|07-24-2022, 09:58 AM||#41 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Death on the tracks: early fatalities
In the very early days derailments were common, but as the trains hardly ever reached a speed of more than twenty miles an hour, these were mere inconveniences and did not result in any loss of life or serious injury. In most cases, a general call would be put about the train to have the male passengers haul the car back onto the track, and away the train would go. The first real death on the railroad, excepting those who blundered out in front of the trains, occurred on the Camden & Amboy line, when a train broke an axle and two people died, everyone else on the train including actor Tyrone Power (yes, that one) was injured, the only one to escape unscathed being former president John Quincy Adams. Future railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt broke his ankle and swore never to ride on the railroad again. He obviously changed his mind, considering how much money the railroad would end up making for him.
Once trains began running at night, or overnight, the problem of how the driver was supposed to see the track in front of him became an issue. Crazy as it may seem, an early idea, proposed - and used for a short time by - the South Carolina Canal Railroad Company, was to set fire to a wagonload of sand and wood and strap it to the front of the locomotive. Unsurprisingly, this was quickly ditched as being too damned dangerous. Next various lamps were tried out, first oil and then kerosene, which proved better suited to the purpose, with large mirrors to reflect the light. In Britain, with the railway enclosed by fences and running on their own track, not through any town’s main street, these were not so much a priority, and only came into use much later. But in America, where the oft-sung phrase “don’t fence me in” held sway, and animals and sometimes people could wander in front of the train - especially hard to see at night - it was vital the driver be able to see ahead of him through the dark.
Animal magic: Farmers on the warpath
While animals were by far the largest percentage of casualties on the early railroads, and could easily derail a train, railroad companies fought a running battle with farmers who had developed an instinct for making money off them. The idea was that they would be paid generously by the railroad if any of their livestock was killed by their trains (despite the fact that it could only have been the fault of the farmers) and so they decided to start taking their least healthy and oldest animals closer and closer to the tracks, sometimes even feeding them on the rails themselves. Then, when the animal was hit and killed by a train, they would claim handsome compensation from the railroad company. What happened if there were human fatalities, or damage to engine or cars, I don’t know, and it seems the farmers didn’t care as long as they got paid.
But as time went on, like all schemes this one began to unravel, as the railroad bosses became wiser to the tactics of the unscrupulous (and, it must be said, cruel and heartless towards their cattle) farmers, and reduced the amount they were prepared to pay for animals killed on the railroad. This infuriated the greedy farmers, who began a running war with the railroad. They obstructed the lines, tampered with the switches and threw stones and rocks at the trains, and were in the process of plotting to set fire to one when the railroad, having infiltrated their ranks, caught them in the act and had them arrested. Twelve men were sentenced and jailed.
Sleep on it: George Pullman, inventor of the first proper sleeping carriages
George Pullman (1831 - 1897)
Early railroad travellers had a lot to thank George Pullman for. Even travellers today owe him a debt of gratitude, as they ride in the luxury sleeping cars that bear his name still. Until he came along, sleeping on a train was a dangerous and uncomfortable business, and unlikely to yield much in the way of rest. The first of the lines to provide any sort of sleeping accommodation for their passengers was the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and all it did was split a normal day car into two, add some basic padding and throw in a stove to heat the place. There was no bedding - bring your own with you or sleep in your clothes - and the stove was, of course, not fastened down or secured in any way, so you had a pretty good chance of burning to death if the train rounded any sudden curves or stopped suddenly. Carriages of this sort were, it will be readily understood, for men only, as there was no privacy and several men would sleep to a car. Americans would endure discomfort and sleeplessness for another thirty or so years.
I read a little ahead and see this man was no saint. In fact, not to put to fine a point on it, he appears to have been a heartless, tyrannical bastard who cared more about his bottom line than the people who worked for him. So, a typical American businessman then. Let’s be fair, and remove that word. A typical businessman of the time, like so many others, out to make a profit and piss all over anyone who got in his way. But his achievements and his contribution to the history of the railroad can’t be ignored, so let’s not do that, while at the same time let’s throw his despotic behaviour and his shameful treatment of his workers into the harsh light of non-revisionist history.
As a young engineer, only in his twenties, Pullman arrived in Chicago and immediately set about creating a reputation for himself by working out how to raise hotels and other buildings off the ground, for foundation work or to just raise it to a new street level. Apparently he did this using thousands of jacks, hand-operated by hundreds of men, raising the building an inch at a time. Taking his cue from the packet boats he used to travel as a kid on the Erie Canal, Pullman designed the first proper sleeping car, though history says he was not its inventor, that honour going to a Theodore Woodruff. However such cars have borne his name right up to this day, and he may as well be said to be the father of the sleeping car.
Pullman cars, as people quickly came to know them, stood for two things: luxury and comfort. And a third, of course: expense, but then, you don’t get the finer things in life without paying for them, and people were very much prepared to pay up to FIVE TIMES as much for a Pullman coach as for a normal one. The difference was staggering, and you’d have to say the extra outlay, if you could afford it, was certainly worth it. Lush carpeting, comfortable bunks, gilded ornamentation, chandeliers - these cars were as close a relative to the early sleepers as the Wright Bros flyer is to a 747 Jumbo Jet. Improved suspension, a quieter - and above all, safer ride, the Pullmans would have been worth it on these improvements alone.
But there was more.
Pullman decided his sleepers should be like mobile hotels, and to that effect engaged recently freed black men to serve as combination porters, stewards, valets and waiters. They would show the passenger to their carriage, have the bed made (no cold plank for resting your head on here, and forget bringing your own bedding: all provided for, and the best quality too), settle them as they wished, call them when dinner was ready… oh yeah, there was an attached kitchen! These men, though better paid than they had been as slaves, obviously, were reportedly not that well paid, and made up most of their income via tips from the wealthy passengers, which they were allowed to keep.
Although there was of course no union, Pullman porters were still required to contribute to “group insurance policy”, which so far as I can see was of no benefit to them at all, as there was no compensation forthcoming for any who died or were injured in the service, and there was no retirement or pension plan. They were required to turn up for work two hours before the train departed, but did not get paid for this time, as their working period was seen to begin only when the train departed. Moreover, every Pullman porter had to be assigned to a car - there were none who were entitled to one regularly - so they could stand around for a whole day waiting to be given one, and if it didn’t happen, they went home without being paid. In some ways, these men must have felt almost as if they were still slaves.
Still, membership of the Pullman Association did carry with it some benefits, if only in terms of recognition and reputation, and the porters had a high social standing in their own black community, where many ex-slaves (or freedmen) struggled to secure any sort of employment after the war. Pullman’s fortune, basically, was made with the assassination of President Lincoln, which seems a harsh thing to say, but when the president’s body was toured throughout the States on a train, so that everyone could get a chance to pay their respects to the great Emancipator, it was in a Pullman car he made his last trip, and the fame of the car - and its maker - spread far and wide. Soon, everyone who could afford to do so wanted to emulate the president (though without the inconvenience of being dead, obviously) and demand for the Pullman cars peaked, as did prices, following the indefatigable law of supply and demand. By 1875, ten years after the first one was produced, Pullman had over seven hundred cars in operation with the railroads.
