A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
I wonder when it was that working people (which would mean the overwhelming majority of people on the planet) first decorated their non-cave walls with art? There aren't all that many images in the history of art (that I know of, anyway) that depict the inside of a yeoman's residence with some sort of artwork hanging or stuck on the wall. This is a tricky and potentially meaningless question, trying to differentiate bits of newspaper illustrations nailed to a wall in Montana in 1882 from messianic Aboriginal millenia-old cave paintings and such.
Inside-the-bunkhouse photographs from the American West like this are pretty scarce things--almost as scarce as nighttime photos of sleep-disturbed cowboys on the trail. They're just not around. The remarkable thing about this photograph (from the archives of the Minnesota State Historical Society) is that it also shows a not-subtle vignette into what passed for provoking, night-stabbing man-images for a society of the working stiff.
These guys may be cowboys, or may not--there is a rifle on the wall over the shoulder of the striped suspenders guy on the left, and there seem to be a couple of dusters hanging on the wall, and some broad-rimmed hats. Maybe they really are cowboys.
In any event they're in a rough-hewn bunkhouse with not very much to pass the time, save for these few broadsides and mounted magazine pages. I find it an interesting peep into an interior life that didn't get seen very much, especially with such period-hot images of women.
And perhaps this paper is nothing more than the barrier that we see so often from FSA photos of the American Dustbowl West--paper put up on the wall to stop a cold draft or dust. But these look too determined for something as simple as that...
Here’s a bit of Custer legend that is true and seldom heard—if
left to his own devices in a Custer-filled world, the general would have “exterminated” everyone
in the South, every one (“men, women or children”) , “with an ounce of rebel
blood”, hanged dead.At that point the South
would be free, and would be repopulated with the “loyal and patriotic”.
This was part of a
long letter (transcript below) to U.S. Senator Jacob Howard, written on 19th January 1864, in the
field.Custer was feeling on the ropes
at the time, needing to defend his loyalty to Lincoln and his policies,
and needing to distance himself from Lincoln’s
election contender and inferior general, George McClellan. (Richard Slotkin, in
his fabulous The Fatal Environment, the Myth of the Frontier in the Age of
Industrialization, 1800-1890 notes that Custer needed “to justify himself…(and)
disabled his previous affiliations and the nature of his relationship with
Custer's relationship--real and imagined--with McClellan was putting him in a stench void, creating the possibility of distance between himself and the powers that be--particularly with Senators like Howard and Zachariah Chandler, "who controlled army promotions" (Slotkin, page 384), which meant distancing himself from the higher rank he thought he was destined for. Custer had been on McClellan's staff, and had aligned himself with his
war policies, though not necessarily so his presidential ambitions.
Howard, a Republican from Michigan and member of the Military Affairs Committee, believed that Custer was a "McClellan Man" and set against Lincoln, and for that was set to block
his promotion to brigadier general. Custer's salvaging letter1 to Howard left no doubt about his supposed non-political feelings and where he stood on Lincoln, the Emancipation, and the treatment of the Confederates:
“If I could decide
the questions, I would offer no compromise except that which is offense at the
front of a bayonet, and rather than that we should accept peace, except on our
own terms, I would, and do, favor a war of extermination. I would hang every
human being who possesses a drop of rebel blood in their veins whether they be
men, women or children. Then after having freed the country from the presence
of every rebel, I would settle the whole Southern country with a population
loyal and patriotic who would not soon forget their obligations to their
country and to themselves.”
Slotkin points out that the letter to Howard was so well received that he wrote an update letter to the public-at-large, finding itself published in he Detroit Free Press in May 1865 ("and which was widely reprinted" (Slotkin, 384)) It read in part: "Extermination is the only true policy we can adopt towards the political leaders of the rebellion...Then, and not till then, may the avenging angel sheathe his sword, and our country will emerge from the struggle regenerated".
Custer left out the women and children part of his Southern bloodbath, but left the "extermination" part in.
