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A Most Unexpected History of Early America

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 1


A Most Unexpected History of Early America: Horses, Heroes and Hell Raisers


By: J. Marlando


I have been a history buff for a very long time now. For one thing, I believe that history is a great teacher…or should be. It seems so apparent, however, that the world doesn’t learn from its own past. Our so-called civilized species is still following its quests for power and money but this article in not a commentary on our faults and frailties as a people. If you will, this narrative sets out to tap into the soul of the nation. What I am speaking of however, starts before the Second Age of Industry and leads us into those times when social-Darwinism swept into the bloodstream of the land and its inhabitants. We begin when wildwoods grew and deer and buffalo ran wild, before the land was cluttered with our kind’s blind ambitions and liberty became confused with license.

There are after all other histories that are often hidden beneath the smug, arrogance of what is so often called progression; histories of freedom and other joys of humanity. There has never been a perfect time of course. There have always been the tangled wings of uncertainty; the unfolding of Clint Eastwood’s good, bad and ugly. Yet, once upon a time, there were the aspects of unity and intuition that drove the human spirit. It is those times that I will strive to kindle in the mind’s eye of the reader before unfolding the darker side of our past.

The article promises not only to make you think but also to feel; it is the story of a people, called “us,” and our most unexpected history.  

The Cheyenne Prophesy


Every culture has its prophets and so it is was with the ancient Cheyenne. The holy man’s name was Sweet Medicine and he made the warning that strangers called “Earth Men” would one day appear among them; they would be light skinned and speak an unknown tongue. And with them they would bring a strange animal that would change the Cheyenne way of life forever.

In 1680 that prophesy was fulfilled: The Pueblo Indians attacked the Spanish settlers in Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico (Today’s Santa Fe New Mexico) and killed 400 men, women and children while driving 2000 more out of their provinces. The trouble had been brewing for a very long time.

Back in 1598 Jun de Onate

led 129 soldiers, 10 Franciscan Catholic priests; men, women, children, slaves and servants (along with livestock) into the Rio Grande valley, the dwelling place for around 40,000 Pueblo Indians at the time. The Indians didn’t resist the occupation but when the Spanish began wanting to rule, there was a revolt at Acoma Pueblo. In response, the Spanish killed and enslaved hundreds of Indians cutting off a foot of 24 of them. Quite suddenly the Indians feared the Spanish and their stark cruelty. At the same time, the Spanish leadership was attempting to have their “missionaries” Christianize them.

The Pueblo Indians were forced into attending Mass and maintaining a public veneer of Catholicism; they were forbidden to do their own traditional (religious) dances or spiritual rituals. At the same time, the missionaries began to take their holy masks; prayer sticks and any other non-Catholic symbol, burning them.

There were a few exceptions to the Spanish religious arrogance, however. For example, not every Spanish official felt this was just. In fact, Nicolas de Aquilar protested the Franciscans power to force the Indians from their own beliefs, an honorable protest but he was tried by the inquisition, charged with heresy.

Then in 1675, five years before the revolt, the then Governor Juan Trevino ordered the arrest of seven Pueblo medicine men accusing them of “sorcery.” Three were sentenced to death and murdered, while the forth committed suicide. When the news reached the Pueblo leaders, they organized their warriors and moved against Santa Fe calling for the release of the Indians held prisoners there. Most of the Spanish soldiers were away at that time so the prisoners were released. Among those prisoners was Ohkay Owinngeh

known as Pope in Spanish. Pope would eventually lead a vicious attack on the Spanish while headquartering in a pueblo like this:

It should be noted that by the time the Pueblo revolt took place, the Pueblos had been reduced to only around 15,000 people. They had died from the ruthless treatment they had received from the missionaries and soldiers and from the diseases that the strangers had transported to their land. For purposes here, however, what is important to note is that after the revolt the ancient Cheyenne prophecy came true. The horse became part of not only the Cheyenne’s life style but eventually spread across the land to all the tribes which changed their cultures forever.

Actually a few horses had been stolen from the Spanish by adventurous Indians before the revolt but after the revolt and by the 1690s, the horse had reached the great Texas plains and by 1700 both the Kiowa and Comanche were using horses in what is today the state of Colorado.

