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I've experimented a little in presenting photographic images on a slightly different medium, and the results are interesting, Take for example Arthur Rothstein's classic 1936 "Father and Son" (actually, the "son" should be a plural, as there are two little kids rushing in the photo): I've used a 25 meg file and printed (lasered) rather small on a piece of antique tissue-guard paper--the paper, from 1830, is fantastically light, yet very strong for its remarkable thinness. The result of the modern, small Rothstein printed on the 180-year-old paper looks "believable" in its own odd way.
In the Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners for 18711 I found the following report of a meeting held between General S.J. McKinney (Superintendant of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory) and Chief Napoleon at the Tulalip Reservation in Washington Territory:
“Napoleon, the Chief, came forward with much and laid before…a bunch of split sticks, saying ‘these represent the number of Indians killed by white men in the past year, all Indian chiefs, fifteen of them, and yet nothing has been done by the government to the white men who killed them. They killed them by selling them whisky. I do not speak of them because I have a bad heart, but because I want you to know what kinds of men live about us. The whites now scare all of the Indians, and we wonder when they will kill all of us.’”
I came across this very interesting page in the phenomenal work produced as a part of the U.S. Census, Report Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed, printed in 1894 as part of the 11th Census of 1890. (The full text is available at the Internet Archive, here.) It is a dispassionate recollection of monies spent on "Indian administration on account of treaties and other expenses, including yearly payments for annuities and kindred charges to the government", from 1776 to 1890, noting that "the military expenditures have exceeded the expenses of the civil administration by hundreds of millions of dollars". Indeed--$250,000,000 19th-century dollars (or something on the order of 5 or 10 billion dollars in today's money). Certainly monies that went to "satisfy" treaty obligations or to support Indians driven from their land and life would have been a fractional amount of the overall expense.
These images of the Indian ration card and the Indian Police button were found opposite page 76 in the monumental Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (except Alaska) at the Eleventh Census 1890 (published in Washington DC in 1891, and perhaps the best single-volume statement on the conditions of the Indian tribes in the U.S. in the 19th century).
Generally tribe members would wear the white ration card on a string and attached to a button. When you see old photographs of the Indians queued up to receive their food and provisions, the little white cards stand in sharp contrast to everything else, when they are in focus,. When not (as the lens weren’t necessarily fast enough to capture things in motion) they look semi-invisible, like a puff of smoke on the chests of so many people. I can imagine then these people standing in line, waiting for food, having entered reservation life with enforced “sale” of their lands, still except for the fluttering of their ration cards, small white flags of surrender that they would fly for generations. Certainly no other element of our society would be forced to surrender so often for the need of food. And considering too the number of Indians who would die of starvation over decades’ time at the hands of this system and in the care of the federal government, it was a surrender that didn’t necessarily entitle them to the sort of treatment that a POW would receive. (The following photo is of a queue for ration distribution at camp Supply, Oklahoma Territory, 1871.)
The amount of the ration was mysteriously worded, at least to me; I couldn’t really tell how much food people were allowed. The explanation reads as follows: “the table of quantity allowed to 100 rations is: bacon, 10 pounds; beans, 3 pounds; beef (net) 150 pounds; baking powder, 1 pound; coffee, 4 pounds; ham, 50 pounds; salt, 2 pounds; soap, 2 pounds; sugar, 7 pounds; tobacco, ½ pound.” (The salt part is curious; salt was very important, and ion relation to everything else, 2 pounds wasn’t really very much salt at all. I am reminded of the very last part of the negotiations between John Ross, who was the principal chief representing the Cherokees, and the flatulent Gen.Winfield Scott, the head liaison between the Cherokees and the U.S. government, in the terrible last phases of the preparation for the Cherokee removal. Ross pleaded, and in effect offered to buy, more provisions of salt for the walking winter journey for his 12,000 charges (children included). That this was a point of negotiation is cruel and sickening. Scott “gave in” and allowed the extra salt...his other practices in this enforced emigration though resulted in the deaths of about a third of the Cherokee people. And Scott was about the best, most “Indian-friendly” general that the government had to offer.)
It continues, badly written: “Still, it frequently happens that issue same day finds the agency short of supplies and frequently rations are issued, and of limited quantity.