Custer was a man of short bursts with little imagination or capacity for extended action or thought--a difficult character, a limited man with no limits. This would come up again and again, more horribly so at Washita massacre2, and then, finally, the strength to endure his impulsive recklessness gone, at the Little Big Horn.
The West, the American West, had the foundations for effective an grid delivered by the late 1870's, in the early-middle of what I guess people would consider the high Cowboy days of westward expansion. But the exploration part had been mostly done by this point, as had the expansion bit, the exterior sections of the compartmentalization of the frontier taking place in ever-smaller concentric squares. As I wrote earlier in this blog, it was the introduction of lines that really did the whole Wild West thing in--the introduction of the railroads, of course (followed by the refrigerated railroad car, which did in the great cattle drives and established needed-to-be-peopled rail heads all over the place), telegraph lines, and of course barbed wire. Barbed wire meant barbed wire fences, fences that could be constructed for a small fraction of the cost of wooden fences and which replaced of course no fences at all, dividing the great open plains into more manageable units of owned and regulated land. (Barbed wire fences also needed far less maintenance than wooden fences, which means fewer cowboys riding fences for upkeep and so on.)
By the time the eulogy on the American Frontier was famously delivered by Fred Jackson Taylor in 1893, the fate of the West had already been sealed for perhaps two decades, though the notion of its "closedness" was received with considerable shock. It was time for the truly great equalizer and innovative settler of the West to makes its appearance--boredom.
I think it might be that it was the Boring Frontier that nailed the coffin shut on the Western Frontier. Once all of the lines had been delivered--barbed wire, telegraph, railroads, good maps--the greatest thing left to do was the settling. And nothing quite spells settlement than boredom. Or comparative boredom. Once the essentials of conquest had been delivered in terms of the civilizing lines, it became time to wait for the rest of it, surviving through cold Nebraska winters and hot Panhandle summers, waiting for the rest of America to come and settle. It was the Boredom Frontier that spelled out the intent that the changes brought to that country were there to stay.
And barely three decades after the announcement of the closing of the frontier, automobiles were making their way across the land on new roads., which snaked their way deeper into the last-reached parts of the country. It was very soon after the car and the road that the roadside billboard appeared, and appeared in such great quantity that legislation prohibiting banner display like this was introduced into the legal system during the teens.
Roads provided the last assault on the West, and brought with them their singular colonizing irony of billboards, which prohibited the view of the country through which their roads snaked and pulled. And there's something terribly wrong with that, as witnessed in this 1931 illustration tucked inside this almost-provocatively-named pamphlet, Billboards ad Aesthetic Legislation, New Applications of Police Power (published by the St. Louis Public Library).It is astonishing to think of the vast changes that took place in the remaining American frontier, taking place so quickly--two generations separated the last of the great cattle drives to billboard legislations along auto routes in the western states.
It seems to me that I've seen a similar illustration of the senseless explorer from the 'teens, though I cannot find it now.
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 all of 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? I
suspect that the idea for display did not begin with the families.)
another part of the luxury spectrum is this floor plan for a “No-Lux Hotel”, a 2x3
metre/room place for folks to stay cheaply/inexpensively.There were 50rooms packed into a 36x24 metre footprint,
leaving precious little room
for hardly anything else, like hallways (which seem very narrow), stairways
(actually a singular, as there is but one) and bathrooms (one with 8 sinks and
four toilets per floor).
center of the structure seems curiously blank in the top plan.The bottom one is confounding, a mysterious
mystery:why on earth would there be
musical notation written backwards (via “Arabic Notation”) in the center of the
plan?No doubt the architect was on the iconoclastic
side to have included such a thing; but its inclusion no doubt meant something
to the author, though it is now lost to his/her dust.Pity.
is Latin for something like “extravagance”.“De luxe” appeared in France
in 1928 or so for the first time to describe this added opulence in a word of
its own, though there is a certain geology to the idea.A luxury might well be a spice on a camping
trip, or a back-up aircraft to the family helicopter.Perhaps it was an extra sink in a cheap hotel,
or a violin for the kids in a house that stood by itself in 10-square-mile
solitude. At least the multi-floored Hotel No-Lux had a stairway.
