Friday, July 16, 2010

Samuel Grasty faced death and danger many times, but was finally brought down by a tiny mosquito. Samuel Goodrich Grasty was born on February 7, 1844 and raised in Danville, Virginia.

This is the actual handwriting of the census taker in 1850. Young lawyer, Thomas Grasty was living with his father-in-law Capt. Samuel Stone. Samuel G. Grasty was six years old at this time. His younger brother William C. Grasty also entered VMI when he reached 16.

On July 31, 1860, at the age of 16, he entered the Virginia Military Institute. In April of 1861, not long after fighting began in the Civil War, many of the young VMI Cadets, some as young as 15, were engaged in the Battle of New Market. During that time, Samuel G. Grasty was on guard duty at the school buildings. He was later sent to Richmond and served as drillmaster with Brig. Gen. Henry a. Wise’s Legion. He made first lieutenant of Co. E, 59th Va. Regiment and was present at the Seven Days Battle during June 25 through July 1, 1862.

During the War, Grasty was wounded several times and was left for dead on the battlefield after two balls passed through his body. He was captured and sent to Boston, Massachusetts as a prisoner of war. He escaped by disguising himself and he found employment as an agent for a newly patented coffee pot. He reached Louisville, Kentucky and passed through federal lines to reach Gen. Morgan’s command in south Kentucky. He joined under Gen. Basil Duke’s command. He was again captured in Ohio, along with Morgan’s entire command. Grasty escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary. He was again captured and sent to Camp Douglas, near Chicago, for a short time. There he knocked a guard to the ground and seized his musket and again escaped.

Camp Douglas prisoners during the Civil War.

Samuel G. Grasty's third capture brought him to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. He killed a sentinel there and out ran his pursuers. He reached the Potomac at night and forced some Blacks to row him across to Virginia. He refused to halt as crew of a federal ship commanded. A shot from the ship killed two of the men in the boat, which sank. Grasty swam to the Virginia shore. He rejoined the Confederate army and fought until the end of the War.

After the War, Grasty served as a commissioned officer in the Spanish army. Because of his military knowledge and because he was fluent in Spanish, he was assigned as a military instructor. He resigned and traveled to Mexico for a new adventure.

Apparently, Samel G. Grasty never returned to his hometown of Danville. After the Civil War, Thomas Grasty moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland. When the census taker visited their home in 1870, Sameul was off to see the world. John Thomas Grasty, Ferdinand Grasty, Mary E. Grasty and Nathaniel Grasty were still with their parents. Thomas was a "retired lawyer" at this time.

In November of 1874, Col. Samuel G. Grasty was the oldest of three adventurers who explored the famous Popocatepetl Volcano. The “El Popo,” mountain is the most active volcano in the world and the second highest peak in the Americas. Several periodicals wrote in the 1870s of Grasty’s trip with Eugene H. Cowles and Henry Stevens. Indian guides, who were more accustomed to the thin atmosphere and toxic fumes led the way up the mountains and deep into the crater. Deep in the crater, there were Indians who mined the sulphur.

"El Popo," the Popocatepetl Mountain (Smoking Mountain in Aztec) is one of the most active volcanos in the world.

Eugene H. Cowles was the writer about the expedition. This is adapted from his 19th century writings. He said that Col. Grasty had “rambled to the end of the world and back.” Grasty spoke with the mountain in view on the way from Mexico City: “I am an old traveler, but I have never in my life seen its like but once. No where in Grand Switzerland, in sunny Italy, in old Greece or the land of Mohammed, there any thing to compare with it. The sands of the great Sahara and the tropical plateau of Abyssinia contain noting so impressive. The valleys of the mighty Himalayas surpass it in grandeur, but do not equal it in beauty. Granada in old Spain, with it Alhambra and circle of mountains, alone has such exquisite beauty and divine sublimity.”

That is quite a description of the mountain. From a distance, the view is probably much the same as it was then 136 years ago. The big eruption was 800 or so years ago, but since the 1990s, more activity has almost filled in the deep crater where these men descended.

Grasty went on with stories about mountain travel in various countries. He told them that after the Civil War he “preferred foreign air to Reconstruction, so he left the country and spent nine years traveling in Europe, Africa and the Far East.” At one time he “filled a chair in the University of Paris, at another he was a Lieutenant-Colonel under Serrano.”

Bored with Spain, he traveled to Africa, where he joined an Arab Sheik and passed over the Sahara to the headwaters of the Nile River. Next he roamed to Abyssinia and then north to Arabia and Persia, where he spent some time acquiring Arabic. He continued to India, where he remained for a couple of years in the valleys of the Himalayas.

Grasty then told how he “rambled to the cold table lands of Tibet in an effort to reach China overland, but the superstitious fears of the natives raised an insurmountable barrier to this project. Only one white man had ever been this far before, and he was a poor English mapmaker. They dragged him to death by a wild horse. Not regarding this manner of treating foreigners with much favor, Col. Grasty gave up the proposed journey and returned to Europe, where he spent considerable time climbing the principal mountains.”

