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Old 05-26-2021, 10:09 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Fast Horse Outta Town: Trollheart Explores the Legend of the American West


Cowboys. The word conjures up so many images, from playing cowboys and indians as kids, to western movies, cowboy play suits, and cowboy-themed events such as (shudder) line dancing. Most of us from a certain age have been brought up on the idea of desperados riding into town and causing trouble, the sheriff rounding up a posse and then giving chase, of gunfighters facing each other in the street - “Draw, you worthless son of a bitch!” - and trains being robbed. Most of what we have to go on comes of course from Hollywood, who made it their business to make what became known as the Wild West as romantic and adventurous, and as exciting and attractive as possible. John Wayne saves the swooning girl from the nasty Indians, when in fact John and his people should never have been there, but Americans don’t need Hollywood reminding them that their entire history is built on bloodshed, on rape and murder, on lies and betrayals, the forced resettlement of an entire race of people, ethnic cleansing on a vast scale before the phrase was even coined.

And one thing Hollywood doesn’t give the punters is that which they don’t want. So a false, rosy picture of the Old West was created at MGM, Warner Bros and other studios, and men who knew nothing about the history of the time they were paid to portray grinned, spat, shot and glowered their way through countless western movies, always eager to assure the American public that they were God’s chosen, they were in the right, and the enemy had to be defeated. So what if the Indians - now called Native Americans in these times of political correctness, a bit late if you ask me - had lived on these lands for generations? So what if by mining and building and hunting the white man was destroying the very livelihood of a people, angering their gods and condemning them to live on reservations for the rest of their lives, and those of their descendants? America was all about progress, and he who got in its way could expect no mercy.

But this isn’t just a dig at the way we white folks treated the Indians, though that will form much of the framework of certain parts of this history. I mention it only because, while I will be recounting and paying tribute to the courage and daring of the men and women who opened up the West, those who explored and discovered, those who settled, those who built towns and railroads and those who kept law and order, I want it understood that all of this development of a country came at a price, a high price, and it should be borne in mind that, like, I suppose, any real conquest or colonisation, the American West (as opposed, let’s say, to the Indian West, or if you prefer, the White Man’s West as opposed to that of the Red Man) is built on the bones of men and women who feared the arrival of the White Man, and with good reason; they knew dark things were presaged the first time moving clouds of dust resolved into caravans of covered wagons, bringing the new settlers into the West, the men and women who would take their lands, destroy their holy places, and reduce them to a footnote in the country’s history.

Like most boys at the time, I was always interested in and fascinated by cowboys and the Wild West, and like most boys at the time, I swallowed the lies Hollywood and TV shows fed us, believing the “brave” cowboys were defending the towns against the “savage” Indians, and that really, as ever has been the case, white was right. It was only later, as I began to grow up and question things, that the true state of affairs began to make itself known to me, and then as now, a deep dark shame has always stayed with me over what my race did in the name of expansion, politics and power, and of course, greed. It’s a familiar and oft-repeated tale in the history of exploration - which often goes hand in hand with conquest - and a good reason why strangers always spell trouble for the natives.

But before anyone misunderstands me, I don’t hold the Indians blameless. They were savage, they were cruel, they were warlike. Mostly, of course, they warred among each other (Indians are human, after all), tribe against tribe, but when their lands were threatened by the new invaders from the east, most - though not all - banded together to fight the common enemy. This was not good news for homesteaders, cattle barons or railroad workers, and in time of course led to the infamous Indian Wars, where there were certainly enough atocities on both sides to go around. But if anyone was the aggressor, it was us (unless you’re an Indian/Native American reading, and if so, apologies) - left alone, surely, the Red Man would have caused no trouble to the colonists of the east: he probably couldn’t have. Even then, the technology, to say nothing of the sheer weight of numbers in the many cities along the eastern seaboard of America would have made it impossible for an Indian invasion. Nor, really, do I believe they would have wanted to have attempted such a campaign. Why would they? Their lands, the lands of their ancestors, their shrines and holy places, the very mountains and rivers they revered, all the resources they needed, the game they hunted for food and clothing were all abundant in the West. What would have been the point of riding east, to take on a far superior and well entrenched foe?

But when your land is under attack, most men and women fight back. Unfortunately, when your enemy vastly outnumbers you, has superior weapons and the technology and resources of a continent, you’re bound to lose. America may once have been the land of the free and the home of the brave(s), but no longer. How the West was won was through all but total annihilation of the other side. Hitler would have been proud.