they must spit two or three gallons a day!They ain’t died fast enough, these old men!”—Mrs. T.E. Bagley, Whitney, Texas,
is a great small America story about sitting. Or old men sitting, and spitting.Sitting and spitting on a long piece of thick
timber outside a drug store, bricks and advertisements as back support, in
Whitney, Texas (population ca. 1,500), in 1949.I can just about hear them on a hot summer evening, right now, only
probably I couldn’t—they’d probably’ve shut up until the stranger walked by,
giving me their silence and keeping their confidences.Or not.Maybe I would’ve been invisible, and the whittled bits would've fallen to the street along with the tobacco juice, cusses and gossip, unabated.Maybe they surrounded themselves with a stained-moat of spittin’s across
or close to which no one would stray.
isn’t, I guess, so much a story about their sitting as it is a story about
their not sitting, about how it came to be that their lumber was removed and
the men forced to find another place to take in the sights and construct their
great edifices of commentary and asides.
story appears in LIFE Magazine of 15 August 1949, and lays the whole drama out
in two splash pages, with bare editorializing and some great photos.
story goes like this: “In 1922 D. (Doctor Dee) Scarborough,
the druggist in Whitney,
up a bench outside his store, and immediately it became a loafing headquarters
for the gaffers of .the BrazosRiverValley.
'Year after year they sat there looking like a jury of irritable terrapins,
whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed. But finally
reform caught up with them.” It caught up to them, even if everyone was wearing a collared shirt.
It came to the mayor of Whitney, Frank Basham, to appease “a
delegation of local housewives” who were fed up with the old men, and wanted
the “unsightly bench” gone.It was
probably a lot more than the bench, as the quote above by Mrs. T.E. Bagley contends:
“Why, they must spit two or three gallons a day!They ain’t died fast enough, these old men!”.
Perhaps a dozen old
farmers/ranchers/cowboys sitting on a bench all day long spitting and watching
the world go by wasn’t the most attractive thing for downtown Whitney.
so it came to pass that the lumber was removed, but not the men—they returned
with nail barrels and took up residence, unabated, “sitting wrathfully” on the
kegs.The police then threatened to
confiscate the kegs, and then the men: tensions flared, and a special election
was held, a referendum on whether or not to restore the bench.
never heard of such foolishness”, ‘cried 97-year-old Tom Rose, dean of the
bench sitters’. “Come here in ’77 from Tennessee.
Been married 76 years, and my wife ain’t whipped me yet.”
vote was held and the forces of bench-removal-evil were “horribly” beaten, the
vote for favoring restoration coming in at a convincing 124 to 67.
picture below shows the men “triumphantly” hauling the bench back into
position, sitting back down once more, “loafing, whittling, spitting and
passing judgment on everything that passed”.
As I said, this is a beautiful drama of high emotion, way-of-life small consequence played big, a heaping slice of American life witnessed in a small East Texas town just after World War II. I would love to hear the voice of Mrs. Lizzy Smith (pictured here) as she was thinking-out-loud, casting her vote in this debate with a pencil no longer than a finger joint. (Where did that hat/shawl come from? Is it her mother's? Mrs. Stewart's mother would've been born around 1840, which means that the sensibility for that head cover was at the very least of pioneer vintage, and possibly older. It looks like living history to me, a snapshot into something from the deep past, right there in the present. This doesn't happen very often; but when it does, it is a celebration.)
"We're all living on borrowed time" she is quoted as saying, and I imagine that she voted for the men to be able to return to their bench to use what time they had left to holding up the walls of that pharmacy. [I made a call to Whitney, this morning, and spoke with a gentleman about the Battle of the Bench. He eloquently relayed the story, and the place that it holds in the town's history, its small action carried into the future as a very large sensibility-- I'm thankful for his insight. I couldn't resist asking what it was that was directly opposite the bench; what were these men looking at when they weren't looking down. "Not very much" he said. But the story isn't in the looking, its in the talking; and as my wife Patti Digh finely points out, stories seem to be best told side-by-side.
in here is a great little play. Maybe not so little.
