The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1865-1896.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 26.
Now that the Civil War was over and done with, it was time for the US to move West and conquer whatever the hell we wanted to. Manifest Destiny, bitch!
Besides those non-monogamous Mormons out in Utah, the West was void of white people. 360,000 Native Americans made up the overwhelming majority of the West. With horses imported from Europe, the Natives were a force to be reckoned with. But in the thirty years that followed the initial Westward migration, the Indians would be all but wiped out by the whites’ guns, diseases, and the depleting bison population.
The US government thought the best way to take over the West was to pacify the Natives and made them sign treaties with each other. The most important treaties came at Fort Laramie in 1851 and at Fort Atkinson in 1853. The documents made boundaries and set up colonies. However, the Indians had no formal tribes or governments and the treaties were useless. Once the US army figured this out, they basically said ‘Oh fuck that’ and began to relocate the Indians into reservations.
African Americans made up 1/5 of the Army and were called ‘buffalo soldiers‘ by the Natives for uncanny resemblance of their hair to the buffalo’s pelt.
The unofficial American-Indian war began in Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864 when Colonel Chivington and his men massacred 400 Indians. In 1866, the Sioux killed 81 Americans in the Fetterman Massacre, which led to the government abandoning the Bozeman Trail and giving lots of land to the Sioux. But the Sioux weren’t appeased just yet.
Then in 1877, the fierce Nez Perce tribe of Oregon surrendered just a few miles away from Canadian freedom. Chief Joseph, their leader, had hoped to meet up with Sitting Bull, leader of the Sioux, in an unheard of tribal truce. The Apache warriors of Arizona also gave in to the US after their woman were exiled to Florida to live with retirees. The Apaches were led by Geronimo, the hater of Mexicans.
The buffalo beasts of the Wild once numbered 15 million, but had dwindled to just a few thousands because of Westward expansion. Helen Hunt Jackson addressed this and the Native Americans’ situation in her 1881 book A Century of Dishonor. She mailed it to every member of Congress. Many people wanted to treat the Indians nicely and let them choose to assimilate to white culture. Meanwhile, the Native American ‘Ghost Dance’ cult caught on like wildfire and wanted to do away with all whites.
Provoked by Ghost-Dancers, more Indians were massacred at the ‘Battle’ of Wounded Knee in 1890. The 1887 Dawes Severalty Act made native tribes legal but made them give up their land. It also gave 160 acres of dry, arid land to every Native American family. The Dawes Act struck down on Indian culture and made them resent the whites all the more.
Now that the Indians were gone, it was time for the whites to make themselves at home. Mining was the driving factor after gold was discovered in Comstock Lode, Nevada in 1859. The gold and silver would eventually run dry and super industrial machines would soon be needed. Silver became a large issue and politicians were elected as ‘Silver Senators’.
The West gave new roles to both men and women. Women mostly worked as hookers and ran boarding houses. The first state to allow women to vote was Wyoming in 1869. Men turned to driving cattle and most became cowboys. But after the devastating winter of 1886 and the invention of fencing, the trade of driving wilted away.
Farming, for some reason, also brought loads of people to the West. Passed by the Republican-majority Congress, the Homestead Act of 1862 guaranteed 160 of land for just $30 (about $630 today). After 5 years, the farmers actually gained ownership of the land! The only problem was that the land sucked… a lot. For the most part, the West was dry and there wasn’t a lot of water. Farming became back-breaking work.
Farmers learned to use the land to their advantage. They used animals to do most of work while using barbed wire to keep wayward cattle from eating their crops. Even so, most people bailed out on their land.
Now that the West was populated by cowboy and farmer alike, it was time for them to get together and ratified the Constitution! The Republican Congress helped this along when in 1889 and 1890, they ushered in 6 new states. Though the Oklahoma territory was promised to the Indians, we said ‘Oh fuck that’ once more and let in settlers. It was made a state in 1907.
The West was formally declared ‘conquered’ by the US Census Superintendent in 1890. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner was spurred to write a thesis on the West called ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History’, which stated the West made people more American– they were the sole deciders of their future. The West was glorious and full of opportunity. It lured immigrants to take up farming and whites to feel more entitled after defeating the Natives.
Let’s hop back over to farming for a second. The farms of yore were losing popularity. Farms run like a factory were becoming more and more profitable. Montgomery Ward published the first-ever catalog in 1872. Remember– there was no Amazon.com back then. New machines like the combine made farming faster and easier. Agriculture would become one of America’s pastimes.
But when things are good, something bad always happens and shit gets real. Since crops were being produced more than ever before, their price was driven down and farmers suffered. A nationwide deflation would take storm and farmers could no longer survive individually. Even worse, Mother Nature was working against them as well.
The farmers made up about 1/2 of the total population and had no unions to turn to. Their struggle would culminate into the Grange movement, first organized in 1867. It first began as a sort of fun house where farmers could enjoy themselves and learn. At nearly a million members, it only made sense for them to go into politics. Alas, many of the Granger laws were horribly written and they soon lost popularity.
Inspired by the Grange movement, the Farmers’ Alliance took hold in Texas in the late 1870s. Sadly they were pretty racist and tried to do too much too fast. They eventually evolved into the political People’s Party around the 1890s and would come to better be known as the Populists.
The Populists grew very popular among farmers in the West and in the South. They tried to include laborers in their fight following the 1893 Panic. Coxey, an Ohio businessman, led an army of 500,000 to Washington to demand for better unemployments programs. Eugene Debs, meanwhile, organized the Pullman Strike, which would face laborers against the US Army.
Both the plight of the farmers and the laborers were hot issues going into the election of 1896.
McKinley, the Republican candidate, had the great fundraiser Marcus Hanna on his side. They would outspend the Democratic/Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan $16 million to $1 million. McKinley believed strongly in the trickle-down method, which preached that the laborers would flourish if business flourished.
The Democrats were scared silly going into their convention in Chicago. William J.B. stepped up and entered the history with his ‘Cross of Gold‘ speech. His angelic voice demanded that silver become inflated since gold was crucifying mankind. He took the Dems by storm and made silver the big-ticket issue. The Republicans charged that his silver plan was one from hell and that to save America, they had to stop Bryan.
In one of the closest elections, McKinley edged out Bryan by winning over the East. This marked the first and only time the farmers almost won the White House. Their population was lowering and soon those in the cities would rule. This also paved the way for 16 years of Republican rule.
McKinley raised the tariff and soon crop prices rose too. The silverites were then silenced once and for all when in 1900, the Gold Standard Act was passed and ensured gold could be redeemable as paper currency.