So this is what it’s going to be like, is it? Moan, moan, moan, America murdered the Indians, grabbed their land, built on deceit, home of the brave etc etc? Nah. I try not to preach in my journals (can’t really find room for the pulpit, you see) and all I wanted to do in this introduction was outline the fact that I will be, so far as possible, looking at this from both sides, not just that of my own race. Among the books I’m using to research this is one called The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: the New Negro’s Western Experience by Cary D. Wintz and Bruce A. Glasrud and Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown, as well as selections from the series Legends of the Old West including biographies of such Indian figures as Sitting Bull (Ronald A. Reis) and Geronimo and Crazy Horse (Jon Sterngass). I hope, with some luck, to also delve deeper into the Indian story and unearth some lesser-known figures I can tell you about.

But mainly I’m going to be exploring the Old West, not as Hollywood would have us believe it was, but as it actually happened. I’ll be reading - and writing about - the lives of people both ordinary and extraordinary, those who “built the West” ands were feted for it in history, and those who were perhaps ignored. I’ll be looking into relationships between not only the Indians and the settlers/army, but also the various Indian tribes, the Chinese, Irish and other workers who slaved (and many of whom gave their lives) to build the transcontinental railroads that would link up America, helping east meet West and finally and once and for all creating the United States of America in its fullest sense. I’ll of course be sketching profiles of the gunfighters, train and bank robbers, cattle barons and the men who kept, or tried to keep law in a lawless land.

I’ll be delving into the major battles - but only barely skirting the Civil War, as that’s too huge a subject to tackle here - feuds, trade wars, rivalries and ventures such as gold mining and of course railroad building, examining the changing landscape as new routes were discovered and settlements became towns, then cities, and how major firms such as Colt and Jack Daniels made their name in this period. What was it really like to be a cowboy? Or a rodeo rider? Or a woman in these perilous times? What role, what importance was education given? How about religion? How bad was racism, and how blurred were the lines between “good” and “evil”, on both sides of the divide? We’ve all heard of the US Cavalry massacring “innocent” Indians: what about the vile deeds perpetrated against the ordinary folk who came to settle the land? Did Indians really scalp people? Did showdowns take place out in the dusty streets after some bust-up about a card game? How much of what we know is fact, and how much made-up Hollywood fiction?

Saddle up, pardner, and make sure that horse you got is fresh, you hear? We got us a long trail ahead, and the prairie don’t have no mercy for those who don’t lay their plans mighty careful.
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Old 05-26-2021, 10:31 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Showing all your journals to my Dad when I visit Iowa Trollheart. He doesn't own a computer but may be interested in reading your journals. I'll show him how to get to here on his phone but the words maybe be too small on his phone idk


You are really knowledgeable about things.
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Old 05-26-2021, 10:31 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Chapter I: Go West, Young Man: Taming the Wild Frontier

Timeline: 1788 - 1803 (very approximately)


Frontier: another word you’ll hear associated with the West. Crossing the frontier. Pushing back the frontier. Exploring the frontier. Or, as in my example above, taming the frontier, wild or otherwise. Hell, they even called some of the trappers and hunters who made this place their own frontiersmen. Possibly women too. But what does it really mean? Frontier, I mean. Well, inevitably whenever I hear it I hear the voice of Captain James T. Kirk intoning that famous phrase on Star Trek: “Space, the final frontier.” And so, mostly, it is. Space, that is. The final frontier. But for the people who moved out of the relative comfort and wealth of cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, to seek a new life beyond what was then thought of as the civilised part of America, the frontier was something to be faced, something to be crossed, something to be dealt with.

A barrier. Not quite. But for me, this is what frontier has always meant. A demarcation line, beyond which lies, often, the unknown, or at least the very different. It’s like the coach driver says to Jonathan Harker at the beginning of Dracula: this far will I go, and no further. Although there is no physical frontier evident to Harker, he has arrived at one, and once he steps over it, passes it, and walks up to the dread count’s castle, he is essentially in a new land, a new world, a world of the unknown, the frightening, often the impossible. A wild frontier indeed.


What the hell is that doing here? Oh. Right.