These sales-happy customer relations images from a modern food merchandising catalog (Modern Merchandising, 1939) come at an interesting time
in the history of eating—or lesser yet, the history of buying food.The pamphlet
addresses the growing idea of the super market, a notion still new in the minds
of consumers --it seemed as
large to the consumer familiar with the 1920’s concept of a market as it
to the megamarket people of the present.The illustrations--all quite small, margin-inhabiting affairs, space killers, no bigger than 1x2 inches--are there to help the grocer deal with women customers and better understand "them".
I’ll address the interesting merchandising changes here in another post—right
now I’d like to focus on the marginal drawings in the bottom corners of the
text.They may be small and offhanded--generally they are less than two square inches--but the messages they delivered, marginalia or not, were very strong.Over and over again these bits demand the
sub-class of women, emphasizing their trivial, ephemeral interests—bits of Nothing reinforcing large bits of Something.
The messages beneath the images, collectively: "women judge meat by appearance:; “there a little bit of the monkey in all
of us…we like to see and handle”; “offend not eyes , nose nor ears”; “part of
the selling job”; “women like to WATCH”; “her work is monotonous”; “she goes
shopping in search of adventure”; “she’s not interested in bloody meat”. They present cascading reactions: they're somewhat funny to my eyes, and then uncomfortable, and outrageous, and then simply sad that their solemn pronouncements on the status of women would be so acceptable, their as-yet unidentified sexism and bitter "racism"a non-sequitur.
The idea of the frontier in American history
has been around for quite some time, made famous and mostly-invented (and
closed) by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893, and expanded, imagined, enticed,
magnified, micro-analyzed, and generally messed with ever since.There have been all sorts of frontiers
introduced into the study of the birth, expansion and filling-up of this
country, from the very earliest colonial periods of Indian frontiers, “far-western”
river frontiers of the Connecticut, Delaware, Hudson (!) and Susquehanna, to
the Appalachian frontier of the early western reaches of the colonies, to the
transportation frontier, the slavery frontier, the gold and mining frontier,
the gun frontier and so on.
I’ve got another bit to add:the newspaper frontier.
I just happened upon a volume of the US
Census of 1880, with a special report by S.N.D. North entitled History and Present Condition of the
Newspaper and Periodical Press of the United States…and published in
1882.What provoked me was the map of Texas newspapers for
1880.It very clearly, and like no other
map of its kind, delineates a fantastic line/frontier between the Texas with newspapers and the Texas without newspapers. We see very
clearly that the frontier of the newspaper stops fairly abruptly and
wonderfully at the 100th meridian, with only two newspapers in all of
the rest of Texas found beyond that point (and those just barely beyond the 100th. And it’s the 100th meridian that
mostly marks the vertical middle of the country, running through North and South
Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, the Texas/Oklahoma borders, and so into Texas—if you
folded this map vertically in half it folds virtually on the 100th meridian.An odd bit, it is, half of the country and
then half of Texas.
Of course the population and easier-natural-resources
are located east of this point, I know, but it is still quite a jolt to see the
line of newspapers get drawn in the sand so vividly.There isn’t anything else quite like this so
far as the newspapers go, except, a little, for Florida, where the line gets
drawn north and south, splitting the peninsula roughly in half, the southern
part holding only five counties at this point..But it is a much more robust image for Texas given the number of
newspapers that were being published—280 periodicals and newspapers for Texas
versus 45 for Florida, with 11,374 in the entire country*—so that the
difference between the have-newspapers and haven’t-newspapers in Texas is that
much more vivid.
Texas needed more papers:there were 1.5 million people living in the
massive state in 1880, almost twice as many as there were in 1870, and almost
half of what there would be there in 1900.
Florida was another story, entirely—even in 1880, which is only 130 years ago, there
were only 270,000 people living in the entire state, not even close to half of
the county population of Pinelas today.
I’m just enjoying the surprise of the
straight-edge frontier in Texas.