And then came Pullman, Chicago.
I can’t say if this was the first company town ever, but it seems to have been one of the first. Pullman bought 4,000 acres in Chicago near Lake Calumet on the Illinois Central Railroad and set an architect, Solon Spencer Beman, to design a town in which his employees could live. It proved to be one of the most successful towns of the age, with good housing, indoor plumbing, with shops, theatres, parks, hotels, but pointedly no bars, no casinos, no whorehouses, nowhere where “undesirable behaviour” could flourish. It was his hope to avoid the violence and drunkenness prevalent in many American towns, and which led to unrest and trouble. And mostly it did.
But Pullman wanted complete control over his new town, and prohibited independent newspapers, town meetings, public speeches or open discussion. All the inhabitants - his workers and their families - had to conform to rigorous standards set down by him, behavioural and hygienic, and anyone who did not come up to the mark could be fired and ejected from the town. He also banned charitable organisations and, as nobody would pay rent to use the church, it was an empty shell. His running of the town was compared to the iron grip of Count Otto von Bismark in Germany, or, as one anonymous Pullman employee put it: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”
Quite contrary to his intentions, or expectations, such total repression was only going to fuel the fires of unrest and rebellion, and when, as a result of falling demand for his cars during the Panic of 1893 (yes, another one; there were quite a few, it seems) he cut wages, but did not lower rents in his town, or the price of any of the amenities, the stage was set for bloody confrontation.
Comments on Pullman’s inhuman tactics ran to "I have seen men with families of eight or nine children crying because they got only three or four cents after paying their rent."
Another described conditions as "slavery worse than that of Negroes of the South".
Many of the workers joined the recently-formed American Railway Union, which instigated a boycott on Pullman’s cars, refusing to allow trains to carry them or their workers to work in them. The Great Pullman Strike of 1894 had begun.
Pullman was not interested in negotiating with the strikers. On the day the strike began he locked up his home and business and left town. One of his contemporaries thundered at his refusal to even talk to his workers: "The damned idiot ought to arbitrate, arbitrate and arbitrate! ...A man who won't meet his own men halfway is a God-damn fool!"
Three days into the strike things began to go bad. Strikebreakers, many of them black, had been enlisted by the railroad to take the place of the striking workers, and at a meeting to rally support for the strike things exploded. It was supposed to have been a peaceful meeting, but like most of these things, agitators within the crowd shouted the loudest and buildings were burned, a locomotive derailed, and other transport workers came out in sympathy, enlarging the strike and calling it to the urgent attention of the authorities. They of course responded with peace mediators and offers of recompense, and everyone sat down around the table and worked it… yeah. Right.
The President himself gave the order for an injunction to be issued, commanding the workers to return to their posts, and when that was ignored, sent in the troops. Thirty strikers were killed and fifty-seven wounded. Support among railroad workers other than those in the ARU was divided: many wanted their trains to run, many saw the workers’ grievances as legitimate. The public, as is usually the case, didn’t care; they just wanted to be able to travel on the trains, and besides, weren’t all these men black, recently-freed slaves? How ungrateful! The newspapers played on this, calling the workers “aliens” and “immigrants” (which in a lot of cases was true, but irrelevant to the reasons for the strike) and ignoring the very real fact that this was more a clash of rich versus poor, big business versus the little guy, and very much a case of playing politics with people’s lives.
In the aftermath, Pullman was ordered to sell his town and it became just another suburb of Chicago, if one with a chequered past. He did not survive long past the infamous strike, his reputation destroyed by his intransigence and the memory of the workers who had been killed by the troops. He died in 1897, and his family were so concerned that vengeful employees might dig his body back up that he was buried in a lead-lined coffin sealed in a block of concrete, and surrounded with more concrete, a network of steel bars and yet more concrete. The entire burial process took two days. Twenty-eight years later, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became one of the first, and most influential African-American unions in the USA.
By George! That’s not my name!
Oh, hilarious history looks us in the face once again and sticks its tongue out at us, though in this case it’s almost more tragic-comic. The practice on slave plantations had been to call every male slave by the given name of the slavemaster or owner. So if they were called, for instance, Tom, every slave would be known as Tom. When Pullman began recruiting porters, whether with or without his knowledge or approval, passengers called every Pullman porter George, after him. This obviously irritated the porters, but it was not their place to speak up and correct the white folks, so they had to take it. Eventually, there was a placard placed on each Pullman car advising the name of the porter, and the practice died out.
However (and this is the funny/tragic part) other people named George took offence at their name being used for Pullman porters, and the Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters George was born. No, really. Well, initially apparently it was a joke, but at its height it boasted over 31,000 members, including (it was claimed) Babe Ruth and King George V. Apparently you could join the SPCSCG as long as your first or last name was George. Nobody in the society (all exclusively white of course) cared about getting a measure of dignity for the porters, just that their names not be used (presumably if they had all been called James none of the Georges would have cared - whether a new society might have sprung up called SPCSCJ or not is another matter) but their efforts did obliquely change the practice, and soon porters were being referred to by their given name. Oh, white privilege! What lessons you teach us!
One man who swam against the flow though was the famous comedian Jackie Gleason, as related by Biggs, son of a sleeping car porter, in the book The Pullman Porters: From Servitude to Civil Rights: “One of the most remarkable stories I liked hearing about was how when Jackie Gleason would ride ... all the porters wanted to be on that run. The reason why? Not only because he gave every porter $100.00, but it was just the fun, the excitement, the respect that he gave the porters. Instead of their names being George, he called everybody by their first name. He always had like a piano in the car and they sang and danced and had a great time. He was just a fun person to be around.”
However, historian Greg LeRoy describes how most customers, and the company, saw them: "A Pullman Porter was really kind of a glorified hotel maid and bellhop in what Pullman called a hotel on wheels. The Pullman Company just thought of the porters as a piece of equipment, just like another button on a panel – the same as a light switch or a fan switch."
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|07-31-2022, 09:44 AM||#42 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Crossing the Rubicon. Or, if you prefer, the Mississippi: Rivermen strike back
It was mentioned earlier that the railroad had its enemies from the beginning, and most staunch among them were those who stood to lose the most, the canal operators and the riverboats. When the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad built a bridge into Iowa over the Mississippi, despite strong protests from Mississippi riverboat men, a steamer rammed into it at full speed, destroying the bridge. It was likely no accident, as a banner soon appeared proclaiming “Mississippi bridge destroyed! All rejoice!” The case over who had precedence over the river went to court, and the railroad’s position was argued by a young, unknown lawyer who faded out of history, some guy called Lincoln.
