Re-thinking History

"Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." Malcolm X "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams." Henry David Thoreau

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Location: California, United States

A Scorpio, born on Halloween. Need I say more?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Contested West 1870-1900

  • The term "West" and its meaning has shifted throughout the decades of American history. Prior to the Gold Rush of 1849, in which California became became the primary focus, the West for settlers lay beyond the Appalachian Mountains. However, by the 1860s, the term "West" referred to the land across the Mississippi River, from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. With its rich natural resources and fertile soil, the West became contested terrain, as Native Americans struggled to preserve their sovereignty and cultural identity, and as Anglos, Mexicans, Chinese, Jews, Blacks, Scandinavians, the Polish, Russians, Hungarians, Canadians and Turks competed for the promise of land and riches.
  • As Ray Allen Billington argued, in America's Frontier Heritage (1966), the frontiersmen can be classified into two types: those who came to use the soil and those who came to subdue the soil. Patricia Nelson Limerick, in Legacy of Conquest, (1987) stated that the West is a region marked by a legacy of human & environmental conquest. Limerick explained that, "one person's success often meant another person's loss." Lastly, Gerald D. Nash, (1981) in Creating the West, noted that the interpretation of Western migration can be organized into four perceptions: the West as a frontier, as a region, as urban civilization and as a myth.
  • As I noted during the lecture, the West was settled by various people from the global community. However, recent scholarship has suggested that the West was not just a male phenomenon. Brenda K. Jackson, in Domesticating the West, (2005), argued that women redefined themselves as leaders of a new western environment through community activism, volunteerism and political participation. Elizabeth (Tappan) became the president of the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and later, in 1902, the local chapter historian of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Review Questions & Making Connections: (Possible Paper Topics!)
  • How did the slaughter of bison contribute to Plains Indian's removal to reservations? The buffalo was a vital source of food and fuel to groups such as the Sioux and the Kiowa. In addition, the buffalo was a key element for indigenous culture and religious life. Westward expansion destroyed the buffalo, as the railroads sponsored kills. Without the buffalo, Native American prospects for independence rapidly decline, forcing the indigenous populations to move onto reservations.
  • How did industrial technology change mining in Nevada? Small-scale gold miners were replaced by industrial mining following the "Big Bonanza" strike in 1873. The scale of industrial mining also made mining centers, as in the case of Virginia City functioning cities, with school, churches and families. Lastly, industrial mining required capital investment, as technological advancements, such as stamping mills and hydraulic equipment was costly. As industrial mining required a large workforce of immigrants from all over the global community, unions were organized by workers in Nevada to bargain for wages, ($4 per day- the highest), provide nursing care and secure death benefits.
  • How did business and technology transform agriculture in the West? The development of tools such as the mechanized reaper and plow transformed American agriculture as these technological developments increased production. Agriculture was now big business, as businesses like Miller & Lux used the technique of vertical integration and corporate consolidation to control large sectors of the economy. Innovations, such as the barbed wire, created by Joseph F. Glidden, a sheriff from Illinois, replaced the 'free range' and revolutionized the cattle business. Barbed wire displaced smaller farmers and created a tumultuous and often violent relationship with "fence cutters."
  • What sorts of hardships did the young women homesteaders encounter in the Dakotas? Women encountered loneliness, severe winters, as in the case of Bess Cobb who described the preparation for long cold winters, and lack of material goods that were once available in their daily lives. However, women on the Dakotas experienced a sense of adventure, as the women described in their letters, their experiences with shack-building as interesting yet difficult. Particularly appealing to women homesteaders was the autonomy of the West, as women made independent decisions in building homes, planting crops, throwing parties and participating in community life. Women homesteaders were faced with challenges, adventure, economic rewards and the ability to meet other challenges, such as the homesteader who now gained confidence from her experiences in the West and attend and graduated from college.
John M. Chivington: Colonel; his Colorado militia murdered 270 Cheyenne, mostly women and children in November 1864. He justified killing of indigenous children with the terse remark, "Nits make lice." The city of Denver treated Chivington has a hero, but a congressional inquiry castigated the soldiers for their actions. To escape court martial, Chivington reassigned his commission and left the army.

William T. Sherman and Indian Policy: "Remove all to a safe place and then reduce them to a helpless condition."

Phillip Sheridan: Applauded white hide hunters for "destroying the Indian's commissary," which were bison, and forced the indigenous population to choose between starvation and the reservation.

Red Cloud: Great Sioux chief that led many of his community to the reservation, but regretted the decision and his brief acceptance of the second Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. U.S. broke their promise to preserve Indian land and forced to indigenous community to relinquish all territory outside their reservations.

Crazy Horse: Stopped General George Cook at the Battle of Rosebud. Refused to sign the second Treaty of Fort Laramie.