Some call the ocean floor a new frontier, and so it is. Space, too, as mentioned above, is indeed a further frontier, though not to correct Kirk or Roddenberry, but it may not be the final one. Talk of digitisation of the human brain, the literal exploration of the mind, may end up being our final frontier. Or we may find that there is more beyond that, who knows? However, for the people of America, the West was certainly the frontier they had to deal with. A formidable, if not actually entirely physical barrier, a path that led to a new life, possibly - probably - a dangerous one, maybe even a short one. But just maybe a profitable one, and one that would change their future and their fortunes forever. After all, a frontier is only a frontier until it’s crossed, isn’t it?

Imagine, then, the heady mix of excitement, anticipation, doubt and fear that must have beat in the hearts of these early pioneers as they loaded up all their valuables, their families, their entire lives onto a small wagon and headed West in search of gold, land, or just new opportunities. They would have known that the journey would be fraught with perils: far from the protective hand of their government, far from their friends, far from any kind of law enforcement, there was nobody to defend them from marauding Indians, or equally marauding bandits, both of whom roamed the prairie, searching for unwary travellers, unwelcome newcomers and plunder, be it material or personal. Many a hopeful journey would end up in shattered, overturned carts, blood, bones and brains spattered on the ground, stolen or butchered horses, and a life’s meagre possessions scattered across the arid desert floor.

So what was it that made these city folk leave the comfort and familiarity of their homes and strike out on a journey of several thousand miles, armed with little else than rifles and knives, with no real map or knowledge of their destination, across hostile territory, in the dim and vague hope of finding a new life?

Two things, really. The first was land. With so much unexplored and (to white men) available land up for grabs, a presidential decree promised an area of it completely free to anyone who would settle on it, cultivate it and basically colonise it. In a way, this perhaps mirrors the plantation of Ireland, especially Ulster, by Elizabeth I and James I, though that was more in an effort to disenfranchise and defang the Irish resistance to their rule. While the same could be said, in a way, of the Indians, pushing them off their native lands does not seem to have been initially the main idea behind this project; indeed, many tribes made treaties with the US Government which allowed them to remain on their lands, and held their holy places as forbidden to the settlers, provided the Indians reciprocated and did not attack the farms and holdings set up by the families who had moved there. Later, of course, as the Indian Wars took hold, all bets would be off and there would be incalculable suffering on both sides, resulting in the souring back home of the idea and romance of the new frontier, and eventually the subjugation and forced resettlement of the Indian tribes, an event which came to be commemorated by them as “the Trail of Tears”.

The other inducement? Oh yeah. Gold. Once gold was discovered in the hills ad mountains of the West, it precipitated a frenzy, a mad “dash for the cash” which we know as the Gold Rush, when anyone who had the resources, bravery and determination to do so headed west to try to make their fortune panning for gold, the dream being to set up a gold mine and become richer than astronauts. Unsurprisingly, the larger percentage of these ventures failed, and so you had people who had spent everything to come here, gambled it all on one unlikely throw of the dice, and inevitably lost. Like the Irish and others who had listened to tales of streets paved with gold, these people had literally believed these tales (or that they could make their own golden streets) and left bankrupt and with no future, unable to get home (perhaps unwilling to admit failure) they settled in the town in which they had come to make their fortune and tried to make a life for themselves and their families.

So towns grew up around settlements, some towns became mining towns, some ended up coining the phrase boom town, and later, when the gold had run out, ghost town, and some desperate people turned to crime to supplement their meagre income. Some excelled at this, and became successful and famous bank robbers, train robbers or guns for hire, while others failed miserably even at this and ended their days doing the hangman’s dance, dangling from a noose. Frontier justice was swift and brutal.

You could argue, I guess, that a lust for adventure stemming from boredom in the cities, failing fortunes back east which forced a man to reinvent himself in the west, or even sometimes a medical need for a literal change of scene also pushed people westward, but money and the opportunity to own land, own their own farm, must have been uppermost in most people’s minds when they decided to make that life-changing move.

Some, of course, had already headed out that way, for entirely different reasons.

Frontiersmen and Farmers: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Since the successful ending of the American War of Independence, or Revolutionary War, tough hardened men had begun to move west, dissatisfied with the “easy living” in the cities of the east, and determined to strike out and explore this new frontier. With no support structure of any kind behind them, they had to be tough and resourceful, making most of their accoutrements themselves (no hardware shops in the wilderness!) and building their own shanty huts in which they would live while they hunted bear, buffalo and any other wild game they could eat or sell. A man had to be proficient with both gun and knife, as these could be the difference between survival and death, and there was no room for squeamishness. There was no blacksmith to tend to your horse if it lost a shoe, or treat it (or you) for illness. There was no way to preserve food, so everything had to be fresh; there could be no waste. You caught what you needed to make it through a winter, and no more.