What did the Indians think of their horses? I believe that this is best summarized by a Crow chief named Plenty-Coups 

who said:

“My horse fights with me and fasts with me, because if he is to carry me in

battle he must know my heart, and I must know his or we shall never become

brothers. I have been told that the white man, who is almost a god, and yet a

great fool, does not believe that the horse has a spirit. This cannot be true. I have

many times seen my horse’s soul in his eyes."

Saints, Slaves and other Servants

For the European the 1600s had begun the precarious Age of Enlightenment; a time when religious belief was being challenged by scientific reasoning as a century awakened to Galileo and Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes’ godless worldview became in sight of the intellectuals of the times.  And, many Europeans coming to America brought those same views with them which included that animals were soulless; more machine-like than anything truly conscious as superior humans were said to be. Descartes had even suggested that animals felt no emotions and no pain so the practice of working and beating farm animals to death became common amidst the European farmers and so the “white” settlers.

The Indians could not comprehend taking the spirit out of nature, however. After all, it was the spiritual that made up their reality. Indeed, to the Indian, animals were kindred spirits as told us in this Sioux proverb: “With all things and in all things, we are relatives” while an Arapaho said this: “All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.”

In any case, by the later 1700s Spain had sent Father Junipero Serra

up the coast of California to create settlements before the Russians or British had time to inhabit the region. The journey that Father Serra was to encounter was called a “sacred expedition” by church authority. And he was the right man for such a destiny; a religious fanatic who scourged his own flesh in atonement for the sins of others. A demonstrating of a Jesus Complex in the extreme!

As he traveled north from Mexico City and whenever he saw Indians he would ring a small bell attracting them so he could preach the gospel to the “heathen” along his way. In time, Father Serra and his successors had built twenty missions along California’s coast including San Diego

San Gabriel
San Luis Obispo
San Antonio de Padua
San Jose and San Francisco de Asis
The California tribal peoples like the Ipais, Salinans, and Chumash were not easy converts, however. Nevertheless, the Church fathers had a solution to assist bringing them to Christ: They sent soldiers to round them up and force them into the missions to do what they were told. Any Indian that ran away was hunted down and flogged.

There were some who did escape though and most of them fled to the hills to join the Yokuts

and other hunting tribes who would often raid the mission, steal the horses, destroy the crops and sometimes kill the priests. After all, what the Indian wanted from the white man occupying his land was to be left alone and to his own ways. This simple quest was never to be granted, however, because all organized religion assumes exclusivity in righteousness and that the pathway to God is through the church’s (temple’s or mosque’s) doors. This was as true back then as it is today.

As all this was going on in the far west, many of the eastern colonies were becoming populated with white servants and/or black slaves. A structure of wealthy elitism had been forming for a century that was destined to unfold into America’s political arena. And, the Declaration of Independence was, as said, just around the corner at the time. In the meantime, profiteers were entering those elite circles of powerful Americans through human trade.

The poverty in European countries was wide spread so a great many people wanted to come to America to better their lives. There were those ready to take advantage of the situation and so a deal was struck: The poor traveler was to gain passage by signing a contract to work for a master after arriving for five to seven years. Once an impoverished person had agreed, they were often imprisoned to keep them from changing their minds. Also, many white-poor were simply kidnapped adding to the profits for shipping them.

The trip took between eight and twelve weeks to reach American ports and the white servants were packed into the filthy conditions of the ships ever as tightly as the slave ships were packed with blacks. On one voyage 46 of 101 passengers died of starvation during a lasting storm and on another 32 children died of hunger and were tossed overboard.

When the white servants arrived they had already made profits for ship captains and other merchants and would serve their masters for at least five years after that. The women were often raped

and even children were beaten for any insubordination or…laziness. And, soon enough, laws were passed in such places as Virginia to severely punish servants or slaves who rebelled.

Around April of 1775 Thomas Jefferson

was rooming in Philadelphia’s Indian Queen Tavern where he would pen the Declaration of Independence. While the pursuit of happiness and promise of equality did not refer to Indians, blacks, servants, slaves or women, the document’s second paragraph remains the most humane and powerfully written declaration on the planet; a declaration that should rule world around!

The Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776. The actual signing would not take place for a few days later.

After five years of fighting the British surrendered to the United States in 1781.

In 1787 the Constitution of the United States was approved and the law of the land had been framed to assure government did not become tyrannical.

In 1789 Congress created 12 constitutional changes that would become America’s Bill of Rights.   