And closes: “The Indian, however, arrives promptly on the appointed day, no matter whether he receives or not”.
The button pictured here belonged to the uniform of the Indian Police. It shows an Indian guiding a plow, with the legend written around the figure that reads: “God helpeth those who help themselves”. Or not.
[Detail of E.W. Happel's map in his Relationes Curiosae (1675), plates 23 in the Peabody Library's The World Encompassed, 1952.]]
I'm not sure how my thinking went from Athanasius Kircher's Earth skeleton to the magnificent Eberhard Werner Happel 1675 world map of ocean currents featuring what might be the largest California ever seen in the history of cartography, but, well, the thinking wound up there, (and this leaving out Bishop Burnett's perfect primordial world egg in the process). This was intended as a simply post following up yesterday's bit in the Blank and Missing Things series relating to California as an island and the missing land mass connecting the non-island to the rest of North America. Nominally California usually appears as a stubby/plump infected-appendix-sized bit either attached/not to the continent, but the California in the Happel (1647-1730, a man of math and medicine) map is larger than the rest of North America from the California gulf to the Atlantic. Of course that also includes all of Alaska and then some imagined lands as well, but, still the mass of it is labelled "California" stands by itself larger than South America, Africa (which looks surprisingly good for the age of the rendering), China (which is very very small) and Russia (which lacks virtually all of Russia east if the Urals). The only land mass that comes close to California's size is the Antarctic regions, which is drawn here as a solid land mass including the scant points of data for New Zealand and Australia and whatever other island was found in southerly South Sea travels, all drawn together and fitted into an enormous continent.
[The full image of the Happel map]
Although there weren't many explorers yet to go up the west coast of North America in 1675, other maps of the period render the coastline in a more accurate way than this. The point of the map, really, is to display what was known of the ocean currents, some of which was correct but a lot of which is not--though it is a very good attempt given the state of the data collection. The source of this map,the Peabody Library's The World Encompassed (1952) calls it the "first chart of ocean currents", which I think is incorrect--and it is here where our favorite 17th century science-Jesuit comes into play, for it is in Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterreaneus (1642) that the first map of ocean currents occurs.
[Michael Tramezinus's map of the Western Hemisphere (1534) showing a mostly non-existent western coastline of North America along with a stringy California--but given the time and the available information, it is an excellent map that is not afraid to define unknown lands with a squiggly line. Source, plate 35 from The World Encompassed.]
Kircher is a highly problematic character in the history of science. He is at times wonderful and insightful and creative; at other times he is boring, pedantic, grueling, wrong, fanciful, and stingy with attribution. I'm no Kircher scholar, but it seems to me after al this time that sometimes he writes stuff that he couldn't've meant, that he absolutely knew better than to assert--but there it is, anyway, written as gospel truth (and the Gospels and related religious mythio-stories evidently demanded obedience to their own truths, in which Kircher complies) . This is one of the problems with the Fra Athanasius.
[The full detail of the Tramezinus map.]
In his Mundus Subterraneus Kircher presents the true first map of ocean currents (Tabula Geographico-Hydrographica motus Oceani, currents, abyssos, montes igniuomos in universe orbe indican), some bits being correct and others not so. He rejects the Aristotelian concept of condensation, and figures that the accumulation of snow/rain/dew is simply not enough water to feed the rivers and lakes and oceans, so he devised subterranean oceans and rivers with vast stores of water to feed the waters topside. His hydrophyllaciae is one of four components of an underground Earth that closely coincides with the four elements and with the human condition, much in the tradition of the Medieval body/spirit approach to the understanding of the world system.
[Source: image from the mapseller site of Sebastian Hidalgo Sola, Buenos Aires, here.]
John Edward Fletcher, in his A Study of the Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher, ‘Germanus Incredibilis ..." describes Kircher creating an "Earth Skeleton"which he dresses according to science and ecclesiastical needs, finding a vis spermatica, the launching of all matter from the primeval chaos of primordial Earth. The Mundus addresses this and many other things--it is, in all of this and all of its faults (as Fletcher states), a great repository of all geological knowledge of the time. There is the good with the bad in the Mundus, "a conglomeration of exotic facts and fiction, along with odd scraps of truth and the occasional flash of brilliance" (Fletcher, p. 172), and the ocean currents map is one of those bits.