George Armstrong Carter: In 1874, his troops found gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which led to the government breaking their promise to Red Cloud.

Crow Chief Plenty Coups: Explained that his alignment with the U.S. centered on the fact that "this course was the only one which might save our beautiful country for us." Fought alongside the U.S. army against their old enemies, the Sioux. The Crow remained on their land and avoided the fate of other tribes shipped to reservations far away.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce: Came to symbolize the heroic resistance of the Nez Perce. In 1879, he travelled to Washington D.C. to speak for his people, and his speech, which lasted two hours received a standing ovation. The Nez Perce were shipped off to Oklahoma, following the betrayal of General Nelson Miles.

Lozen: A female member of Geronimo's ( a respected shaman of the Chiricahua Apache) band, who rode with the warriors, armed with a rifle and a cartridge belt. In the spring of 1885, Geronimo and his band raided and burned ranches on both sides of the border in the Sierra Madre region.

General Nelson Miles: Replaced General Cook and adopted a policy of hunt and destroy when tracking the Apache raiding parties.

Buffalo Soldiers: Black soldiers who served in the West during the 'Indian' wars; troops number up to 25,000. However, the army pitted people of color against one another, using Black soldiers to fight the Apaches in Arizona Territory and to help subdue the Sioux in the Dakotas.

Brigham Young: Assumed leadership role in the Church of Latter-Day Saints following the mob killing of Joseph Smith in 1844. Polygamy had come under attack as early as 1857 and to counter the criticism of polygamy, the Utah territorial legislature gave women the right to vote in 1870. However, polygamy remained as newly enfranchised women did not "do away with the horrible institution of polygamy."

William F. Cody: "Buffalo Bill" panned for gold, ridden for the Pony Express, scouted for the army, hunted buffalo for the railroad, and became a masterful showman with his touring Wild West company in 1893. His 'Wild West' shows helped to create the myth of the West.

Frederick Jackson Turner: Addressed the American Historical Association on The Significance of the Frontier in American History. Turner noted that by 1890, the census could no longer discern a clear frontier line.


1870 Territories in the West: New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Dakota, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Presidents: Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877); Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881); James Garfield (1881); Grover Cleveland (1885-1892 & 1893-1897); Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) (Peace Policy: advocated reservations as a way to segregate and control Native Americans) ; William McKinley (1897-1901)

Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania 1879: Became a model for later institutions, as the school pioneered the 'outing system,'- sending students to live with white families during the summer. The policy reflected the school's slogan: "To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay."

Hampton Institute (1868): An Indian boarding school in Virginia that accepted its first Native American students in 1878. A year before, Congress appropriated funds for education, reasoning, "It was less expensive to educate Indians than kill them."

Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851): Ten thousand Plains Indians met at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to negotiate a treaty that ceded a large portion of their land to allow passage of wagon trains. The U.S. government promised that the rest of indigenous lands would remain inviolate, but did not follow through with that promise.
Santee Uprising (1862): (also called the Dakota Sioux, Minnesota) For years, under the leadership of Chief Little Crow, the Dakota, had pursued a policy of accommodation, ceding land in return for the promise of annuities. However, with his people on the verge of starvation, Little Crow reluctantly led his angry warriors in a desperate campaign against the intruders, killing 1,000 settlers. American troops quelled the 'Great Sioux Uprising' and marched 1,700 Sioux to Fort Snelling, where 400 Sioux were put on trial for murder and 38 died in the largest mass execution in American history.

U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs: A badly managed, weak agency, often acting through corrupt agents-supposedly to minister to the needs of the indigenous populations on reservations.

Treaty of Medicine Lodge: 5000 Comanches, Kiowa and Southern Arapahos gathered at Medicine Lodge Creek in Kansas to negotiate a treaty. To preserve their land from white encroachment, the indigenous communities signed the treaty in 1867, agreeing to move to a reservation.

Bozeman Trail (1866): The Cheyenne and the Sioux in Wyoming desired to protect their hunting grounds in the Power River valley, which was threatened by the construction of this trail, which would connect Fort Laramie with the goldfields of Montana.

Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868): Following the death of Captain William Fetterman, who was killed when going through the Sioux nation, the impressive victory led to a second treaty, in which the United States agreed to abandon the Bozeman Trail and guaranteed indigenous control of the Black Hills, land which was sacred to the Lakota Sioux. The treaty was full of contradictions, as the U.S. promised to preserve indigenous land and then decided to force the population to relinquish all territory outside their reservations.

Pine Ridge Reservation, Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne: After refusing to sell the Black Hills to the government, the army responded by issuing an ultimatum ordering all Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne bands onto the Pine Ridge Reservation and threatening to hunt down those who refused.