By the ending years of the 1700s the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to Romanticism. Romanticism cannot be thought of as being an absolute break from the Enlightenment however. Romanticism held on to the practical and scientific but added the importance of feelings and passions as a source for knowing. While the Enlightenment attempted to make objectivity the supreme source of knowledge, the Romantic were grounded in the subjective as being ever as authentic. In fact, the philosopher Kant refused the common argument against the subjective. He said: “But if you say we can never know the noumental world (things distinct from the material world), since we can only work within the framework of our physical senses, you set a limit to the possibility of knowledge.”

There was a returning to the spiritual as people continued into the 1800s. This would eventually lead back to the Native American’s belief in the unity of all things and open the pathways to the transcendentalism of men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau. In poetic terms, by the 1800s the soul had been returned to the horse and to the spirit of the sea.

Expansionism and other Adventures

Ironically Tom Jefferson never ventured more than fifty miles west of his home in Virginia but he was intrigued by the west and had even tried to organize expeditions to cross the continent before his presidency.

He was elected president in 1801, becoming the 3rd president of the United States. At the time of his presidency the United States ended at the Mississippi

Britain still occupied Canada and was claiming the Oregon Country that spread from the Rockies to the Pacific and north from Spanish California to Russian Alaska. Spain claimed the rest of the land that stretched from the Mississippi to the Rio Grande. To make matters worse, Jefferson learned the Spain had ceded to France all of the “Louisiana” land flowing north and west from New Orleans all the way to the Rockies. Napoleon, at the time, certainly planned on creating himself a new empire that would stretch from New Orleans to the Caribbean so the United States was a small land owner on the continent called America.

Jefferson sent diplomats to Paris hoping to purchase New Orleans while, at the same time, he persuaded Congress to support an expedition into the territories in search of a route between the Mississippi and the Pacific before the British accomplished that same goal. Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis to lead the adventure, a skilled hunter and amateur scientist. Lewis picked his old army commander

William Clark to accompany him on the vast journey.


The expedition would include Lewis and Clark and forty-five others including six soldiers and a slave that belonged to William Clark.

It was during this time—1803—that Lewis was in Washington to learn some positive news: The French Army had been defeated in Haiti so Napoleon’s ambition to rule a new, vast empire was lost. Since Napoleon hated the English he decided to sell New Orleans to the United States. His provisions were even better news to Jefferson: Napoleon would sell only if the United States bought all of the Louisiana Territory. Jefferson was delighted and purchased the 800,000 square miles for $15 million

This virtually changed the reasons for Louis and Clark expedition—they were now exploring America’s new land as they head into the unknown wilds of the west.

During the earlier part of the journey discipline became a problem—one man was giving 50 lashes for breaking into the whiskey supply and another 75 lashed for dropping off to sleep while on guard. Surprisingly, however, the Indians along their way were friendly and peaceful. That is until they reached the Bad River territory which is now South Dakota. The Lakota Indians were allies of the British Northwest Company and made it their business to stop any trapper from St Louis who attempted to venture past their villages.

Part of Lewis and Clark’s job was to convince the Lakota tribes to make a new agreement with the Americans and start permitting American trappers to enter and exit their land peacefully.

In order to be more persuasive they gathered some chiefs and gave them whiskey to drink. The friendly gesture back-fired: The chiefs began making demands for supplies and threatened to attack if they weren’t handed over. Clark drew his sword inspiring a hundred warriors to ready their bows and arrows.

Aferwards, the chiefs warned that they would have them all killed. Clark argued that he was sent by the Great Father, the president of the United States, and that if he harmed them, the Great White Father would destroy them all. The expedition finally continued on without serious mishap but Clark reported that until American power could “be brought to bear on them” they would remain the pirates of the Missouri.

Actually the Lakota Indians were the exceptions but of course they had been well indoctrinated and rewarded by the English. Other tribes along their way were gracious and friendly like the Mandan Indians

who invited the Lewis Clark party to come to their village and dance. So 15 members, taking a fiddle, tambourine and horn went to the village to dance. This pleased the villagers very much as dancing was very significant to them and they gifted their white guests with corn and buffalo robes.

There were of course hardships and in fact, by the time they had gone around half way to the Pacific there remained only 33 members that included a French trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau

who became Lewis and Clarks’ translator. Also traveling with them was Toussaint’s sixteen year old Shoshone wife whose name was Sacagawea.