Kircher undertakes an enormous and probably impossible job in this book, but may actually be kept from getting to the big point by depending upon himself too much. As Fletcher points out (page 171), the Mundus' third edition of 1671 failed to take into account the major advances in fields touching on the book's contents, in particular, the work of Mariotte and Varenius, which was much superior to that of Kircher on the ocean currents, neither of which are discussed or even mentioned in the new edition.
This was a very round-about way of getting to the California-part of the Happel map, but the attribution of the World Encompassed as "the first" of its kind needed to be addressed.
Here's an interesting read on the Kircher/Happel maps: from http://www.coastalguide.com/helmsman/gulf-stream-history-noaa2.shtml
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post on Solomon Butcher in which there two two photographic images that are clearly "manufactured"--one is created in the darkroom (simply adding trees in a tress-less landscape), while the other (below) is an unlabelled recreation of an event. This is in the lines of Timothy O'Sullivan and Matthew Brady dressing up their images a bit by posing the dead or giving them added bits (like muskets and so on) to enliven the picture. This one though is entirely theatre--as it happens there are very few 19th century photographs depicting a crime-in-progress. Butcher just decided to show his audience what the crime probably looked like. In any event if not for a little Zoomology the scene could've perhaps passed for real.
This is a detail from the full-plate glass negative, printed out so:
Without the enlargement it is difficult to tell what sort of instruments the ranchers were holding. But up close the wire cutters are simply suggestions of that too, being made of wood and all.
When Solomon Butcher laid his head down on his final pillow he evidently thought of himself as a half-failure. His work as a photographer in a life full of travel through the Great Plains lead to not-much-"success" save for one book1, and his work wasn't recognized for the impact that it would have in the decades to come. Perhaps he wondered if his ways were all worth it, hauling his family and his enormously heavy collection of full-plate glass negatives from one house to the next. Of course that would change in death--not the money part, but certainly the recognition. His photographs are outstanding glimpses into late 19th century American frontier life, and especially so for the work he did making images of families and their belongings in the long rolling landscape of pioneer Nebraska.
not sure exactly what Solomon Butcher told his subjects when he photographed them
outside of their frontier houses out there in the Great
Plains in the 1880’s. His spectacular
portraits included not only the family of the house, but in many cases, everything
that the family owned. Possessions were
encumbrance making your way across the country in the mid/19th century,
especially if you didn’t have very many to begin with. These families—the first generation in their
mostly sod-built houses—would’ve been farmers scratching out a minimum trade
and decent subsistence. City/town goods
would’ve been not-usual in these circumstances, and evidently whatever it was
they had of these things wound up outside, displayed around the house and on
the roof, when Mr. Butcher arrived in his photographer’s wagon.
was it, I wonder, who came up with the initial idea of displaying the
family’s possessions: did Butcher set
out with that idea, or did it happen spontaneously? I wonder what it was the families thought as
Butcher was packing up his equipment, his horse fed, his cameras stowed away,
climbing up onto the driver’s bench. Did
they wait until he was a spot on the horizon to put away their things? Did they gather everything up as Butcher
gathered up his own material, or did they just wait for the stranger to
disappear before pulling the family back together? Sitting their surrounded by
the things that they owned, did these families feel a quiet pride, or were they
embarrassed have their pictures made together with their frontier opulence?)
There's much to look at in these images, and the Nebraska Historical Society does a very good job at it here, espcially when they work at some digital magic, making some of the disappeared stuff that lurks in the shadows of the interiors of the cabins appear. What is of interest to me today are the sunburns--this issue was brought up yesterday in another post on the invention of the satirical photograph, where the self-portrait shows a man with heavily sunned face and hands, the marks of a working man with dark settling on light becomes a little remarkable.
This is seen in Butcher's photographs from time-to-time. In the series of photographs of homesteads, he often captured images of men without hats--seldom the case, I guess, in the normal routine of a day. The men's faces are deeply tanned except for where the hat is pulled down to the middle of their forehead, where we see a much lighter complexion:
Which makes sense, of course, since these were pioneers and farmers, and working pretty much all of the time outdoors.
