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Last Union prisoners leave Camp Ford
May 17, 1865

On this day in 1865, the last 1,200 Federal prisoners left Camp Ford, a Confederate prison camp located four miles northeast of Tyler. The camp, named in honor of Col. John S. (Rip) Ford, originally opened in 1862 as a facility for training Confederate conscripts, but the Trans-Mississippi Department ordered the establishment of a prison camp there in July 1863; the notorious John Pelham Border became commandant in May 1864. About 6,000 prisoners were confined at Camp Ford over the two years of its existence, making it the largest Confederate prison camp west of the Mississippi River. Of this number, 286 died there. The remains of the prison compound were destroyed in July 1865 by a detail of the Tenth Illinois Cavalry.

Republic of Texas defeats revolutionary plotters in key action
May 17, 1839

On this day in 1839, Manuel Flores and his band were defeated on the North San Gabriel River by Texas Rangers. Flores had led an expedition from Matamoros carrying war supplies to Texas Indians whom the Mexicans were trying to organize as allies. After killing four members of a party of surveyors between Seguin and San Antonio on May 14, the Flores group was trailed by a company of rangers for two days. Some of the rangers, led by Lt. James O. Rice, confronted the Mexican group on the North San Gabriel on May 17 and routed them. Flores was reported among the dead. In the baggage removed after the skirmish the Texans found several documents that seemed to link the Cherokee Indians with a Mexican plot to conquer Texas. These documents prompted President Lamar to demand that the Cherokees leave Texas, and this precipitated the Cherokee War.

Pioneer Norse colonist born
May 17, 1782

On this day in 1782, Cleng Peerson (Kleng Pedersen), who championed the immigration of Norwegians to the United States, was born in Tysvær, Norway. He came to the New World as a result of hardships in his native land, including the high price of farmland, the high number of drownings among fishermen, and drought. He arrived at New York City in 1821. Between 1825 and 1847 he helped establish communities for Norwegian Quakers and their compatriots in New York, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. He moved to Texas in 1850 and lived with friends near Dallas until 1854. Then he moved to newly organized Bosque County and urged other Norwegians in East Texas to follow him. Peerson died in 1865 and was buried at the cemetery at Norse, Texas. King Olav V of Norway visited Norse in 1982 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Cleng Peerson.