By this time the snow covered peaks of the Rockies were in sight.


After 16 long months of travel the idea of a waterway to the Pacific had gone by the wayside and, in fact, the Lewis and Clark explorers were by then doubting if they would even make it to the ocean. The Shoshone Indians told them of a steep trail that they used to come east for buffalo hunting; a thickly timbered trail with little game. Lewis and Clark decided to risk it.

It was a bitter cold, windy day when Clark and an advanced party of six men started up the trail. Soon enough they were half starving but finally shot and ate a coyote. Later they would kill and eat their horses and finally stumble down the mountain, as Geoffrey C. Ward says, more dead than alive. 

After 11 days they were found by the Nez Perce who had never seen white men before. Without hesitation they fed the strangers dried salmon and camas plant to eat assuring them that they could indeed reach the ocean from their territory. The chiefs gave the white men permission to cut down trees to make canoes for their journey. Here the famous Chief Joseph is seen with his family. PIX(Clark would never forget their generosity and in 1855 the Nez Perce were given a treaty that promised the tribe 7,5 million acres in their ancestral lands and the right to hunt and fish in lands ceded by the government. In spite of the treaty, in1877 the U.S. Army gave orders for the Nez Perce to give up their lands in the Pacific Northwest. What was to be called the Nez Perce War broke out and after much bloodshed the Indians were forced off their land, in direct opposition to their treaty, and sent to a reservation in Idaho).

The last Indian War would take place in 1890: The Massacre at Wounded Knee.

By 1912 the United States consisted of the 48 States—Hawaii and Alaska would not enter the union until 1959.

Stepping back into time, however, the expansionism of the 1800s belonged first to the mountain men and secondly to the settlers. We will talk about both in the next section.

                                                                     PART TWO

In Ancient times there were wild horses in North America but they disappeared some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago when the Wooly Mammoth did. They were not reintroduced on the continent until the early 1500s by Spanish Conquistadors:


Sometimes the Spanish horses would wonder off or somehow be lost but also the Navajos would steal them as prize possessions for themselves or for bargaining and trading with other tribes. Slowly the “American” horse population began to grow as wild horses began to increase.. Within 150 years of the first colonizers millions of wild horses were running free on the plains.


By the 1800s horses were collected for the U.S. Military and by ranchers for riding and other uses. By then cross breeding had created American breeds but before the calloused killing off of the buffalo (American bison), horses were shot down by the millions by feuding ranchers over land rights and so forth.        

As an aside, it is said that there are over 15,000 wild horses especially roaming Wyoming, Colorado and Oregon but some years ago I saw mustangs running free in the distance of Red Rock Canyon only a few miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

In any case, by the later 1700s and early 1800s horses had become a vital factor in both country and city life in America; to the wagon trains crossing the plains heading west and to the Native American cultures that stretched from the Great Plains to the Sea.

Among the first white folks that found their way across the plains to great forestlands were the mountain men; the trappers of old. They were indeed the first explorers of lands untraveled and unseen except by Native Americans and the first map makers of the uncharted lands.

By the 1800s the face of the entire continent was in transition and, although the Indians or the White had not comprehension of it, the entire wilderness called the West was in the infancy of being tamed.                                          

Taming A Wilderness


It took a certain type to be a mountain man; a man that didn’t mind being alone in nature although, in actuality, few lived in isolation. Indeed, if it were not for the Indians assisting them and welcoming them into their villages most would not have made it. Indeed, men like Joe Meek

  married Indian women. Joe’s first wife was Umentucken (in English, Mountain Lamb) said to be unusually beautiful She was killed in a fight with the Bannocks. Afterwards Joe married a Nez Perce woman but she left him for drinking too much. He married another Nez Perce woman and she stayed with him for the rest of his life giving him eight children.

Meek was a beaver hunter as all mountain men were including other famous trappers such as Jim Bridger

and Jim Beckwourth
who had once been mauled by a grizzly bear. All those who lived the life were a tough, hardy breed, however. And, once a year their “hardiness” was demonstrated at the Rendezvous that occurred once a year—a time when the beaver men and other trappers met to trade their furs for tobacco, hardtack, powder, lead and whiskey. There were also lots of hard drinking at the Rendezvous’ and lots of games and contests like wrestling matches, knife and ax throwing contests; lots of yarn telling and dancing.