An ex-pilot himself, Lincoln knew the river and walked a legal tightrope to prove his case, which was that while he acknowledged (while surely knowing it was nothing of the sort) that the collision had been an accident, the needs of Americans to have free passage into the west was paramount, and he won the case. Or rather, the Mississippi boatmen did not win it, the jury being tied, and the later decision of the Supreme Court was that the bridge did not constitute a hazard to navigation, and must remain. This was more or less the end of any organised opposition by the rivers to the railroad, and the future rode forward on the shiny rails and puffing smokestacks of the iron horse.
Engines of war: the role of the railroad in the Civil War
How naive we can be! When railroads first appeared they were lauded (mostly, it must be said, by their creators and supporters) as the device by which war would be forever removed from the landscape of America. With stunning lack of foresight and understanding, and a sense of almost painful innocence, quotes as far off the beam as the one which called World War I the war to end all wars abounded: Henry Poor, author of the American Railroad Journal, gushed that the railroad would be “the agent of national peace” and that “the certain prevention of foreign war . . . will be one of the numerous advantages of the railroads.” What his reasoning for this was is known only to himself. A joint project to link the railroads of Cincinnati, Charleston and Ohio promised that “the North and South would, in fact, shake hands with each other, yield up their social and political hostility, pledge themselves to common national interests, and part as friends and brethren.” The Cincinnati Daily Chronicle saw the railroad “dispelling prejudices and cementing friendships, calculated to perpetuate the institutions under which we have risen from a mere handful.”
Right. This was in 1843. Less than two decades later, as the railroads reached their height, the country would be at war. Not just at war, but at war with itself, in the bloodiest conflict the USA had seen in its short history, making the War of Independence and the War of 1812 seem good-natured fist fights between friends in comparison. By the time it was over, the south would be in ruins and almost a million Americans would be dead on both sides, military and civilian, free and slave, Union and Confederate, and the country would suffer from a divide in its politics whose legacy it is still struggling with today.
And trains would be right up there in the thick of it, helping to bring death, destruction and misery to millions. So much for the metal harbingers of peace.
As is almost always the case, the military got involved with railroads early in their history, the trains ferrying troops to Harper’s Ferry and to Pullman, but the first time they really saw what the new technology could do for the war effort was during the Mexican-American War of 1846, when they were able to use trains to transport troops to Texas. However this had limited success, due mostly to the poor state of southern railroads and the fact that Texas had none. But when war broke out between American and American, they had a proper chance to test out this new system as a prosecutor of war.
It did not disappoint.
In fact, it’s true to say that without the railroads the Civil War might have ended sooner, had a shorter reach and resulted in less deaths. The possibility of moving troops and weapons and supplies around from state to state in relatively fast order made the waging of the war much easier, at least for the Union, who had the better railroad lines. In addition to this disadvantage, the south had less lines, and the ones it had were all, as has already been noted, kept separate from each other, operating in their state only. There were few if any lines connecting to one another, and even if there had been, the south was also behind the north with regard to wheel gauge, some states using one and some using another, so there was no standard and anyone wanting to go from one state to another would most assuredly have to change trains, which is not something you want your troops worrying about.
The south was also severely lacking in entrepreneurs. No people like Pullman, Vanderbilt, Minot or Huntington to aggressively promote the railroad there. In fact, their only real pioneer and supporter of a networked railroad (he envisaged one line linking Charleston to Memphis) died suddenly in 1839, and with his death nobody else seemed willing to take up the torch he had dropped. The insular mindset of the south, the distrust of the railroad and the worry about slaves escaping or being taken to safety perhaps on these new engines of freedom kept each state protecting its own small railroad and rigidly prescribing its limits, cutting it off from other railroads, even ones which were ostensibly friendly. This told very much against them during the war, when the Union, whose two major lines, the Erie and the Pennsylvania, possessed more rolling stock than all of the south put together, unleashed the power of their new war machine.
If only they had listened to the words of Frederick Law Olmstead, architect of Central Park: “There is nothing that is more closely connected, both as cause and effect, with the prosperity and wealth of a country than its means and modes of travelling.” Many northern workers had come to the south to build roads (and, possibly, though I’m not sure, railroads) and of course once war broke out they went back home to fight, leaving the south with a critical shortage of labour. The south’s intransigence towards central government told against them too, as they were unable or unwilling to instigate a unified policy of operating their trains for the military effort, unlike the north, where Lincoln passed legislation to create the United States Military Railroads. This mean that certain strategic, important or powerful lines came directly under the control of the government, assisting the war effort and making things like movement of troops easier. In the south, the USMR repaired broken lines, laid track and took control of operational railroads in captured enemy territory.
However incompetent and pig-headed the southern effort may have been with regard to the railroads, it shouldn’t be taken that they failed utterly. In fact, at the Battle of Bull Run, one of the first major conflicts of the war, southern railroads helped turn the tide of a battle the Confederacy should have lost, when troops were sent via the tiny Manassas Gap Railroad to relieve the siege of Richmond, allowing the rebels to win the day. But not only that, the unexpected victory for the south shook the confidence (some might say overconfidence) of the Union, who had expected to win a quick victory and bring the war to a speedy conclusion. The setback showed them they were in a proper one, and it would drag on for years.
However much of the failure of the south to prosecute, never mind win the war was down to the stubborn self-interest of individual states and the fear of acceding to a centralised government, even their own, rebel one. An extract from The Great Railroad Revolution illustrates this perfectly: “Early in the war, William A. Ashe, who headed the Railroad Bureau, demanded that the Western & Atlantic, which was owned by the State of Georgia, supply six locomotives and seventy wagons to move freight out to eastern Tennessee. However, not only did Georgia’s governor, Joseph E. Brown, turn down the request, but he threatened to send troops to fight any Confederate officials who tried to commandeer the rolling stock.
Farther south, the head of the Florida Railroad, David L. Yulee, was no more helpful. Although his railroad was unable to operate because it had suffered damage, he refused to allow its rails to be lifted and redeployed to create a connecting line between Florida and Georgia, which was essential to keep the Confederate army supplied with beef. In yet another failure of wartime cooperation, promises made by railroads to provide transportation for free soon proved to be empty. The Richmond & Petersburg, for example, immediately raised its charges when the company realized the line was a vital part of the military buildup for the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. “
But nobody ever said stupidity and naivete was restricted to the rebel side. Listen to this: having captured a stretch of line around Wheeling, on the Ohio River, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson told the Union they could continue to run their freight trains on it, but only between the hours of 11 am and 1 pm, using the laughable rationale that the passage of the trains at any other hour would wake his troops. 11 am, all right, maybe, but what in the hell did the Union Army think the Johnny Rebs were doing sleeping from noon into the afternoon? Yet, they fell for it, and deservedly reaped the rewards of colossal stupidity as Jackson led what was known as the Martinsburg Raid on June 14 1861, trapping the Union trains by destroying the track before and behind them, his men then destroyed 42 locomotives and 386 freight cars, then attacked the machine shops and warehouses in Martinsburg, taking 14 locomotives and forcing the closure of that section of the Baltimore & Ohio, which was a big blow to the Union war effort.