*Just for the sake of comparison, the number
of periodicals per state for 1880 was as follows: Illinois,
1017; New York, 1411; Pennsylvania,
973; Ohio, 774; New
Jersey 215.Also, oddly, the average circulation of the Florida and Texas papers was roughly the same: 1,282
for Texas and 1306 for Florida (with an average for the country at
The great mystery was how those
Indians were smuggled out of the grave, in spite of the watchfulness of those
guards.From the Autobiography of Theodore Edgar
One of the darkest moments of the spectacular Lincoln presidency came on 26 December 1862 when the president chose to not interfere with the vengeful hanging of 38 Santee
Sioux just south of St. Paul, Minnesota.This was the legal outcome of a short-fought “war”(known as "The Great Sioux Uprising", "the Dakota War of 1862" and "Little Crow's War")
fought between U.S. soldiers and several Siouan tribes—a war brought on by the
desperate tribes after suffering failed crops and the reneged treaty obligations
(including a long-overdue payment of $1.4 million for the purchase of 24
million acres, or about a nickel an acre) of their Great Father in D.C.It was really more like a hunting expedition—the
Indians, who had rampaged and taken hostages and so forth, were at the end of
their endurance. The warriors were ill-equipped for almost anything, with little
food and failing horses, and were positively no match for the federal troops who
would hunt them down and destroy them.
“Destroy” isn’t my choice for words—it is used over and over again in the
communications between the field commander General Henry Sibley and the
general in charge of the entire region, General John Pope.It turns out that Pope was of the Tecumseh Sherman
school of Indian relations, writing for the record
is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. They are to be treated as
maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromise
can be made."
The following two images were found in the Illustrated London News for 30 April 1906, and shows the "shanty town" built near the site of the major destruction in San Francisco following the earthquake of 18 April 1906. Actually the tragedy is more appropriately called the "San Francisco Fire" of 1906, as the major destruction was caused by the raging fires set off by the earthquake. The end result was 485 or so blocks of the city were destroyed leaving a quarter-million people homeless. That this orderly development was referred to as a "shanty town" by a sniffy Brit reporter is appalling--unless of course the offending word meant something different 103 years ago. It looks orderly and well-developed to me. I also happened to notice two small girls in the detail--just about the only people in the picture. They could still be alive....
The bottom two pictures were taken during the conflagration: the first was the fire still raged, and the second was made days after the fire from a tethered balloon observation point.
I made myself 6-foot-long prints of these images; nearly every 2x2 inch area of the enlargement is a picture in itself. These images are clickable and will expand if you click in the expanded version.
"Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was
as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came the
sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces. We
struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet. Then it seemed
as though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears.
Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one's
hand. Ahead of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot
- a laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works with a
dinner pail on his arm." (P. Barrett).
"When the fire caught the Windsor Hotel at Fifth and Market
Streets there were three men on the roof, and it was impossible to get
them down. Rather than see the crazed men fall in with the roof and be
roasted alive the military officer directed his men to shoot them,
which they did in the presence of 5,000 people." (Max Fast).
"The most terrible thing I saw was the futile struggle of a
policeman and others to rescue a man who was pinned down in burning
wreckage. The helpless man watched it in silence till the fire began
burning his feet. Then he screamed and begged to be killed. The
policeman took his name and address and shot him through the head."
Woodrow Call, the
major and surviving figure in the four volumes of Larry McMurtry’s Great
American Novel/tetraology, Lonesome Dove,is in his early seventies (about 73 years) old
when we see him in the premier volume Streets of Laredo.(He is born ca. 1823 and is approximately 20
years old when he first teams up with Gus McCrae in the series' premier installment, Dead Mans Walk (which takes
place ca. 1843).Although he seems to be
an old man who is not a part of the times in which he lived, he is far from
being without company.It is easy to
think of frontier legends like Pat Garrett and Charles Goodnight as being a
part of ancient modern American history—and they were, temporally, but not
physically.Even though Pat Garrett
kills Billy the Kid in 1882, Garrett lives until 1908;Charley Goodnight helps begin the concept of
the cattle drive in Texas in 1860, and then lives another 69 years.Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp became famous in
the 1870’s, and both lived until what seems to be an incongruously close
time—the 1920’s. It just seems incredible to me that figures like this survived nearly into the lifetime of my father.
