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Lieutenant Commander DeWitt C. Kells, USN, and company, 1870

Photograph taken in Brookfield, CT, September, 1870. Found at an antique shop in Colorado. Hand-written notes on back, signed "Charlie." People listed on reverse: Henry Noble, Charlie Noble, Francis [?] Noble, Hettie [?] Noble, Lena WIlson, DeWitt Kells, Alice Robbins, June Robbins. Not sure who is who, but I'd wager that Kells is the older man with the mustache/goatee. I can't make all of the note out, but it clearly says, "Remember with pleasure this day. D.C. Kells, Lt Comdr USN." Other bits and pieces I can make out include, "Oh! Ye Danbury," "Hoping we will all meet at '[illegible]' & 'New England' Sept. 1871 - 'Moonshine' [or "Moonstone"] on the backs of [illegible] 'Champagne Blossom' on the end of our noses," and "Hang out the 'fort' light."


Here's a scan of the reverse, if anyone can figure more of it out: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/15319761@N06/4629846008/]


So far, I've been able to find some interesting info on Kells. The Register of the commissioned and warrant officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and reserve officers on active duty reveals that Kells was from New York & joined the Navy in Dec. 1861. He was placed in command of the U.S.S. Pawnee in March 1870. I've also found that Kells commanded the U.S.S. Rio Bravo in 1875, and allegedly tried to incite a war with Mexico.


The website, "Steamboats on the Rio Grande," (www.riverboatdaves.com/areas/riogrande-2.html) says:


"In 1875, General E. O. C. Ord, commander of the U.S. Army's Department of Texas, persuaded the Navy Department to provide a gunboat for the Rio Grande to protect the area against raids from Mexico, particularly those coordinated by Juan Cortina, a longtime enemy of American business interests in the area. The Navy responded by purchasing the old sidewheeler Planter and christening her Rio Bravo, after the Mexican name for the river she was to patrol. The Navy's decision to outfit Planter/Rio Bravo as a gunboat is a curious one, since she was already 15 years old -- positively geriatric for a riverboat -- and substantially larger than most of the steamers operating on the shallow, hazard-strewn Rio Grande.


"Armed with four small howitzers and a rifled gun firing a 30-pound shell, Rio Bravo set out for the Rio Grande in the summer of 1875. She was damaged by a storm while crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and put into Galveston briefly for repairs. She arrived in in early October on the Rio Grande with a complement of eight officers and forty-five crewmen. Her crew was hardly impressed with their newly-outfitted gunboat; Frank Pierce, who served aboard her as a yeoman and would later write an early history of the Rio Grande Valley, described her as a "4th-class TUB."


"More important, Rio Bravo's captain, Lieutenant Commander Kells, quickly embroiled himself in the volatile atmosphere in Brownsville. There were many in the area, primarily Anglo businessmen, who would have welcomed another war with Mexico. Kells sided quickly with them, and even offered to create an incident to precipitate one. Just two days after arriving at Brownsville, Kells proposed that "it could be arranged to have [Rio Bravo] fired upon, by a party of Texans from the Mexican bank, in her first trip up the 'Rio Grande,' in order that he might have an excuse to return the fire, destroy adjacent Mexican ranches, and land and occupy Mexican soil, ostensibly to avenge the insult to the United States flag; and thus precipitate an armed conflict with Mexico on this frontier." As an alternative, Kells suggested, a group of Texans posing as Mexican raiders might drive a herd of cattle across the river to Las Cuevas, one of the Mexican ranches believed to harbor Cortina's men. This would then give Kells an excuse to attack Las Cuevas.


"The naval officer's remarks were widely reported in and around Brownsville, and prompted an urgent series of telegrams between the U.S. Consul at Matamoros and the State Department. Kells was relieved of command of Rio Bravo on November 15, 1875, before he could stage any of his proposed incidents. (The attack on Las Cuevas was eventually carried out, without Rio Bravo's assistance, by a party of Texas Rangers.)"


I'm not sure about his Civil War service, but I've found reference to an Acting Master D.C. Kells who served aboard the U.S.S. Galena, and was cited for bravery under fire in action around Mobile Bay in 1864. D.C. Kells also served aboard the USS Bohio and the Eugenia Smith during the war.


Please let me know if anyone has more info about any of the people in this photograph.

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Uploaded on May 22, 2010