Dawes Allotment Act: (1887), A new policy designed to encourage assimilation through farming and the ownership of private property. Congress passed this act to abolish reservations and allot lands to individuals as private property. The Dawes Act dealt a damaging blow to indigenous cultures and beliefs.

Ghost Dance Religion: Origins are in 1870s, Paiute shaman Wovoka, combining elements of Christianity and traditional indigenous beliefs and practices to found the religion in 1889. This religion was born of despair with its message of hope. Generally nonviolent, but among the Sioux, this dance took on a more radical flavor, prompting President Benjamin Harris to dispatch several thousand federal troops to Sioux country to handle any outbreak. In December 1890, when Sitting Bull joined the Ghost Dancers in South Dakota, he was shot and killed by police as they tried to arrest him at his cabin on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota: Following the murder of Sitting Bull, a melee ensued, and the army opened fire on Sitting Bull's people who had fled the scene and were later apprehended by the Seventh Cavalry, Custer's old regiment near Wounded Knee Creek, SD. As they laid down their arms, a shot rang out, and the solider opened fire. Indigenous men, women and children were brutally murdered in minutes by the army's brutally efficient Hotchkiss rapid-fire guns. More than 200 hundred Sioux lay dead or dying in the snow.

Comstock Lode: (1859) By 1859, miners from the California Gold rush flocked to the Washoe basin in Nevada. There prospectors found what was described as "that blasted blue stuff," and it turned out the Washoe miners had stumbled upon the richest vein of silver ore on the continent. The legendary Comstock Lode is named for prospector Henry Comstock. Technology and capital were needed to finance operations on the Comstock. In 1873, Comstock miners uncovered a new vein of ore, prompting the transition from small-scale industry to corporate enterprise, creating a radically new social and economic environment. (Big Bonanza) Industrial technology changed mining due to scale of industrial mining, capital investment and unions, which allowed the families of workers to claim death benefits and nursing care of injured miners. In addition, as a result of the union, Comstock miners earned $4 a day and were the highest paid miners during this period.

Workingman's Party: (1876) Was formed to fight for Chinese exclusion and in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively barring further Chinese immigration. Racial and cultural animosities stood at the heart of anti-Chinese agitation. Denis Kearney, the fiery San Francisco leader of the movement, made clear this racist bent when he urged legislation to "expel every one of the moon-eyed lepers.

Homestead Act of 1862: Promised 160 acres to any citizen or prospective citizen, male or female, who settled on the land for five years. However, homesteaders still needed as much as $1000 for a house, a team of farm animals, a well, fencing and seed. For every one person who obtained 160 acres of land for homesteading purposes, 640 acres of land were sold for a profit. (1/5)

Great American Desert: Beginning in the 1870s, as land grew scarce on the prairie, farmers began to push farther west, moving into western Kansas, Nebraska, and eastern Colorado.

Chisholm Trail: A cattle track trail that cowboys used, that started in San Antonio, Texas and ended in Abilene Kansas. One of four trails that originated in Texas and moved north. From there, the cattle traveled by boxcar to Chicago, where they sold for as much as $45 a head. More than a million and a half Texas longhorns when to market before the range began to close in the 1880s.

Barbed wire: Revolutionized the cattle business and replaced the open range. In 1874, Joseph F. Glidden, an Illinois sheriff, invented and patented barbed wire. As the largest ranches in Texas began to fence, fights broke out between big ranchers and "fence cutters" who resented to end of the free range. As one person noted, "Those persons, Mexicans and Americans, without land but who had cattle were put out of business by fencing." Fencing forced small-time ranchers who owned land but could not afford to buy barbed wire or sink wells to sell out for the best price they could get. The displaced ranchers, many of them Mexicans, ended up as wage workers on the huge spreads owned by Anglos or European syndicated.

Agribusiness: Farming as big business with the advent of commercial farms. As farming moved onto the prairies and plains, mechanization took command, as steel plows, reapers, mowers, harrows, seed drills, combines and threshers replaced human muscle. Horse drawn implements were replaced with steam-powered machinery. By 1880, a single combine could do the work of twenty men, vastly increasing the acreage a farmer could cultivate.

Henry Miller and Charles Lux: Alsatian immigrants who pioneered the West's mixture of agriculture and business, developing investment strategies and corporate structures to control not only California land but water rights as well. Beginning as meat wholesalers, Miller and Lux expanded their business to encompass cattle, land, and land reclamation projects, such as dams and irrigation systems. By 1870, Miller and Lux owned well over 300,000 acres of grazing land in the central San Joaquin Valley (CA); over half of it derived from former Mexican land grants. Their company shared the main characteristics of other modern enterprises: corporate consolidation, vertical integration and schemes to minimize labor costs and stabilize the workforce.