The frontier legends
below all transcended their place in history by many decades, and brought the
idea of a living history just a little closer to comprehension; their
survivability brings to bearhow close
the grand epoch of the frontier is to America, even in 2008.
Hanging Judge Isaac Parker, (b. 1834) dies 1896
Shanghai Peirce, (b. 1834), dies in 1900.
Judge Roy Bean (b. 1825) lives until 1903
Pat Garrett (b. 1850), dies in 1908
Billy Dixon, 1850-1913
George Bent (Fort), 1843-1918
Bat Masterson, 1853-1921
Thomas Moran, the great painter and the illuminist who
brought the West back East before photography, lived 90 years to 1826
Annie Oakley (the"peerless Lady wing-shot"), born just before the war, height.
Big Tree (Adoeettee) Kiowa Chief, born 1845, lives until 1929.
Black Elk, the great chief, (“Black Elk Speaks”),
was born in 1863 and died in 1950.
Listening tonight to the McCain/Obama debate (nicely moderated by Bob Schieffer, Old School) reminds me of other political debates. This one at least was not terrible (Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin [which is Latin for what exactly?], poor Jerry Ford and the Poland freedom question, and so on) and at least as good as most of these things have been during my lifetime (Kennedy Nixon). [Click on the word cloud to enlarge.]
It does put me in a longing piece of mind for Lincoln Douglas 1858, mainly because tonight's debate was reasonably glib if not long in logic; Lincoln Douglas had it all, especially the logic bit. If you read the 200,000-odd words of that six-debate series, (taking place from August through November 1858, located mainly around the perimeter of their battleground state, Illinois) you can't help but be impressed by how long and deep and considered their memories and logical structures were as the two men fought over the morality and logical structure of slavery. Of course they weren't fighting over the prime 15 second spot the next day; their debate was covered in full in newspapers (on the front page even!), their constituents taking their time to read the exchanges, and then have the luxury of time to think about what had been said.
So above is a word cloud brought to you via WORDLE. There are a few repetitive words that were just part of the structure of the debate verbiage: "Mr.", "laughter", "cheers" are the main examples. Otherwise you can pretty well tell that t he broadest, most often used words in the debate reflected the slavery issue, though it doesn't relate the sentiments to the contestants. (It would be very interesting for someone to do two wordles, one for each man.) But the overall patina of the debate was overwhelmingly slavery-related. I'd particularly like to see the Douglas end of the debate, as he was pretty problematic on the slavery issue, and I'm not sure at all (even given where he was from) that the man actually was anti-slavery--he argued in the debates for instance that the founding fathers didn't extend their thoughts on the Constitution to encompass minorities. Or at least anti-slavery before the beginning of the war, as he was outspoken on what he saw was the "criminal" activity of the Southern secessionist states. But he was dead almost right away after the war started.
Douglas won the Senate seat but Lincoln won attention of the country; perhaps it was due to this that Lincoln defeated Douglas and the other two Democrats in such a spectacular (electoral) fashion in their rematch presidential race of 1860. (Lincoln still trumps the badly divided Dems even if you cobbled together the votes of Douglas, Breckenridge and Bell.) In any event, if you read through the Lincoln/Douglas debates. you can see right away that there was some pretty strong thinking going on...