I remember being surprised the first few times I noticed this, and then not so. This is much like seeing all of those non-smiling photographic portraits of the 19th century and wondering about the sombreness, when the general explanation for the seriousness was far simpler: given the length of time for an exposure, it was took simply too much effort to hold the same smile for a minute or three, and so the rigid face became a necessity. The brands of the faces of these men was there simply because they wore hats outdoors doing hard work in the High Plains sun.
There's a world going on in these photographs, but for right now I'm just looking at faces.The Library of Congress site has an excellent collection of this images online, and there's a lot of micro-photo inspection to be done.
Another example, here:
Which is a detail from: (Source: The Library of Congress, "Rev. and Mrs. E.D. Eubank on Clear Creek west of Lee Park, Custer County, Nebraska".)
I wanted to pass along these very interesting maps that appear in Allan R. Pred Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information, 1790-1840 (Harvard, 1973) because they give a quick and elegant view of how long it took to get to various parts of the country in the first part of the 19th century.
First, Rates of Travel, 1800:
and its complement, Rates of Travel 1830:
[Note: all travel time based on starting point in New York City.]
Its interesting to see with just improvements in travel excluding the introduction of railroads and (for the most part) canals that travel time was basically cut in half in about thirty years' time. For example, in 1800 it would take roughly four weeks to get to New Orleans, and then six weeks to arrive in Iowa and the Upper Peninsula. By 1830, that time was two weeks to NO, and three for the other two locations. In 1800, it was a five day trip to the northern Outer Banks in North Carolina; that would be cut to two days by 1830. The trip in 1800 to the vicinity of Savannah and the northern part of Florida was a two week ordeal; by 1830, that time had fallen to 6/7 days. The Mississippi was reachable in five weeks in 1800; in 1830, that time was cut to two weeks. This as I said would all change drastically over the next three decades, once the railroad system became slightly mature.
And here, expanded to 1857:
By 1857 one day's travel time has been blasted to a ring encompassing the southern half of Maine, partially into Ohio and south into the northern part of North Carolina. Two days of travel will get the traveller deep into Michigan and parts of Wisconsin, and half-way through North Carolina and South Carolina (excluding the mountain region in Western NC). Three days will now get us to northern Florida, halfway through Georgia and Tennessee, and into the Midwest, past the Mississippi River. Beyond the basic reach of the railroad at this point is the rest of the country, and harder going, though one week of travel will get you deep into the central part of the country, where with some difficulty you would be able to find your way to southern California in three weeks, and the Pacific regions of Washington Territory in six weeks--basically, an entirely new world of travel and the spread of goods, service and information, not the least of which was aided by the spread of the railroads, which increased from 3,000 miles of track in 1840 to more than 30,000 in 1860.
Again, I really just wanted to share this display of information because I have found them to be useful in the past, and the info doesn't seem to be all that wide-spread.
My source for the maps has been varied from web sources, but the original work seems to have been published in Charles O. Paullin and John Wright, Atlas of the Historical Geography of the U.S., published by the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C. (1932), pages 138a, 138b, 138c, 138d.
In the very full and ancient (Babylonian at least) history of attempts at squaring the circle it is interesting to find that victory in its pursuit came on the fields of south-central Ohio in the mid-19th century. Who would have thought that this insoluable problem of ancient geometry (and which found a voice in popular culture going back to Aristophanes The Birds) would find itself smoothed out in mid-western dirt? And it all came at the hands of a magnificently-titled state-authorized endeavor called the Circleville Squaring Company. (Honestly, isn't that a fantastic name? I'm reminded instantly of Flatland.)
It turns out that the American West pressed on through these lands in the Ohio Valley in the mid-ish 18th century, with white people coming in to colonize the place by the 1770's. What existed here, in a village/town to be called "Centerville", was an ancient Hopewell culture circular earthwork, an enclosure of some sort, a fortification, with a large mound in the center.
The settlers thought that the best thing to do was to plan their town around this design, eventually placing an octogonally-shaped structure at the center of it all, on the top of the mound.
The source noted above (and here as well) tells the whole and complete story of what would happen next, but suffice to say that after some decades the people of Circleville decided that they did not like the circular plan of their town, and in 1837 occurred some legislation to do something about it. The circles had to go, to be replaced by 90-degree angles for streets.