One big Rendezvous was located where the future states of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah meet. At the time this was stark wilderness without roads that was kind of centrally located for the incoming mountain men. This, incidentally, was the first place in the west where a real western saloon was built.

The Saloon was called Brown’s Hole built by a trapper by the name of Brown. But do not imagine a lone building out in the sticks, it was the largest settlement in the west and during Rendezvous, as Richard Erdoes tells us, hosted up to five thousand “ traders, trappers, Indians, coureurs de bois, lone missionaries, squaw men and famous path finders such as Jedediah Smith…”

This was around 1812 by 1840s the beaver had almost been trapped out but also the market for pelts fell—the stylish beaver hats had gone out of style with gentlemen suddenly preferring the high silk hats. As a result the mountain men began changing careers. Jim Bridger began guiding wagon trains while Jim Beckwourth rode off to the California Mountains to become a horse thief.

In the meantime, the United States kept expanding and becoming a strong and powerful government.  By the time of Brown’s Hole in the far west, James Madison

was president. As early as this period was in the forming of America there were already vast gaps being deepened between the wealthy and the impoverished American citizen! As Howard Zinn points out: “When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.”

At this same time, the slave trade was booming especially in the South. Black women were subject to sexual coercions by owners while black men

were often horsewhipped for the slightest infractions. Certainly there were exceptions to this but in general, the black slave was treated as subhuman so in reality the Constitution had been a compromise. Turning to Zinn again he says: “The Constitution was a compromise between slaveholding interests of the South and moneyed interests on the North. For the purpose of uniting the thirteen states into one great market for commerce, the northern delegates wanted laws regulating interstate commerce and urged that such laws require only a majority of Congress to pass. The South agreed to this, in return for allowing the trade in slaves to continue for twenty years before being outlawed.”

The vast majority of Americans could not even read at the time and so their interests were not in politics, which they didn’t understand anyway. The interest of a great many was to move out west to farm and make a life for themselves. Thus, in 1836 the first wagon began the journey across the plains following the old trapper’s route called the Oregon (Oregon/California) trail.


Books and modern movies have promoted the idea that the wagon trains were in constant danger from hostile Indians but this is, in the least, an exaggeration: Whites had always been far more dangerous to the Native Americans at least in most instances. For example, an account is given about a cow wandering off from a wagon train that was found by Sioux and eaten in their village. When this was discovered by the Train Master—one Lieutenant Gratten—he formed a group of armed men and rode into the Sioux village. When the Sioux realized what they had done, they promptly offered a horse in return but that was not good enough for the troops. Gratten ordered his men to fire on the tribe. Because the Indians realized they had made a mistake, the chief ordered his warriors not to fight or fire back. An honor was at stake but Gratten is known to have shot the Chief. This began the Sioux wars in 1854 which would not end until 1890. (As an aside, the Indians wars were started by the Puritans and other whites against the Pequots in 1636.

The Pequots occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. Anyway, an Indian killed a known white trouble-maker and that murder was used to incite a war by Governor Winthrop to take over the Indian’s island. The English killed Indians sending some into the woods to hide. When the Pequots hid, they burned their villages. The justification for the murders and other atrocities against the Indians had been justified by citing from Romans 13:2: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive of themselves damnation.” The Indian wars began by this Puritan logic, the Biblical excuse for stealing land in the name of righteousness).

In any case, the Oregon Trail became the route between the 1840s into 1879/70 for 400,000 settlers, rancher, farmers, gold seekers and businessmen (with their families) on the great migrations west. This same trail was used by the Mormons except once in Fort Bridger, they turned south as shown here 

while the rest continued North West.

In view of all of this, the rapid growth of the American West had been seeded by the mountain men and harvested by the hundreds of thousands of settlers that would follow. By the 1890s, the old Wild West had been tamed!

Cattle, Women and War

The Oregon Trail was a difficult and challenging 2,170 mile route starting at the Missouri and ending in Oregon and California. There was nearly always death, accidents and illness along the way. Most people traveled in 4’ X 10’ wagons

loaded with around 1000 pounds of food plus furniture and personal belongings. Overloads were common so many people had to throw their belongings off their wagons to accommodate their horses, mules or oxen pilling them or to protect their axles from breaking. Cholera was an almost constant danger Nevertheless by the time those migrations were over, a half million people had been across the land to begin their lives on the frontier.