Some frontiersmen built relationships with the local native tribes, realising that they were on their own and would need to get along with their neighbours if possible - you can’t fight a war on your own - and besides, the Indians could show them the territory, teach them where to go and where not to go, and by teaming up with the Indians, a trapper or hunter could avoid both stumbling on less friendly natives as well as keeping the risk of trespassing on holy ground minimal. Nothing angered an Indian more than if you went tramping heedlessly through the places in which he worshipped his gods, or which were sacred to his tribe. As a result of this burgeoning friendship and co-operation, there were many frontiersmen who, when the US Army began to sweep the tribes from the plains, rebelled against this wholesale destruction of the Indians and some even joined their allies, fighting against their own government, in effect “going native”.

Others went the opposite direction, seeing the native Indians as enemies, obstacles to their path to power, glory and riches, and believing the land belonged to whoever could win it, wrest it from the control of the other. Like most of us, these men were driven by one of the oldest motivators in humanity: greed. The abundant natural resources, the huge swathes of land, the massive opportunities available spoke to their desire to better themselves, and become more than they were. Many would become better than they were, rising in status and power as the wilderness that was the frontier shrunk and began to join up with the more civilised parts of the newly-born nation, as boundaries fell and barriers to both trade, commerce and expansion collapsed, and those who were in on the ground floor, so to speak, could, again, so to speak, write their own cheque.

On the other side of the coin were the settlers, the families. Those who would become known as homesteaders and pioneers, men who ventured out into the West in the hopes of bettering their lives, putting bad luck behind them and re-establishing their families and rewriting their story, women who stuck by their men and were determined to tough it out right alongside them, and their children, who would, if all went well, grow up to become the next generation of citizens of the newly-opened West; who would, in time, perhaps become leaders, status figures, perhaps even legends in this brave new world. Drawn by the promise of gold or just a new life, they bid the cities goodbye and loaded up all their… yeah, I’ve done this already, haven’t I? Well anyway, assuming they survived the dangerous journey, they would eventually found towns and cities, some of which would grow into the biggest and most famous in the USA, such as Phoenix, Houston, Seattle and of course San Francisco.

One of the main spurs that encouraged people to head west was the proclamation in 1862 by the government that anyone could have 160 acres of land, totally free of charge, anywhere in the West, provided they settled on and cultivated it. That’s a lot of land, and back east would not only cost a pretty penny but be likely out of the reach of any ordinary person, so here was a chance to almost literally put down roots, to claim an area of land that was yours by law, and which nobody could take from you, which you had to pay nobody for, and which, presumably, you could in time expand upon. And all you had to do to get it was leave your old life behind and strike out for these pastures new.

Oh, and survive the many hazards along the route to your promised land.

In the light of all this, and considering that the Republican government was essentially robbing this land from its rightful owners, the native Indian population, it’s almost funny, certainly ironic to read from the terms of the Treaty of Ghent (1814) which was agreed between the British Crown and the newly-formed United States after the War of 1812:

The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment, by cultivation.

Yeah. But we’ll come back to this much later, when it comes up in the timeline. Incidentally, I should also point out that, like some of my history journals and unlike others, though here I will be following a timeline of course, I will be deviating from it to write articles, profiles, small mini-histories of various events usually before they come up in the timeline. This will, I hope, prevent the journal getting too boring as a simple timeline progressing through the formation of the American West, and also prevent important figures or events all piling up together, as many will have taken place or lived around the same time.
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Old 05-26-2021, 02:19 PM   #4 (permalink)
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How the West was won was through all but total annihilation of the other side. Hitler would have been proud.
Funny you should say that cause Hitler grew up on a German author named Karl May who wrote a whole series of Wild West novels and claimed they were autobiographical even though he'd never left Germany. Hitler loved those books so much he'd send copies to his generals to inspire them to Karl May's ingenuity. If Hitler were alive today he'd be obsessed with Harry Potter and play quiditch in college.
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Old 06-06-2021, 07:27 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Sold! The Louisiana Purchase

Eager to expand his new country, and more importantly, to gain control of the powerful and strategic Mississippi River, which would aid commerce and trade, flowing as it did to the Atlantic Ocean, President Thomas Jefferson negotiated what became known as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory of Louisiana was vast - comprising over 530 million acres (enough to settle, by the terms laid out in the Act of Settlement, up to five million families) or 828,00 square miles, over 2 million square kilometres - and containing what would be the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, most of North and South Dakota, large amounts of Wyoming, Montana and Colorado; also areas of Minnesota, New Orleans and New Mexico, northern Texas and of course Louisiana itself. In addition to this, two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, had portions of their territories enclosed within the territory of Louisiana, and so came as part of the package.