And thus to this end the Circleville Squaring Company was born in 1837, and over the next few decades quarters of the center city of Circleville were bought up, torn down, and replaced by a more desirable geometry. The process seems to have been completed around the time of the Civil War. Nothing remained of the original circular town plan.
In spite of the circumstances, the town remained "Circleville".
[This is another in a series of posts prompted by a re-reading of Larry McMurtry's novel, Lonesome Dove. This particular addition was prompted by McMurtry's character Capt. Angus McCrae coming to a realization that he and his partner, Capt Woodrow Call, at the pinnacle of their careers, were just another bit of landscape to be passed by; Texas Ranger/cowboy/adventurer becoming the "New Indian".]
Judge James Hall said early on (in 1835) that the frontiersman would only be clearing the way for another kind of pioneer who would settle down and farm the land properly, and make the beginnings of American civilization in the west. Thomas Jefferson saw the same future for “our semi-barbarous citizens”—the frontiersman—as did the explorer and botanist J.R.Poinsett, who said simply that “the frontiersman is doomed.”
McCrae was very well aware of his own role in the paradoxical march of civilization on the frontier. He was the first of his type to see these new lands (on the cattle drive north from Texas to Montana); opening them meant that he would make them safe for other colonizers—farmers and bankers who would have a far more acquisitive sense of land and ownership than he or his partner Call would ever have. As the concept of private property grew greater, as more capital was invested, and as the land became more irretrievably “settled,” then the two Rangers would pose as much a threat to the monied land interests as the Indians had once posed to the earliest settlers. He knew that he was the first step in making the economics of the region as frictionless as possible, and that at some point, and pretty soon, he and all those like him would represent the friction in the cost of doing business.
It didn’t take long for this to happen; in the grand scheme of the development of the West the frontiersman's shadow was almost instantly filled by that of the cowboy, with barely 75 years filling the time between the beginning of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the end of the great cattle drives. The hungry frontier pulled the adventurers away and concentrated its efforts on its greatest foe—the worker. The Atlantic Monthly charged in 1877 that America was at risk from a new type of “Indian”—the “savage” working class. It made that statement—in an unsigned article—soon after the dangerous railroad strike of 1877, stating that these classes needed to be attacked and re-educated to understand the new culture of incorporating America. McMurtry's self-medicating character McCrae understood the theory if not the extended history of the word “savage”—that it would be passed from one class to the next of any group that threatened to disturb the orderly march of culture and economic civilization, and that each preceding class of civilizer would, in turn, become the savage. “Savage” would pass from the Indian, to the unruly cowboy, and then on to the settlers of each successive (economic) frontier, as the competition turned from space to wages.
In a book that Call and McCrae could (but were extremely unlikely to) have read, The History of the United States, by George Bancroft (1866), it was said that the Indian was killed by civilization because he could not change “his habits.” Writing at the same time and for the same readers, Francis Parkman told his readers that the Indian is savage, but that the Indian is also part of a savage environment, though “he and his forest will perish forever” because he will be unable to learn the ways of civilization. Or, in the words of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who would let nothing get in the way of westward expansion—“civilization or extinction.”
[This is one in a series of posts prompted by my current reading of Larry McMurtry's novel, Lonesome Dove.]
The Indian of the Plains had few options in the 1860s and 1870s. The buffalo were gone and hunting lands were being taken over by white settlers. With this dissipation of their food source came displacement resulting in inadequate food supply and (in many cases) starvation. The government offered reservation systems, but these in general flawed results of flawed and hurried thinking. In one attempt to determine the efficacy of the government's response to the growing crisis in caring for the removed Indian population, a committee under the titular leadership of Senator James Rood Doolittle of Wisconsin (Republican turned Democrat, 1815-1897), created in January 1867 a report (The Condition of the Tribes, Report of the Joint Committee...) containing a wealth of information about the state of Indians on the reservations, drawing on the results of a questionnaire completed by 27 high-ranking respondents in Indian affairs, including eleven army officers, thirteen agents or superintendents, one teacher, one missionary, and one physician. It does not paint a pretty picture, even coming at the hands of a Congressional investigation.
[This post continues a series on the cowboy and the American West, prompted by a re-reading of Larry McMurtry's novel, Lonesome Dove.]
