about those service academy appointments obtained by William H. Hooper!

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — May 16, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  15. Ha! Trust Bill MacKinnon to know the links among so many seemingly unrelated episodes of Utah/Mormon/Western history! It fascinates me to see those connections when so much of written history focuses on isolated events or personalities. Thanks for spelling these out.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 16, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  16. I bet that it was a wonderful experience for every single boy. Every time I hear about an overnight video game scout camp out, I hope that those boys will have a chance to have activities that teach them about who they can be, not just who they are now.

    I hope that each of us has the chance to learn the same lessons those young men did: Each of us can be so much more than we are today. We just have to be able to envision where we might end up.

    Ardis, didn’t someone once show you the way to find a you that you didn’t know was possible?

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

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