The entire area had been traditionally controlled by France as part of their colony in the New World, but in 1762, at the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the territory was surrendered to Spain. However a treaty with Napoleon in 1800 returned control of the area to France, and he decided to sell the territory to the United States when his ventures in the Caribbean failed, and he was left with what was virtually a useless and expensive white elephant in Louisiana. While France controlled Louisiana it was native Indian tribes who populated it, and with which the US had to negotiate to purchase the land. Over two billion dollars sounds a lot, but considering that the Purchase doubled the size of the fledgling nation, it surely seems a bargain.

Originally only interested in purchasing New Orleans, Jefferson was convinced by other factions within his cabinet - as well as a French nobleman - that the better idea, the safer idea would be to try for all of Louisiana, thereby giving the French, a constant worry and war threat, no reason to remain in the United States. The president was against the idea, believing it overstretched the boundaries of executive power and reduced the rights of states, but he was convinced and on April 30 1803 the United States bought the territory of Louisiana for a paltry fifteen million dollars. This was of course only the price of purchasing the rights to the land from the French, not the land itself, the sale of which would have to be negotiated with the individual tribes living there. The Louisiana Purchase merely allowed the United States the authority to talk to the Indians and make deals with them to buy their land; sort of an introductory fee, I guess, as the previous owners then backed completely out of any further dealings and ceded any claims to the territory.

With the completion of the Louisiana Purchase, despite much opposition from within Jefferson’s government and elsewhere, the United States became exactly that. It progressed, almost in one seamless massive bound, from a loose collection of independent states scattered mostly along the north and eastern coasts of the continent, into a cohesive, powerful, fully ratified country, or, as Founding Father Robert Livingston put it: “From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.” This vast new territory, however, (mostly named the Orleans Territory and the State of Louisiana) was unexplored, and so Jefferson sent three separate expeditions to map it, the most famous of these being Louis and Clark.
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Old 06-06-2021, 07:41 PM   #6 (permalink)
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The Louisiana Purchase. In case.you needed any further evidence that the American Revolution was just about some rich *******s who wanted more property and didn't want to pay taxes. Which is in no way similar to now.
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Old 06-20-2021, 10:19 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Breaking the Chains: A Life of Slavery

With the arrival of French refugee planters and their slaves in Louisiana, and others fleeing the slave revolts in Haiti, southern slaveholders demanded laws to be enshrined in the new territory making slavery legal, so that they could settle there and ensure that nothing similar to what had just taken place in Haiti (then known as Sainto Domingue) could occur. The French and Spanish had brought the concept of slavery to the United States in the early eighteenth century, taking captured African prisoners to the New World as slaves, and while an Act of Congress passed in 1808 banned the importation of slaves, northern slaveholders managed to sell their slaves locally to the slavemasters in the deep South, entrenching slavery in the southern states to the point where it could only be dislodged by all-out civil war, as happened in 1861.

It would be pointless, time-intensive and probably not actually that relevant for me to discourse on the entire history of slavery here, even were I to confine that treatise to the United States, but one point should perhaps be made, which often is either lost or ignored, and that is that up until the Civil War, slavery was in fact legal in ALL thirteen states of what was then known as “The Colonies”. These included the likes of Maine, Massachussets, Rhode island and Connecticut, all of whom would fight on the side of the Union against (ostensibly) slavery in the coming war. Presidents of the United States, Supreme Court Justices and other high-ranking political figures all kept slaves. While the practice was certainly more overt and rife in the southern states (what became known as The Deep South) it wasn’t as if there was some invisible demarcation line which, once crossed, meant you were free. Certainly, the northern half of the country moved towards abolition quicker and with more agreement than did the southern states, which depended on slave labour for the cotton industry, but there was no, if you’ll excuse the bad pun, black and white about the issue. Some northerners believed passionately in the idea of slave ownership, even saw it as their right, and presumably some were just too used to it to envisage changing.