I’ve not seen this picture of the nine cowboys who starred and started the Great Cowboy Race of 18931.They gathered with a frenzy on the little town of Chadron, Nebraska (population 2,000, which doubled in size as the event’s opening grew near) determined to announce the “best “ cowboy, the first to cross the finish line near the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and shake the hand of Buffalo Bill Cody (well on his way to becoming a shell of what used-to-be).The contest was supposed to take two weeks and average 50-75 miles a day, which is a lot to ask of a team of horses (and the riders).So there was the expected shenanigans, and the man who "won” evidently helped plan the secret route, and someone else rode a trains with his horses for a bit, and so on.
The result doesn’t matter--it seems an overall sad story, these guys winging their way to the windy City, a race to oblivion. (Some of the cowboy contestants were already about half-faded away into Limbo judging from the photo touch up that had to be done of their faces.)
Ironically these cowboys were racing to the cosmopolitan host of the World’s Fair in which the historian Frederick Jackson Turner read his paper "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," —a significant theoretical piece announcing why Americans are so different from Europeans, and also that the American frontier had clearly, absolutely, been broken and installed in the gauzy national psyche. The fate of the Cowboy had already been determined 20 years before with the introduction of refrigerator cars, railroad expansion and barbed wire--all of which cut the West into smaller and smaller parcels, until they restricted the Cowboy to its own Reservation. A crooked race to Chicago seemed to crystalize the Cowboy's tenuous grasp on existence, depicted finally by the new(ish) half-tone photo process of Stephen Henry Horgan, making a half-portrait of empty circles, the image disappearing more and more the closer we look at it..
It was just a sorry show for the cowboy all the way around, and a story that doesn’t need to be told here.I did just want to publish this picture.There’s a long and good story here http://www.thelongridersguild.com/chadron2.htm about the entire affair.
I include the list of the riders, mainly for the names of their horses:
Emmett Abbott riding Outlaw and Joe Bush.
Joe Campbell riding his one horse, Boom-de-aye.
Davy Douglas riding Wide Awake and Monte Cristo.
Old Joe Gillespie riding Billy Mack and Billy Schafer.
George Jones riding Romeo and George.
Charlie Smith riding Dynamite and Red Wing.
Rattlesnake Pete Stephens riding General Grant and Nick.
The Cowboy West, from Ned Buntline to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett
I imagine that there have been significantly more people who have played cowboys in literature, on radio, in movies, on the stage and on television than ever cowboyed in the West. This doesn’t include children who have played at “Cowboys and Indians” over the past 150 years. The time of the classic cowboy-in-all-his-glory was short—maybe two generation. Probably less. And there weren't that many people to fill in those positions in that short period of time.
Certainly there are cowboys to this day, but the cowboy of our mind’s eye—that iconic cowboy of the expanding, post-Manifest Destiny West—was a victim of the great rush to land privatization in the 1880s-1890s: barbed wire and other fences took the cowboy's place. By 1895 there were more cowboys riding fences than herding cattle. As Faulkner wrote on the "last individual" in The Fable (page 204), “the cowboy was exterminated from the earth by a tide of men with wire-stretchers and pockets full of staples…” Of course Faulkner also saw the cowboy set among horse dung and "oxidizing cans" of sardines and tomatoes--a gemeinschaft/gesellschaft thing.
There are only 40 or 50 years that separate cowboys Texas Jack and Ned Buntline from the Chandler/Marlowe and Hammett/Spade modern detective West of San Francisco and Los Angeels, which is an extraordinary thing. There weren't cowboys stretching back forty years before Texas Jack, and there weren't forty years that they stretched into the future from him, either. The distance in time that the cowboy existed, all things considered, was short--from the Reconstruction free-roaming Texas cattle of 1866 to the appearance of barbed wire in the early 1870's to the refrigerated railroad car of just about the same time to the endless farming non-frontier of the 1890's, the cowboy enjoyed probably one full decade of not being molested by the present; the future caught up with them in a quick hurry.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1700 [Continuing a series on notes made while reading Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, part 5.]
The word “cowboy” (“cow-boy”, “cow boy”) was little seen in the U.S. in the decades before the great surge in cattle drives—prior to the 1870s. The word most commonly associated with America’s greatest folk heroes actually got its beginning in Ireland, and was commonly used in Britain from 1820-1850 where its meaning was quite literal, applying to the young boys tending the cows owned by a family or community. An earlier use by Jonathan Swift in 1725 also refers to nothing more than a boy tending cows.