Perhaps with something of a slight lack of foreplanning though, they had to transport the stolen engines by road as, well, there was no track, since they themselves had torn it up. Unfortunately for Jackson though, the raid angered the citizens of Maryland, who had seen the B&O as their railroad, and they switched sides to the Union, which helped keep the rest of the Baltimore & Ohio open. Lincoln, aware, unlike most of his contemporaries in government, of the power of the railroads and how vital they would be to the war effort, appointed Daniel McCallum, of whom we have already read, as military director and superintendent of the railroads. McCallum, as we’ve seen, was a man who could get things done, and, crucially for a commander in times of war, took no shit from anyone. His military rank, though only honorary and only to last till the termination of the war, ensured he had the authority to order the Union forces to carry out his commands. With him was Herman Haupt.
Haupt, about whom we have also heard, as in collaboration with McCallum he helped design the “horseshoe bend” for the Pennsylvania Railroad, actually had had a military commission, having passed through West Point, but resigned his commission in order to pursue a career in engineering and bridge-building. His skill, intelligence and understanding of engineering concepts made him the perfect man for the job, and earned him the title of the “war’s wizard of railroading.” His skill in repairing broken bridges and torn-up rails earned him the admiration of the President when Lincoln visited to survey the bridge he had built across the Potomac, erected in just nine days: “That man Haupt has built a bridge across Potomac Creek . . . and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but beanpoles and cornstalks.” Haupt was not a happy man when his trains were delayed, especially when this was due to the arrogance of certain officers.
On finding that four trains had been delayed arriving in Piedmont, Haupt discovered that the trains had been held up because one was blocking the line. This turned out to be because the general in charge had wanted his wife to get a good night’s rest in a nearby farmhouse, and so held the train overnight, preventing others from using the line. Haupt was livid when he visited the scene and saw the lady responsible make her way back to the train. “I did not display extra gallantry on the occasion, nor even offer the lady assistance. She had detained four trains in three hours in a period of urgency, and I was not in an amiable mood.” Know what you mean, mate. I’d have given her a slap. Him, too. Because of this, and other unacceptable incidents where officers treated trains as if they were their own personal property, an order was issued that declared “No officer . . . shall have the right to detain a train, or order it to run in advance of schedule.” Nevertheless, some officers persisted: one had to be kicked out of a car he had set up in a siding as a personal office rather than send it back to be reused.
Haupt’s knowledge of bridge-building techniques allowed him not only to erect better ones, but to more easily and quickly destroy existing ones. He developed a system whereby a single trooper, carrying what were called “torpedoes”, eight-inch long cylinders filled with gunpowder, could drill holes in the supports of a bridge, insert the torpedoes, wind out the two-foot-long fuse and light it, giving him time to retreat before the bridge came down. A popular phrase in the war had been “the Union can build bridges faster than the Johnny Rebs can blow them up”. Now, they could destroy them faster and more efficiently too.
But let it not be said that the south had no heroes. William Fuller, a conductor on a train known as The General, foiled a plan by the Union to sabotage the main line at Chattanooga (yeah, yeah I know) by chasing after the locomotive which the Union forces had hijacked - wait for this, it’s like something out of a cartoon - on foot for two miles until he got hold of one of those railroad trolleys (you know the ones, push up and push down and they move along like a pump on wheels) till he came to a gap where the track had been broken, managed to find a locomotive, steamed this up and pursued the General until he again came to broken track, got off and ran again until he saw a train going the other way, stopped it, commandeered it and kept up the chase. Eventually the General ran out of fuel, and the Union raiders, thwarted, jumped off and disappeared across the fields. Later they were caught and hanged. Th-th-that’s all folks!
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|08-03-2022, 01:25 PM||#43 (permalink)|
Be aware of the psyop
Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
|08-06-2022, 02:45 PM||#44 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
As we approach our return to the unfolding history of the transcontinental railroad (forgot what you were reading, did you?) the state of all America’s railroads at the time of the Civil War, not just those of the south, can be summed up in this passage detailing troop movements in 1863, the largest single movement of men during the war: “At Culpeper, on the Rappahannock River, the troops took the Orange & Alexandria to Washington and then the Baltimore & Ohio to the Ohio River just below Wheeling. A ferry ride over the river to Bellaire in Ohio connected them with the Central Ohio Railroad to Columbus, then the Indiana Central to Indianapolis, and then the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad to Jeffersonville on the Ohio, opposite Louisville. Having recrossed the river using a pontoon, a combination of the Louis ville & Nashville and the Nashville & Chattanooga took them to their destination.”
General William Sherman, one of the heroes on the Union side, understood entirely the role the railroad had played in the war, as he recounted in his memoirs years later: : “That single stem of railroad supplied an army of 100,000 men and 32,000 horses for the period of 196 days, from May 1 to November 19, 1864. To have delivered that amount of forage and food by ordinary wagons would have required 36,800 wagons, of six mules each . . . a simple impossibility in such roads as existed in that region.”
Though they greatly facilitated the loss of huge numbers of lives, the railroads saved many thousands too, being used as ambulances to ferry the wounded out of enemy territory and back to friendly bases. However this process was very much in its infancy, and such things as mobile hospitals amounted often to injured or even dying men being dumped on the floors of freight cars, with no medical attention possible until - if - they reached their own side. But mostly the trains were used as weapons, armoured against attack and/or carrying mounted guns, and certainly helped the Union win the war, but also by default led to the deaths of more men and women than would have been possible in a war without them.
The Civil War ended in 1865, but almost before the dust had cleared, a new struggle was manifesting itself. This would, however, entail not conflict but co-operation, bring the country closer together than ever before, and finally united the disparate states of America.
We'll I'll Be a Chinaman! Following the Yellow Railroad
In the event, those who had put down the chances of the railroad succeeding must have been smiling smugly to themselves as many of their predictions came to pass, including the huge expense incurred of transporting machinery, locomotives, material across from the east via first train and then steamer, but none of these, even a heavy downpour of rain that morning, could dampen the party atmosphere that attended the gala opening of what would be the Central Pacific Railroad as the first spoke was hammered in on the morning of January 8 1863. Significant events had also unfolded that week, with the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect, freeing slaves in the southern states (although it was ignored, as it had been passed by a government now seen as the enemy and with which the south was at war) and, perhaps less encouragingly, a major defeat being dealt to the Union cause at Fredericksburg in Virginia.