Kit Carson (1809-1868) was an iconic American frontiersman and
guide, a brevetted general as a result of soldiering in two wars, and lived
with extreme fame for twenty-five years. He
explored and was a guide through most of the western states and territories,
and served a very significant role as a scout for the first three (1843-1846)
of J.C. Fremont’s enormously important expeditions across the west, covering
wide areas of the western country along the Oregon trail, across the Great
Basin, through the Rockies and through the arid regions. As a guide with Stephen W. Kearney
At the end of the war, Carson returned to New Mexico and took up ranching. By 1853, he and his partner were able to drive a large flock of sheep to California, where gold rush prices paid them a handsome profit. This same year Carson was appointed federal Indian agent for Northern New Mexico, a post he held until the Civil War imposed new duties on him in 1861. Carson played a prominent and memorable role in the Civil War in New Mexico He helped organize the New Mexico volunteer infantry, which saw action at Valverde in 1862. Most of his military actions, however, were directed against the Navajo Indians, many of whom had refused to be confined upon a distant reservation set up by the government. Carson’s eroding and toxic use of sheer military might and starvation tactics eventually brought the Navajos to submission, and he was not beyond bearing shock-and-awe techniques against women, children and the elderly. He began a military campaign against the Navajo Indians and their supposed impregnable Masada in the gorgeous Canyon de Chelly in the vicinity of Four Corners, Arizona. After revealing the myth of this fortress he waged a long and bitter campaign to bring the Indians—under any of (their) cost—to a reservation at Bosque Redondo, 200 miles away. After surrender, the Navajos, under Carson, were marched to their new lands, with fully one third of the 8,000 of their number dying along the way, succumbing to cold, malnutrition, incident raids by rival tribes, exhaustion and sheer brutality by the U.S.troops, who certainly treated the Indians as less than human. The experiment at Bosque Redondo was a total failure, with the Navajos suffering ever greatly at the hand its General Carleton, the imperious and misguided post commander. The Navajos were returned to their original lands 1300 days and 3000 lives later.
Carson would survive this debacle by a few years, dying on a pile of buffalo robes at his doctor’s house, just a month after his wife succumbed to complications of childbirth. He was 58, and lived a little ten years too long.
The story of the West getting filled up in the 1870s and 1880's is a story of lines—railroad track, telegraph wires, barbed wire fences, and words on a page; big changes from disparate but related areas in technology and legislation, but when you looked at them from a distance and in the proper perspective, they all looked exactly the same.
The greatest of these was probably the invention of barbed wire in 1873, with Joseph Glidden, Jacob Haish and Isaac Elwood all managing to independently come upon the idea at about the same time. What barbed wire brought to the West was control and settlement. Prior to barbed wire there was open range grazing of cattle and extensive cattle drives, mainly because there was no fencing. There were also few farms due to this sort of grazing—the only thing a farm was here was in the way, and there was no recourse for the farmer to protect his lands from a grazing herd. There was no fencing because there were no materials for the fence. Fencing was made almost entirely with lumber and stone, and on the treeless plains and the vast non-New England tracts of land, it was simply an impossible task. The introduction of barbed wire changed all of this very quickly, with thousands of miles of new fencing strung in the 1870’s alone. Fencing meant control, restriction of the use of land, of access to water, and to a way of life. It also meant that the farmer was now free to make a claim at a way of life on the plains, beginning a torrent of settlement and farms.
Settlement was enormously aided in this period by three major acts of legislation over a sixteen year period, the first of which was the Homestead Act of 1862. This was a revolutionary concept, legislated in 1358 words, effectively turning over 270 million acres, or about 8 percent of the country, of public lands to private citizens (“actual settlers of the public domain”). A claim could be made for a farm of 160 acres, for free, provided a structure was built on the land and it was maintained for five years. One could buy the parcel outright for $1.25 an acre as well. The Desert Land Act of 1877 opened drier lands, selling 640 acres at $1.25 an acre with three years to pay, so long as the land was irrigated by the end of the three years. Land that was deemed "unfit for farming" was sold to those who might want to "timber and stone" (logging and mining) upon the land with the Timber and Land Act of 1878. The act was used by speculators who were able to get great expanses declared "unfit for farming" allowing them to increase their land holdings at minimal expense. The Homestead Act alone accounted for the creation of almost 400,000 farms in the West by 1890.
Settlement was dramatically increased by the promise of mineral wealth—not necessarily just by the introduction of miners, but by securing the lands from and removing its Indian owners. The Custer expedition into the Black Hills in 1873, for example, reported some hope for finding gold in the sacred mountains of the Sioux. Thousands of miners responded to possibility of wealth, and Custer was again dispatched to secure safety for them in the restricted lands. This in turn lead to more settlers and coincidentally to the debacle of the Little Big Horn, which was the beginning of the end of the Siouian control over vast amounts of land. From prospectors to protection to conflict, ultimately making land more available for more people.