[Source: Cowboy and a herd of cattle in Cherry County, Nebraska. Photograph by the great Solomon D. Butcher., 1889. Nebraska State Historical Society.]
Part of this blog's history of line series inevitably deals with some of our planet's most cutting lines: barbed wire. Talking about just the United States for the moment, it cut land into small, bite-sized chunks in the parceling-out and extinction of expansion in the American Westward movements, and has done pretty much the same in keeping apart the races in some areas of the country where the legal/social/cultural lines begged for steel more than paper. Such is the case in these remarkable photographs from San Francisco
And the full image:
["The Barb-Wire Barricade: From The Wave: v. 21, Jan. - July 1900: no. 21, page 7: Scenes Outside the Chinatown Quarantine Lines, San Francisco".]
The reason for this barbed wire in the streets of San Francisco was simple--it was a quarantine of Chinese people who were thought to be infested with bubonic plague. The reasons for this were simple and racist--given that the Chinese were seen from (at the very least) the 1860's to be an "inferior" and "degraded"1 race, living in close quarters and in fair squalor at times (given the wages that they were paid and the abuses they suffered from the Chinese Exclusion Acts), and given the codified racist sentiments against them, it was seen that these people were capable of spreading the diseases via their very presence and "vapors". (At least one of these "three graces" of "malarium", "small-pox" and leprosy were seen as coming directly from Chinatown in San Francisco. See notes #1 for source.)
And so up went the barbed wire, "and no Chinese American was allowed to leave the area bounded by California, Kearny, Broadway, and Stockton streets"2.This of course restricted the access of Chinese immigrants and Chinese-American citizens, and held for some three months, prohibiting access out and in, meaning that food was in short supply, prices for goods and food went very high, and many Chinese businesses suffered loss and closure. At the end of three months, the barbed wire quarantine was lifted, and of course not one case of plague was reported among the Chinese population.
There is a long history to this sort of thinking, as we find that, for example, in the 1875/6 smallpox epidemic San Francisco's father's determined that one cause might be the Chinese, and had all of the houses in Chinatown fumigated. This of course had nothing to do with the epidemic; yet, at the end of it all, "the city health officer, J. L. Meares, offered the following explanation: I unhesitatingly declare my belief that the cause is the presence in our midst of 30,000 (as a class) of unscrupulous, lying and treacherous Chinamen, who have disregarded our sanitary laws, concealed and are concealing their cases of smallpox."3
Here's another image from the 1900 quarantine: ["A Conversation Across the Ropes: From The Wave: v. 21, Jan. - July 1900: no. 21, page 7: Scenes Outside the Chinatown Quarantine Lines, San Francisco" Publisher:Wave Publishing Company.]
And another, keeping San Francisco "clean and healthy" with barbed wire and rope.
["No Admittance: From The Wave: v. 21, Jan. - July 1900: no. 21, page 7: Scenes Outside the Chinatown Quarantine Lines, San Francisco."]
Another example of the institutionalized despoilment of the Chinese is seen here in an 1880 Board of Health pronouncement on the state of Chinatown in San Francisco was an official "nuisance", and that the "Chinese cancer:" must be cut out: "The Chinese cancer must be cut out of the heart of our city, root and branch, if we have any regard for its future sanitary welfare . . . with all the vacant and health territory around this city, it is a shame that the very centre be surrendered and abandoned to this health-defying and law-defying population. We, therefore, recommend that the portion of the city here described be condemned as a nuisance; and we call upon the proper authorities to take the necessary steps for its abatement without delay."4
And of course examples can go on and on--but there is really nothing quite like seeing a racial sentiment transferred into a three-dimensional object--like a barbed wire fence going down the middle of a street in San Francsico, in 1900--to drive home a message of learned bad thinking.
1. An excellent article by Joan B. Trauner, "The Chinese as Medical Scapegoats in San Francisco, 1870-1905," California History, Vol. LVII, No. 1 (Spring 1978), pp. 70-87. Full text is available online with an academic account.
2. Source: History of Chinese Americans in California, the 1900's, blog here.