Construction would not begin for another ten months, the opening ceremony largely symbolic, as most of the material was still being shipped from the east, and in addition to this, nobody wanted to work on the railroad and labour was in short supply. Any able-bodied men who had emigrated to California had done so in search of gold, not wooden sleepers in the Sacramento dust, or the freezing snows of the Sierras. Labour was not available in the west, and in the east men had an annoying habit of dying all the time: the war, which never touched California, was extracting a brutal toll on the flower of American manhood, on both sides, and there was none to spare to pursue the late Theodore Judah’s dream.
Worse was to come. Despite the obvious need for diversifying their work force, the railroad refused to hire any but white men, believing that only they had the necessary intelligence and strength of character (as well as of physique) to undertake such work. But white entitlement is not something new: even in the mid-nineteenth century, white men and women believed themselves superior to other races. Perhaps not as much as southern people did, certainly when concerning blacks, but they still maintained they were God’s chosen, the “true Americans”, and by virtue of this, better than other peoples. This entitlement translated to a lack of loyalty to, or even professional pride in, the railroad, and when silver was discovered in Nevada, most of the workers simply downed tools and headed for the new dream of wealth and fortune.
Desperate, Charles Crocker, then the head of construction, floated the idea of bringing in Chinese workers. About forty-five thousand Chinese had come over to California in search of gold, but unable to compete with the ruthless native whites, they had had to settle for basically the scraps that were left behind when the others had finished. In order to supplement their tiny incomes (no Chinese person - or Chinaman, as they were somewhat racistly called at the time - had ever struck it rich in the gold mines) they took menial jobs as house servants and odd job men, and basically became slaves in all but name, earning a pittance for their work and also the enmity of the locals, who refused to live beside them and drove them into what were all but ghettos.
Crocker’s foreman, James Strobridge, was dubious, believing the Chinese too weak and frail for the hard work of railway building, and also doubting their moral character, but he could see there was little choice. Things of course went smoothly, and the white workers welcomed the new Chinese with open arms. Well, not quite. The Irish were the most vociferous in their protest - typical, really, as they would have suffered the same prejudices as these new workers, but hey, there’s always room for some more deep-seated racism, right? And few people do racism like we do. Luckily, hardly any of the Chinese spoke English, though surely the gestures needed no interpreting. At any rate, they ignored the insults, smiled and worked on. Considering the tension between the two groups, it was thought best to keep them working in separate gangs.
Despite Strobridge’s doubts, the Chinese turned out to be excellent workers. They toiled without pause or complaint, drank only a sip of lukewarm tea - the whites drank water, which was often contaminated and led to sickness among their crew - and in fact laid more track in the same time as the whites did. This led to a race between the two gangs, as the Irish and other whites refused to be outdone by a bunch of “chinks”, all of which of course benefited the railroad. Though it had not been his plan to create competition between the gangs, it seemed that Crocker’s foresight had been good, and the Chinese workers, who were of course paid less than the whites but more than they could get at the other jobs they did, were happy to work harder than any railroad worker ever had.
The Chinese workers were canny, demanding their payment not in dollar bills, but in gold, and insisting the railroad bought their food, which gave their brothers in San Francisco extra business, as the railroad dealt with them in such items as bamboo shoots, dried oysters and cuttlefish. Their uncomplaining, industrious nature soon won them favour, other than that of the white workers on the railroad of course, and led Leland Stanford to declare, in April 1865 that “The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese. … Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of the [transcontinental railroad]. As a class they are quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious, and economical—ready and apt to learn all the different kinds of work required in railroad building. … They soon become as efficient as white laborers.”
However, plagued by debts, both from uncooperative stockholders who did not wish to honour the payments due on their subscriptions and grandiose plans designed by Judah which siphoned off money from the railroad funds for such things as bridges which turned out to be unstable, culverts that the rain destroyed and washed away, and majestic stations that were surely too soon, with hardly any track laid, the Central Pacific, first to begin the mammoth task of constructing the transcontinental rail network, did not have an easy time of it. Judah’s death in November removed some of the problems the Big Four were wrestling with, and allowed them to put into practice schemes he would have had major problems with, but which helped finance and keep the railroad growing.
The first CPRR locomotive, the Gov Stanford, carried its first passengers and freight eighteen miles from Sacramento to Roseville in April 1864, and two months later the track was completed as far as Newcastle, linking up with the Comstock Lode (the silver mines in Nevada) by way of the Dutch Flat Toll Road, a toll road for wagons which both provided transport for stock and materials and also connected with the growing rail route. By the summer of 1865, the railroad had advanced fifty-five miles east of Sacramento, when it came up against the most formidable of barriers, the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Cuts had to be dug, gullies and ravines filled in, and most time-consuming and dangerous of all, tunnels had to be blasted through the mountains, the longest of which measured over one and a half thousand feet. Here again, Crocker’s inspiration in hiring Chinese workers would pay off, as the Chinese were far more used to hanging off cliffs with gunpowder, having had, in their ancestry, built clifftop fortresses for warlords. And, of course, gunpowder had been invented by them, so every Chinese boy was familiar with it, unlike the whites, who handled it gingerly and with not a little fear.
The Chinese wove baskets out of reeds, which they then climbed into and had lowered over the cliff face so as to work in them more safely. Of course, safety was not a word you associated with such work, no matter the precautions taken, and it only took one of these baskets to snap, or hit a rock, or any of a hundred other reasons that would send it and its passenger tumbling down the cliff and into the mighty river. Won over finally by the bravery and ingenuity of the Chinese, the whites began to afford them grudging respect, and even work with them, and the two sides became more or less integrated, as white men took lessons from Chinese on how best to blast the cliffs without blowing themselves to Kingdom Come.
But up in the high Sierras, falling to your death or being blown to bits was not the only hazard, and one of the greatest enemies was the cold. Winter that year was particularly severe, so much so that construction had to be halted. Snow covered the camp to its rooftops, and fierce blizzards were known to wash away entire populations, whose bodies would not be found until the spring thaw. But that spring held both promise and threat. In April 1866 the Civil War finally came to an end, which, while it freed up more labour from the east, also allowed the resurgence of efforts by the Central Pacific’s great rival, the Union Pacific Railroad. As Washington paid by mile of track laid, the profits the CPRR had expected to make looked likely now to diminish, as the Union Pacific began its efforts in earnest. It was now a race to the finish line.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|08-13-2022, 07:52 PM||#45 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
How the West Was Lost: Those Who Tried and Failed to Save It
I certainly don’t have to explain to any of you, I’m sure, how badly treated the Red Man was by ourselves as the settlers moved West, and how their lands were taken, promises to them broken like bottles made out of papier mache, how they were cheated, lied to, confused, derided, murdered and raped, and all but made extinct as a race, all in the name of white expansionism. As a white man myself, though I wasn’t born for another century and even then was many thousands of miles from the scene of such savagery and betrayal, I nevertheless consider myself to bear a small part of the shame this sin stains, or should stain, every one of my race, and so I don’t point the finger and say “they did it” while smugly looking down from on high, but try, in so far as I can, to use the collective “we” and accept my part of the blame.