The spread of the railroads was also an enormous settlement factor, with the number of miles of track being laid in Texas and the Great Plains doubling in just 5 years. Not only could you get West more easily, and quickly, and with less pain and suffering, but you could also be much more easily re-supplied. Telegraph wires tripled, making it easier to control events: and this means from being able to respond to Indian attacks more quickly to ordering boxes of nails, or beer, or shipments of newly-invented canned food.
The names of the American Western hero in the first half of the 19th century were, largely, more common, even a little reserved, underlying their more careful, thoughtful nature: David, Leatherstocking, Natty, Jack, Hicks, Kit, and even Nate (later “Bloody Nate” ), all from come, famously, from the 1830’s-1860’s. They were replaced in the late 1860’s through the end of the century with folks whose names told much more of their story without the reader having to open the book: Deadshot Dave, Deadwood Dick, Daring Dick the Apache Killer, Roaring Ralph Rockwood the Reckless Ranger, Calamity Jane, Edna the Girl Brigand and Hurricane Nell all appeared in the endless pages of the Dime-Novel, cranked out at furious rates for 40 years, changing the literary landscape of the West forever. The House of Beadle and Adams were that major force that produced this new variety of Western Hero, stripping away, for the most part, the philosophical reticence and even careful adventure of the earlier prototypes, leaving mostly bloody escapism and thrills. I wonder if this had anything to do with the familiarity of the event, or the ending of the Civil War, or the
ending of the last Native American resistance, or the more common nature of the westward expansion history, or even the possible thirst for more adventure once the frontier had been declared official closed by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1892.
A Very Short Look at American Western Literature:
1833. David Crockett, Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett. There were several books about Crockett’s adventures published in the early 1830’s; after his death at the Alamo in 1836 Crockett was lionized, and became the stuff of truth, lore and legend for 150 years.
1837. Nathan Slaughter, “Bloody Nate”, the hero of Robert Montgomery Bird’s Nick of the Woods, a hugely popular work enjoyed a large print run encompassing at least 24 American editions.
1841. First appearance of James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo in The Deerslayer.
1848+ Charles Webber, Texas ranger and passed minister, wrote (with difficulty) a number of westerns praised as authentic, including Jack Long, or a Shot in the Eye (1846) and Old Hicks the Guide (1848).
1850’s. Emerson Bennett, League of the Miamis, and The Prairie Flower
1850’s. Capt Mayne Reid busily wrote 90 books, including 12 Westerns from The Scalp Hunter (1851) to the Free Lances (1884) with 10 more Westerns in between.
1850’s. Kit Caron, real-life soldier and adventurer and mass murderer whose exploits were explored and exploded by Dr. DeWitt Peters (for one) in such works as The Life and Adventures of Kit Carson, Nestor of the Rocky Mountains (1858). (Yes Carson was important and yes he did great stuff with Kearny and Stinky Fremont, but it all gets covered over liked boiled glue with his so-called "campaign" against the Navajo Indians and their forced death march to Bosque Redondo. I think he died a miserable, stupid death with a Sam Houston hole in his belly on the floor of an army barracks. Good riddance.)
1870. Bret Harte’s Luck of the Roaring Camp.
1871. Mark Twain Roughing It.
1885. T. Roosevelt Hunting Trips of a Ranchman TR was among the earliest of cowboys and among the top percentage of teh top percent of the most privileged cowboys. Still in all he was a good writer, and one can't fault him for having money.
1887. Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, Buck Taylor, King of the Cowboys; or, Raiders and Rangers. Ingraham may well have written over 600 novels (including200 Buffalo Bill stories) under his own name and under the pseudonyms of Dr. Noel Dunbar, Dangerfield Burr, Major Henry B. Stoddard, Colonel Leon Lafitte, Frank Powell, Harry Dennies Perry, Midshipman Tom W. Hall, and Lieut. Preston Graham. This was a busy man.