It’s hard to understand what it meant to be a slave in those times. Obviously, you didn’t get paid, and were worked like, well, a slave, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Your owner could use any excuse to beat you, imprison you, even sell you on if you “didn’t work out”, and if you were female, forget it: rape, beatings and misery would be your lot. And there would be nothing you could do about it. If you were owned in a slave state - one of the states where slavery was legal, which as I mentioned before the Civil War was all of them - your owner was not breaking any laws by punishing or even killing you. Yeah. You were property, and if you didn’t perform then the owner had the right to destroy you. If you talked back, you could be whipped or even hanged, or if the slavemaster just happened to be having a bad day (or, more likely, was sadistically inclined) you could be beaten to within an inch of your life, and nobody would or could raise a finger to help you. Anyone who tried either ran the risk of getting the same treatment if they were a slave too, or if not, could be fined or imprisoned for having interfered with the lawful work of a slaver. Anyone who helped slaves escape would also be subject to prosecution, and if you became known as, excuse the phrase, a nigger-lover in a slave state, your life wouldn’t be worth tuppence.

Little wonder, really then, that the South fought so hard to prevent the abolition of slavery. Economically, they stood to lose the most, and they also saw it as tradition, their way of life being taken from them. Worse, should slaves gain right as free men, they might even be able to legally fight back against the men who had been their owners. Fear of retribution for decades of repression and cruelty surely stood large in the minds of the southerners, as did fear of loss of earnings. If they had to pay men and women to do the work that they had heretofore performed free of charge, they could go broke very easily. Businesses in the South (and in the North, too, to some lesser degree) had made their money on the backs of forced unpaid labour; they were not about to let go of the whip just yet.

As for the North, I feel that while there were undoubtedly many who saw slavery as an abomination, more, especially those in government, regarded its abolition as more an expedient than a moral crusade. With countries from Britain to France and Spain outlawing the practice, the embryonic nation surely did not want to be seen as the “savage cousin”, the unprincipled and uncivilised new country that clung to old, outmoded and in most lands by now illegal ways, that refused to give up its hold on the past and stride boldly and with confidence into the shining new future. America wanted to be part of that future, and it’s hard to maintain relations with other, forward-looking states if they have already abolished slavery and you have not. Hard to make your voice heard over the sound of dragging chains and the cries of human misery.

To say nothing of all the extra votes that would be up for grabs when the blacks and other slaves were made free men. Who was it likely these newly emancipated men would cast their future with? The man who had freed them, or his opponent? There were certainly ulterior motives a-plenty behind the freeing of the slaves, and it would be naive in the extreme to believe that Lincoln passed the Emancipation Act simply out of the goodness of his heart. You can be sure, had he not the weight of popular opinion on his side, had other nations not abolished slavery by then, he would not have gone ahead simply because it was the right thing to do. Presidents and leaders seldom swim against the tide, because if they do they often end up drowning, at least in the polls. For something of this monumental nature to happen it has to be the will of the people, or at least, a majority of them.
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Old 07-29-2021, 06:52 PM   #8 (permalink)
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The Men and Women Who Won the West
Important, infamous or pivotal figures in the development and history of the American West

It’s a sad fact of life and a matter of history that, as much as anything else, what “won” the West was guns. Ironically naming their best-loved revolver the Peacemaker, Colt still had a point: as much as a gun could be used to kill it could also be a deterrent. In general, you’d probably be less likely to pick a fight with a guy who was packin’ heat than you would with an unarmed one, especially if you had your own little friend nestling snugly in your holster. Of course, some people would fight with anyone, and the case can without question be made that carrying a gun actually made you a target.

However, it’s a known fact, mostly ignored by movie bosses, that most towns in the American West required the surrender of weapons on entry to the town, with their return promised when you were ready to leave. Makes sense: depriove newcomers of their guns and there was probably less likelihood of them starting trouble, or at least killing anyone. So the stories of trigger-happy cowboys shooting each other down in the streets over a woman or a lost bet or perceived cheating in a card game are largely - though probably not entirely - fictional. Not to mention that in towns at least, there was some law, and you couldn’t just go around shooting people without the authority to do so, whatever your reasons, and expect not to be arrested. The only man allowed to shoot was he who wore the badge, or his legal deputies.

While revolvers such as the Colt 45 are more exciting to talk about, easier to carry and easier to whip out if needed, the mainstay of the American frontier was in fact not a revolver, but a rifle. Used by homesteaders to hold off Indians or other attackers, both on the way to their new plot of land and once established there, by marksmen and sharpshooters and by the army, perhaps the most popular rifle in the west was the Winchester, often called “the gun that won the West.”



