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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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