As a nation historically oppressed by others, and as one torn apart by differences both political and religious, I should be able to say I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but the truth is I don’t. I’m the equivalent of a man living, during the time of the West, in say Canada or New York, well removed from the carnage and the massacres, in no danger. While my people (Catholics) were being killed and driven out of Northern Ireland by the Protestants, I was safely in the Republic, where the population was overwhelmingly Catholic, and so never faced any kind of oppression for my religion, never mind that I don’t even believe. On the streets of Londonderry or Belfast or Armagh, pleading not being a practicing Catholic was no excuse and offered no escape; to Protestants (well, to the loyalist paramilitaries and their supporters) if you were baptised as a Catholic, or “Papist”, then that was what you were.
Naturally, this worked in reverse too. A Protestant caught in a Republican area, or picked up by the IRA, would not get out of it by saying he (or she) was non-religious. To each side the other was the enemy, and it didn’t matter if you were a mother of five or a old man, a schoolchild or a priest; there were only two sides, and if you weren’t with them, you were against them. Not to mention that if you somehow did escape your fate by declaring against your own side, or purporting to be outside of the conflict, the chances you would be seen as a traitor by your own side and punished by them were not inconceivable. Again, on both sides, you were either with them, or us, or against them, or us. No middle ground.
But if anything positive can be said about the sectarian conflict between Catholic and Protestant that raged for over thirty years over the border (and it really can’t), it can at least be admitted that there was a kind of brutal honesty there. Loyalist paramilitaries did not trick you into believing they were your friends, Republican punishment parties never pretended they would be all right with you living in their area. You were the enemy, you knew you were the enemy, they knew you were the enemy, and everyone knew where they stood. Or, quite possibly, knelt, with their hands on their head, waiting for the bullet that would end their life.
One of the greatest hypocrisies (and there are many) of the treatment of the Indians, as they were then called, in the American West is that the US Government and Army did not come right out from day one and say “we hate you, we have no use for you, there is no room for you in this new world we are going to force upon this land, and we are going to kill you all, or at worst, shove you all into ghettos.” Had they done so, it would not in any way have lessened the horror of what happened, but at least the tribes would have known what to expect. When Hitler had the Jews herded into ghettos prior to being transported to the camps, it’s a safe bet that none of them thought they would be allowed live. They knew where they stood. But with the Indians, it was so much more insidious and underhand.
Much of this, of course, came from political exigency. As settlers moved West and, to be blunt, wanted the lands that belonged to the Indian tribes - had been promised them by their government - the president and his cabinet had to renege on their promises, or part of them, pushing back the demarcation line which was supposed to encompass what were to be known as Indian Territory, until finally the borders of that land shrunk to a few reservations, while the white people trampled all over the Indians’ sacred ancestral hunting grounds. As in all things, the white man came first. It had been so from the time when the first white man had stepped onto the land that was later to be known as America, and imposed his and his country’s, and his race’s values upon what he saw as “savages”. White America wasn’t really that bothered about imposing values on these savages, they just wanted their lands, and if they had to kill a few million of them, well they had no problem with that.
The pages of the history of the American west - but mostly, not the silver screens of movie theatres, for obvious reasons - are filled with massacre after massacre of Indian tribes, and not just the men. The US Cavalry seems in general to have made little to no distinction between warriors or braves, and their women and children. All were cut down with the same lack of human compassion or regard, families slaughtered in bloodbaths the likes of which we would not see again till World War I, and which had been recently witnessed through the dripping, scarlet eye of the Civil War. Nobody cried over these innocents, at least, nobody that counted. Often there was nobody left of the tribe to mourn them, as they were all wiped out together. And these were no orderly military campaigns either; at best, Indians could muster rifles, but usually defended themselves (assuming they got the chance to; many of these were sneak attacks, which would have been loudly proclaimed as underhand and cowardly in the US Senate had they been carried out by the Indians) with axes, bows and arrows and spears. The US Army had artillery, rifles and the precursor of the dread of the trenches, the machine gun, in the Gatling gun, which could kill many men at a distance like some chattering goblin of destruction.
There was no comparison, and no chance for the Indians, even assuming they knew what was coming and could prepare for it. Fire, too, was used by the white man, as the Indians almost to a man lived in hide-covered tepees or wigwams, hungrily devoured by flames in an instant, and like the thatched cottages and shacks callously burned by the Normans and others down through history, one man with a single torch could realistically destroy an entire settlement, camp or village in moments. Once the panicked denizens rushed out, seeking safety, weapon fire would cut them down, or else brave cavalrymen would ride in and slice them to pieces, taking, it should be noted, scalps often as trophies, emulating the practice of some of the more warlike tribes.
Sadly, but a single example of such a massacre, but so rooted in not even misunderstanding, but a sense of entitlement, arrogance and pure good-old-fashioned violence in response to a reasonable request was the account below that I feel it incumbent upon me to relate it. To place it in context, it came as the result of a horse-race was disputed by the Navajo tribe, who believed - and it seems correctly - that they were cheated. Approaching the fort to air their grievances, one man was shot and then all hell broke loose. The below report is by Captain Nicholas Hodt of the US Army.
“The Navahos, squaws, and children ran in all directions and were shot and bayoneted. I succeeded in forming about twenty men .... I then marched out to the east side of the post; there I saw a soldier murdering two little children and a woman. I hallooed immediately to the soldier to stop. He looked up, but did not obey my order. I ran up as quick as I could, but could not get there soon enough to prevent him from killing the two innocent children and wounding severely the squaw. I ordered his belts to be taken off and taken prisoner to the post .... Meanwhile the colonel had given orders to the officer of the day to have the artillery [mountain howitzers] brought out to open upon the Indians. The sergeant in charge of the mountain howitzers pretended not to understand the order given, for he considered it as an unlawful order; but being cursed by the officer of the day, and threatened, he had to execute the order or else get himself in trouble. The Indians scattered all over the valley below the post, attacked the post herd, wounded the Mexican herder, but did not succeed in getting any stock; also attacked the expressman some ten miles from the post, took his horse and mail-bag and wounded him in the arm. After the massacre there were no more Indians to be seen about the post with the exception of a few squaws, favorites of the officers. The commanding officer endeavored to make peace again with the Navahos by sending some of the favorite squaws to talk with the chiefs; but the only satisfaction the squaws received was a good flogging.”
Now consider that the above massacre - you can’t really call it anything else - was sparked by one of the men asking for reparations, for justice, not to be cheated, and when the gate of the fort was rudely slammed in his face, trying to force entry. He was immediately shot. I mean, it’s somewhat overkill, isn’t it? And then it led to a total slaughter as what I suppose cops today in America might call an “unlawful gathering” were treated with the full, terrible and repressive hand of the law of the West, American law, white law. I suppose that could as easily have been a bunch of black people today.