Well, he convinced Mr. Cowles that he had, in fact, accomplished all this. Cowles wrote that: “He was like one of the mystical men when we frequently read of, but seldom see.”

Cowles was forced to return, because of sickness. He later heard the rest of the story. Harry Stevens soon got far ahead of the Colonel, who was beginning to be “greatly troubled by the rarity of the atmosphere.” Still the lips of the crater were a half-mile above. Grasty developed nausea and was vomiting blood, but he staggered to within 500 feet of the crater, but his body “refused obedience to his will and he fell in the snow, dying it with the blood that trickled in tiny streams from his ears and nose.”

The Indians thought that it was all over for Grasty. Harry Stevens had gone over the crater and did not know of the Colonel’s misfortune. He “shut his teeth and ordered the Indians to carry him to the top.” At the top of the crater, they believed that they were at the highest point in the Americas, but later it was learned that there is one higher mountain.

Grasty estimated the crater to be a mile wide and 8,000 feet deep and “rolling up fro it came great volumes of sulphurous steam.” Suddenly, a cloud of “gas-loaded vapor” enveloped him and he fainted. He looked “mutilated and lifeless; his face as severely bruised and his clothing torn. Blood was running from his nose and eyes, but he was still breathing.” After an hour of the Indians rubbing and throwing snow on his face, he came to.”

They met up with Stevens and started down. Incredibly, at the bottom of the crater there was a settlement of about 40 sulphur miners. Their only means of ingress and egress was by means of hundreds of feet of rope, with which they are let down and hauled up.

The adventurers could not pass over the rim of the crater in the cold night which was soon approaching. They decided to go to the bottom and sleep with the miners. An Indian was dispatched to senor Corchado, the superintendent of the mine with a letter of introduction. Corchado, known as “the old man of the mountain,” was a Creole. “His face and head were completely buried in an enormous shock of grizzly gray hair which fell over his shoulders and reached down to his breast, completely veiling his features from scrutiny. Peering from this luxuriant crop of hair was a Roman nose, while a big pair of green goggles protected his eyes from the sulphurous vapors of his home and the glistening white of the snow on the dome. He was dressed in the style of a mule-teer, a deer-skin coat and goat-skin trousers. On his feet were blanket moccasins, on his head a sombreo with a brim eight inches wide. He was born in Tiamacas and always lived on the mountain or in his present brimstone home, where his father lived and died before him”

Grasty and Stephens prepared for descent. The rope was nearly a thousand feet long and about an inch and a half in diameter. The Colonel expressed his opinion that if Vesuvious was shaved off close to the earth and turned upside down, it would just about plug the top of Popocatepetl without projecting over the rim.

They peered over the edge and saw far below a level rock, which formed the top of a long, steep declivity, at the foot of which was a black spot, which they were informed was the miner’s house. They would use the rope to reach this house.

“Corchado and Stephens were first, being tied to the cable in such a manner as to sit side by side.” Stevens cried out: “Good by Colonel, and they swung far out over the yawning deep. For about one hundred and fifty feet the ledge from which they made their wild leap projected out over the precipice, and consequently they hung free and dangling in mid air.” From below, immense clouds of sulphurous steam and gases rolled up to the sky above. These clouds were so dense that Stevens, who had no trouble before, was nauseated and began vomiting badly. After a fearful journey of about ten minutes they reached the rock.

The rope was pulled up for Grasty. Everything went well until he reached a bulge in the cliff, where disaster overtook him. A cloud of gas-loaded vapor overtook him and he fainted entirely away with seven hundred feet of the trip down still to be accomplished. The rope around his waist to keep him upright slipped down to low and he fell back. Corchado and Stevens watched the frightful moment. They saw the Colonel let go of the rope, throw out his arms, grasping for air, and falling back till his head was lower than his heels. He spun around striking against the rocks at each turn. Finally, Grasty’s apparently lifeless and mutilated body reached the outstretched arms of Corchado and Stevens on the rock. His face was severely bruised and his clothing torn and blood oozed from his nose and eyes, but he was breathing. For a second time, after about an hour of rubbing and throwing snow in his face, he came to. A number of peon miners arrived and guided the way down the sloping inside of the crater. There was danger from huge chunks of ice and rock, which were released by the daily sun loosening the debris. They had to watch and dodge them as they fell.

It had been sixteen hours since they left he timberline. They had climbed six thousand feet on the outside and “gone down nobody knows how far.” They tried to sleep, but there were sore and bruised by their many falls during the day and sick to the stomach from the vile gases that filled the crater. The hisses and groans resounded throughout the crater to keep them awake, but they had some troublesome sleep.

In the morning they began the slow and difficult climb to the top. From the rim, they experienced a new mode of travel. The each man was behind an Indian on a mat as they slid down the snow to the timberline.

Samuel Grasty lived another eight years and died on September 1882 in Brownsville, Texas of Yellow Fever. After escaping death many times all around the world, Grasty was brought down by a mosquito at the age of 38.