Oliver Winchester (1810 - 1880)

Oliver Winchester was a New York clothing magnate who purchased shares in the Smith and Wesson Company, and began to have one of the rifles they had been working on - and failing to sell, as it was quite unreliable - transformed into the Winchester with the help of the brilliant engineer Benjamin Tyler Henry. Henry looked at the design of the cartridges used in the rifle, designed new, .44 calibre brass ones, and the Henry Rifle was born. From what I read (and being no expert on firearms I could be wrong) it seems both the Winchester and its earlier predecessor the Henry Rifle were the first “repeating rifles”, which meant they could be fired a number of times before having to be reloaded, unlike other rifles. This would no doubt have contributed massively to their popularity and success.

Winchesters also found a market outside of the United States, with France ordering six thousand and the Turkish Ottoman Empire using their delivery of fifty thousand to help them fight the Russo-Turkish War (1877) and take their more poorly-armed opponents by surprise. Winchesters were of course popular with hunters, especially the 1876 model, its famous adherents including President Theodore Roosevelt, Geronimo and Billy the Kid. Perhaps oddly, it was not unusual for a woman, especially one living alone or defending a farm while she awaited the return of her husband, to use a rifle, whereas few if any women would carry or use a revolver. This despite the disparity in weight and recoil, the bulkiness of the rifle and it comparative slow reaction compared to a pistol. Thus, Winchesters were also popular with female customers.

The end of the Winchester dynasty, as it were, is odd. Oliver died in 1880 and the company passed to his son William, who only lasted three more months, taken by tuberculosis, whereupon the fortune willed to him went to his wife, Sarah. She then moved out of Connecticut to San Jose, where she had a huge mansion built. Winchester guns are still manufactured and sold today, mostly under licence to other companies.
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Old 07-29-2021, 06:56 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Little Big Town

I thought it might be interesting to look into the history of some of the towns - some of which may have grown into cities - that sprang up during the push westward in the 1800s, and to see how they were founded, how they developed over time and what they’re like now. There are of course plenty of famous (or infamous) ones such as Dodge City in Kansas or Tombstone in Arizona, to say nothing of Cody, Wyoming and Deadwood, South Dakota, but I wanted to start this series off by going for something less obvious, and so this is where we begin.

Virginia City, Nevada

Located in the Nevada Desert, this ain’t no Las Vegas, with one of the smallest populations I’ve heard of - a mere 855 residents in 2010 - though at its height it boasted around 25,000 people. One of the original boom towns, Virginia City was founded on the basis of the discovery of silver, in what was called the Comstock Lode, after the man who made the discovery, although other accounts claim he merely bullied the discoverers into appending his name. The general agreement seems to be that the town was named for James Finnimore, nicknamed “Old Virginny Finney”, said to be one of the most accomplished gold miners in the area. In 1859 a huge silver deposit, the first in the USA, was discovered just under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, and the town quickly sprung up in its wake.

At the time, silver was attributed the same value as gold, and all product from the Comstock Lode mines was purchased by the US Government to mint coins. The income from the mines helped the war effort when the Civil War broke out, and also helped the town and the surrounding area grow, making Nevada a popular destination for fortune-hunters, and also allowing it to reach the population level required to attain statehood. In just one year the population more than tripled, and businesses flocked there to set up. The boom in Virginia was good news for nearby San Francisco too: having profited from the famous Gold Rush of 1849 this small town had grown into a major city, and now the wealth of the Comstock mines helped finance development and growth in what would become one of the most important cities on the west coast.

Immigrants, too, poured into Virginia, mostly miners from England and Ireland, and the population at its height was around 25,000, but the Great Fire of 1875 did over twelve million dollars’ damage and left two thousand homeowners without a roof over their heads, precipitating the departure of many, followed by more when the seams began to run out and the mines dried up. Today, Virginia survives on its history, with museums, arts centres and places of interest all harking back to the boom town days when it was the silver capital of America. It has been immortalised in book, film and on TV, with the popular western show Bonanza set very close by.
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Old 08-04-2021, 10:34 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Chapter I: A Railroad to the Moon