Of course, there are worse, some famous, some not, many hushed up, excused and in some cases even gloried in, but the one above does serve to show just how little the white soldiers and their commanding officers thought of these people who mistakenly believed they were dealing with friends, kindred spirits, reasonable men. While in my History of America journal I can and do go on at length about the various tribes, their customs, deeds, achievements, daily lives, this is all before we white men set foot on the continent, and since then, the story of the American Indian, or the Native American, whichever you prefer, has been slowly and then with increasing speed charging down a hill like a stampede of wild buffalo, heading for extinction. In a very real way, the appearance of the white man in America can be likened to the unwelcome intrusion of Satan into the Garden of Eden. Of course, Indians would not make that comparison as they’re not Christian, which just shows how most allegories don’t hold up very well to close examination. But it’s certainly true to say that the second half of the nineteenth century sounded the death knell of the freedom of the Red Man, the end of his ownership or guardianship of the plains, the severe dwindling of the buffalo and the first chapter of his own personal version of Paradise Lost.
While there are huge names in Native American lore, giants who stand like titans astride the history of the West, so compelling and memorable that they cannot be stricken from the record or buried with the dead, men who fought against the might of the white man’s army - and in some cases, at least temporarily, won - these people will be dealt with where they deserve to be, in the annals of those who contributed to the history of the West. They can’t be relegated to a section on Indians, these names that call to us down through almost two hundred years and remind us of our sins. Red Cloud. Tecumseh. Crazy Horse. Geronimo. And of course, Sitting Bull. These men’s resistance to the white ethnic cleansing ring loudly through the lore of the West, and should make us shrink from their courage and their determination to preserve their people, even if this proved to be a hopeless task.
No. Here, in this section, I want to look at some of the lesser-known names, those who have been forgotten by or erased from history. The ones who stood up and said no, the ones who gave their lives to save their fellows and their families, the ones who refused to move off their land, granted to them by their gods and the spirits of their ancestors. There are many, many stories of heroism and bravery, rugged determination and stubborn resistance buried in the bones of the mountains and the soil of the earth, drowned in the rivers and looking down from the hot skies, and while we can’t bring them back, they should not be allowed to be forgotten.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|08-13-2022, 08:18 PM||#46 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Part I: Spirits in the Material World: Ghostdancing on the Precipice of History
“If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Indians.”
--WAMDITANKA (Big EAGLE) of the SANTEE SIOUX
Little Crow* (Ta-oya-te-duta)
A chief of the Mdewkantons, a branch of the Santee Sioux, itself part of the great Sioux Nation from which Indian legends like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse would emerge, Little Crow was not a happy man. He it was who had signed two treaties on behalf of his people, giving away almost ninety percent of their land along the Minnesota River in return for which his people continued to be cheated by the white man, refusing to pay up. The Mdewkantons had been reduced to basically living on a sort of almost welfare set up by the white agency traders who now all but controlled the land. These men stiffed them on every count, and made them feel interlopers in their own country. Big Eagle once noted “Many of the whites always seemed to say by their manner when they saw an Indian, 'I am better than you,'” and it was indeed typical of the way white men (and possibly, probably in fact, women) looked down on the Indians as beneath them.
In fairness to this proud warrior chief, he had done everything asked - or demanded - of him by the white man. He had dressed as they deemed fit, converted to Christianity and become an Episcopalian, built a house and begun to farm, but still it wasn’t enough. Still the Great Father (President Buchanan) continued to trick and cheat him and treat him as if he were a small child. The Civil War was taking a huge toll on America, and when Little Crow and his people went to collect their annuities at the Upper Agency on Yellow Medicine River they were told their payment had not yet arrived, and possibly might not, as the coffers of Congress were somewhat bare from having had to fight the war. Little Crow asked the trader chief, agent Thomas Galbraith why they could not have some of the provisions already in the warehouse? Their money was due; could he not supply them on credit? In response Galbraith had soldiers guard the warehouses.
Incensed, and starving, Little Crow sent his own men, outnumbering the whites five to one, to take what they needed, and Galbraith, at the insistence of and persuasion by the captain, who did not want a bloodbath on his hands over some flour, to which the Indians were in any case entitled, refused to fire upon them. Little Crow persisted though until Galbraith promised to also supply the chief’s people at Lower Agency, further down the river, where his own camp was. Whether in retaliation for being, as he saw it, humiliated while the Indians emptied his warehouse and made a mockery of his efforts to protect the merchandise, the agent kept Little Crow waiting for days, and when it became clear he had no intention of supplying the Mdewkantons, Little Crow issued this warning: "We have waited a long time. The money is ours, but we cannot get it. We have no food, but here are these stores, filled with food. We ask that you, the agent, make some arrangement by which we can get food from the stores, or else we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving. When men are hungry they help themselves."
Showing complete contempt for the hungry Indians, the traders were immovable and one of them even went so far as to suggest they could eat grass, or their own shit. Not surprisingly, this ended the council and Little Crow departed in anger. Revenge for this grave and callous insult would soon be visited upon this man, when later he would lie dead on the ground with his own mouth stuffed with grass. I suppose he was lucky that was all it would be stuffed with! Even so, Little Crow knew he was bound by the treaties he had signed not to make war upon the white man, and while that white man seemed to care about as much for the truth as the eagle cared about the rabbit, Native Americans had their honour, and their word was their bond. He found events moving faster than he had anticipated though, and carrying him along on a wave of resentment and hostility as he learned that some of his men had killed white men and women in a futile game of who’s-the-bravest, and his council advised him that it would be best to strike first, as history showed that when one of his number was killed by an Indian, the white man did not make any distinctions between Indians, and all were seen as guilty. To make things worse, women were among the casualties, and this would only inflame the white men more.
Still Little Crow pushed for calm, and peace, even though he knew his men were right: the white man would exact a terrible toll for this day’s work, and he would spare nobody. But when the hated word “coward” was shouted out, Little Crow faced his people sternly: "Ta-oya-te-duta is not a coward, and he is not a fool! When did he run away from his enemies? When did he leave his braves behind him on the warpath and turn back to his tepee? When he ran away from your enemies, he walked behind on your trail with his face to the Ojibways and covered your backs as a she-bear covers her cubs! Is Ta-oya-te-duta without scalps? Look at his war feathers! Behold the scalp locks of your enemies hanging there on his lodgepoles! Do you call him a coward? Ta--oya-te-duta is not a coward, and he is not a fool. Braves, you are like little children; you know not what you are doing.
"You are full of the white man's devil water. You are like dogs in the Hot Moon when they run mad and snap at their own shadows. We are only little herds of buffalo left scattered; the great herds that once covered the prairies are no more. See!--the white men are like the locusts when they fly so thick that the whole sky is a snowstorm. You may kill one--two--ten; yes, as many as the leaves in the forest yonder, and their brothers will not miss them. Kill one--two--ten, and ten times ten will come to kill you. Count your fingers all day long and white men with guns in their hands will come faster than you can count.
"Yes; they fight among themselves--away off. Do you hear the thunder of their big guns? No; it would take you two moons to run down to where they are fighting, and all the way your path would be among white soldiers as thick as tamaracks in the swamps of the Ojibways. Yes; they fight among themselves, but if you strike at them they will all turn on you and devour you and your women and little children just as the locusts in their time fall on the trees and devour all the leaves in one day.
"You are fools. You cannot see the face of your chief; your eyes are full of smoke. You cannot hear his voice; your ears are full of roaring waters. Braves, you are little children--you are fools. You will die like the rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon of January.
"Ta-oya-te-duta is not a coward; he will die with you."
And so Little Crow was committed. He had already lost face in the eyes of his people by signing the treaties and giving away the land of the Mdewkantons, and had elected another to speak for them in his place. If he did not fight, despite his reservations (sorry) he would bear up the charge of being a coward, and perhaps a traitor too. Yet he foresaw dark times for his people if they did attack. There was however no choice at this point, and so, while some of the Mdewkantons went to the trading post in the morning to warn those they had come to regard as friends, and save their lives, most were slaughtered and so began a war between Little Crow’s people and the oppressors who had tricked them out of their land. As the survivors fled back to the fort they met a company of soldiers who ignored the warnings of the priest, Reverend Hinman, who advised them to turn back, and they were ambushed and half their number killed.
Flushed with their success, Little Crow’s people marched on Fort Ridgeley itself, their numbers swelling as other chiefs, tired of their mistreatment and of watching their people starve, joined the attack. Discipline, however, proved a problem, as most of the warriors just went where they liked and did what they wanted, some heading off to a nearby village, and the proper assault on the fort was delayed to the next day. It was quite quickly seen that taking a US Army fort was next to impossible: the Indians’ favourite tactic of shooting fire-arrows into the building in order to burn it down would not work, as the fort was constructed of stone, and though they shot at and through the windows, there was no real way to know if their shots hit the targets, while the men in the fort could see the attackers clearly, and were of course better armed.
With reinforcements, a second attack the next morning was more successful, as the warriors used camouflage to creep close enough to the fort to set the thatched roofs of the stables on fire, causing great confusion. But again they were driven back, and with such losses that Little Crow worried they would not be able to mount a third assault. In addition to this, word had come of over 1,400 reinforcements on the way from St. Paul, fresh fighting men who would bolster the defence of the garrison and vastly outnumber the decimated Santee. Wounded, Little Crow lay in his tent while Manako, another war chief, led an attack against the village which the warriors had tried to take the previous day. Again they were repulsed, though they did kill over a hundred men and retired with twice as many prisoners in women and children. By now the US reinforcements had arrived, and the Santees found it expedient to withdraw to the mountains, where Little Crow, recovered from his wounds, tried to enlist other war chiefs to his cause.
But due to the lack of discipline exercised by his men in the indiscriminate slaying of not only soldiers and traders but blameless civilian settlers, and more to the point, his failure to take the fort, he had few takers. Nobody wanted to join the losing side. Nevertheless, what had been put in motion could not now be stopped, and Little Crow knew he had two choices: hide and wait for the Army to find and kill him and his people, or go out fighting and taking as many of them with them as they could. He decided to go on the offensive, and take on the army led by Colonel Henry Hasting Sibley, an ex-trader who was now a cavalry officer. Indiscipline again reared its ugly head though, as many of his warriors, particularly those who had seen how difficult trying to take Fort Ridgeley had been, wanted to go for softer targets, attacking the villages and settlements where there were few if any soldiers. Little Crow, believing the Santees’ beef was only with the army, refused to allow this and his force split into two along the lines of those who remained with him to attack the soldiers (the lesser of the two) and those who decided to go their own way and take down the civilians. From that point, the Santees’ attempts were doomed to failure.
Big Eagle had more success, and killed many soldiers, but it was all mostly as a rearguard action and the Santee disappeared into the forests, unable to make any real gains. Sibley tried to force Little Crow into a parley, demanding he return the prisoners he had taken, but the Santee were worried about the edict of extermination that had gone out from Governor Ramsey, and though Little Crow left a note to explain why the Santees had made war on Sibley’s men, he refused to bring back the prisoners, distrustful of the man. Many of his contemporaries were for suing for peace though, believing the return of the prisoners would be the end of it. Another Indian, who held the same views as Little Crow, voiced his opinion thusly:
"I am for continuing the war, and am opposed to the delivery of the prisoners. I have no confidence that the whites will stand by any agreement they make if we give them up. Ever since we treated with them, their agents and traders have robbed and cheated us. Some of our people have been shot, some hung; others placed upon floating ice and drowned; and many have been starved in their prisons. It was not the intention of the nation to kill any of the whites until after the four men returned from Acton and told what they had done. When they did this, all the young men became excited, and commenced the massacre. The older ones would have prevented it if they could, but since the treaties they have lost all their influence. We may regret what has happened, but the matter has gone too far to be remedied. We have got to die. Let us, then, kill as many of the whites as possible, and let the prisoners die with us."
And every word he said was true. But as ever down through history, such matters are often settled by treachery, and so this one too. Washaba, one of the other chiefs, sent a secret message to Sibley, anxious to end the war and obtain forgiveness for his people. He arranged to meet the colonel and hand over the prisoners. After a final assault had again failed, Little Crow withdrew and Sibley marched into the Santees camp, aided by Wabasha and took back the prisoners. He then made every remaining Santee his prisoner, and began a kangaroo court which ended in death sentences for many, though these were held off while President Lincoln was requested to ratify and authorise the sentences, which he refused to do. Ramsey and General Pope, Sibley’s immediate superior, to whom he had passed the responsibility of pronouncing deaths on what was said to be over three hundred Indians, were angered by the President’s delay, and swore to take revenge themselves with or without his permission. Lynch mobs also attacked the prisoners as they were marched to a new prison camp.
In the end, Lincoln’s explicit orders saved the lives of most of the Santees, as he declared that only thirty-odd of the warriors should be executed, those who could be proven to have been guilty of murder. The rest were to be imprisoned. Among them was Big Eagle, and the son-in-law of Wabasha, who had betrayed the tribe, was hanged, though he had not taken part in any violence, and had tried to stop the war. Little Crow tried to rally reinforcements from the other tribes, showing them what the white men had done, but they were not interested, believing their best option was to move out of the way. Little Crow crossed over the border into Canada, to seek the help of the British there, but had no luck, and when he decided to go back to Minnesota and take horses from the white men in recompense for the land he had signed away, and never been paid for, he was shot and killed by bounty hunters.
* Little Crow, Big Eagle: you have to wonder if there was a Medium Raven or an Enormous Buzzard knocking around in that tribe, don’t you?
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