I: Blowing off steam: Crazy Judah

The necessity that now exists for constructing lines of railroad and telegraphic communication between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of this continent is no longer a question for argument; it is conceded by every one. In order to maintain our present position on the Pacific, we must have some more speedy and direct means of intercourse than is at present afforded by the route through the possessions of a foreign power. (Report by the Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad and Telegraph, the US House of Representatives, August 1865)

Imagine what it was like back then. No roads at all. None. if you wanted to get anywhere you went by horse, through often hostile territory, taking your life in your hands, traversing prairies and wild fields and mountains, making a trip to the next town dangerous and a trip to the next state almost out of the question. If you couldn’t or didn’t want to ride a horse you had few alternatives: go in a wagon or on a stagecoach, but neither of these were any safer than going it alone, and in some ways less comfortable too. Stagecoaches were not known for their luxury, and the dirt tracks they bumped and jolted over on the often days-long journeys were as likely to turn a wheel or lame a horse and cause the vehicle either to crash or make an unscheduled stop. With the sort of folk out on the roads those days looking for easy prey, this was never a good idea.

There was a reason why no stagecoach driver would travel unarmed (this quite possibly giving rise to the term, “riding shotgun”), but even his best efforts would not matter much if the stagecoach was jumped by a bunch of bandits or desperadoes, or worse, a party of Indian warriors. Few of the passengers could be expected to defend the stagecoach, and a large proportion of those were women, who, really, back in those times did not carry guns, nor were they expected to. Even if they did, few knew how to use them and particularly under pressure. An attack on a stagecoach could very easily mean that nobody was ever going to reach their destination, especially as these often carried valuable items such as gold or silver, perhaps going from a bank in one town to another, or being delivered for a payroll.

Then there were the longer journeys, the ones that couldn’t realistically be made even by stage, where sea travel was the only option. Ships were at the time still pretty much using sail - steam would not really get a grip on the world of shipping for another twenty or thirty years - and apart from the many perils with which such a voyage was fraught (Cape Horn at the tip of South America, a necessary transit point for shipping going from west to east, was notorious for its vicious weather, and many ships had been lost trying to navigate around it), these excursions usually took about six to eight months, depending on weather and other factors, so a man could theoretically spend a year going from, say, New York to California and back.

And in 1849, everyone suddenly wanted to go to California.

This was, of course, due to what became known as the California Gold Rush, when, in 1848, gold was discovered in Sacramento, then a sleepy little town, and triggered the exodus of adventurers and prospectors in search of their fortune. Few if any made it, but the journey still had to be made, and that meant either a very long and torturous overland passage to Panama, to catch a ship going north, or, as mentioned, braving the horrors of the Cape.

There was, therefore, very much a need to find a safer way for folks to travel. While hardy pioneers, as related in previous posts, would pile all their worldly into covered wagons and set out for the new frontier, your average city-dweller preferred to travel in relative safety and if possible comfort. As early as 1838, even before the historic discovery of gold in the west, a railroad surveyor called John Plumbe had approached Congress with the idea of laying rail tracks from the east all the way to the Pacific. He was laughed out of the place, an unnamed member sneering that his proposal would be akin to “building a railroad to the moon.”

Asa Whitney (1797 - 1872)

Others tried to convince a skeptical congress of the benefits of, even the absolute necessity for, a railroad linking all of America. Asa Whitney was a merchant tradesman who made his fortune in China, where he emigrated after losing two wives and his general goods business. Returning a wealthy man, and marrying his third wife, he began considering how a transcontinental railroad would help shorten the long and tedious journey by sea to China, by allowing people to take a train across the east to the west coast and there board a ship for China, thus cutting the journey by sea considerably. He made detailed surveys and maps, proposed projects and wrote to congress in 1849, but possibly due to his emphasis on the railroad benefiting those who wished to sail to China, the government turned a deaf ear and was not interested.

Though he gave up in 1851, Whitney would live to see his idea come to pass, as the Central Pacific Railroad was built and was operating before he died. Whether he felt frustration at having been passed over by history, as one of the original progenitors of the idea, or not, is not recorded, but I guess he must have been happy for all those folks going to China at least.


Congress had changed their tune not ten years later, when one member (again, so far as I can see, unnamed) declaimed the wonderful vision of what the Indians would know and fear as “the iron horse”, a marvel of modern - and, importantly, of course, American - engineering and ingenuity.

The Iron Horse with the wings of wind, his nostrils distended with flame, vomiting fire and smoke, trembling with power … flies from one end of the continent to the other in less time than our ancestry required to visit a neighboring city.
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