The Oregon Trail was indeed a difficult and dangerous challenge and yes, often subject to attacks by Indians after the Sioux wars had begun. But that the wagon trains were forced to circle to protect themselves from constant attacks is simply not true. The wagons circled primarily to create a natural barrier to keep their livestock from running off.


At this juncture of our story, we arrive at an extremely interesting observation of American history. Just briefly, it is well know that the history of women in so-called civilization is a long story of subordination and mistreatment by a male-ruled world. Even in the new world women had been made secondary, even being excluded from the all “men” are born equal rights declaration by the forefathers. A different view occurred on the old Oregon Trail, however.


The men noticed that their wives and daughter, sisters and mothers toiled and often fought

alongside of them. And, once settled the women worked side by side with the men to build their futures and more, they bore children along the way.

It was on the American frontier that women were first put on pedestals by men—it was on the frontier that hitting a woman became taboo; a cowardly act. In fact, during the 1860s Wyoming was known to be the toughest and yes, most lawless of all the lands; a man’s world where brute force ruled among the settlers and guns settled most arguments. This was a place where male ranchers, male farmers and businessmen outnumbered women by 6 to 1. Yet, Wyoming was the first to recognize the importance and equality of women. In fact, all Wyoming women over 21 were granted the vote, the right to serve on juries and more, to own her own property and if she worked, to be paid the same scale as any male in her same profession such as teaching.

These men of the old frontiering towns were first to love and cherish their daughters as they did their sons, and woe to any man who harmed one of them or, for that matter, mistreated any woman.

Utah would become the second territory to give women the vote with the rest of the country being a long time in following those states that gave equality to their women citizens

a hallmark of progression to say the least.

Cattle had become big business in Wyoming territory and other western lands by the 1850s but the Texas cowboy and his longhorns represented some of the largest herds on the map and Texas had become a state in 1845. By 1853, however, Texas cattle were being driven into Missouri

Missouri did not welcome longhorns because they carried ticks that gave other breeds of cattle illnesses. This problem along with cattle thieves along the trails were major challenge for Texas ranchers. And, as if there weren’t enough problems for the Texan drivers, the Civil War came along making market access even more difficult to reach. Most Texans saw the war effort as being more important than their own beeves so the Texas Brigade
  was quickly formed to fight for the South.

By then an apparent elitism ruled the North as well as the South: Girl sewers in New York for example, earned $3.00 per week for working six in the morning until midnight They were charged for the needle and thread they used. If men or women went on strike the federal troops were sent in to force workers to break the strike. Government was obviously on the side of big business. Then the war came

Rich young men could buy themselves out of the draft or replace themselves with a substitute.  The inequity spoke loud and clear…Money talked in the capitalistic North.

At the same time in the South, there was also conflict between capital and labor, rich and poor. Only a few thousand families made up the southern elite earning around $50 million a year while over 600.000 impoverished people earned only $10 million more than that…altogether. The distribution of wealth, North and South, created a very wide gap between the few haves and the many have-nots.

As news of the war spoke so loudly that most of the citizens—military and civilians—could not hear Congress passing laws in favor of big business and Lincoln signing them into law like 1861 Tariff making foreign good more expensive and permitting U.S. manufacturers to raise their prices and force the American consumer to pay more. Then in the following year came the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act gave 160 acres of publicly owned property to anyone who would cultivate the land for five years. However anyone could purchase a homestead at $1.25 an acre.

Very few poor folks could raise $200 dollars so (mostly) wealthy speculators moved in. At the same time Congress and the president was giving…yes giving over 100 million acres to the railroads.  And, it was also during the Civil War years that government set up a national bank, going into partnership with banking interests…while guaranteeing their profits.

While the term was not yet conceived, Darwinistic-capitalism was on the business menu of the day; a system that would ribbon into the bloodstream of modernism and eventually produce a growing population of the homeless and hungry spreading like weeds in the flowering meadows of what is known to be the richest country on the face of the earth.

At the end of the Civil War 750,000 soldiers had died as did an untold number of civilians.

Trains and Trends


While slavery was virtually over after the Civil war, many ex-slaves continued working for their “masters” for slave labor paydays or even for the room board and clothing they had worked for before. Racial hatred inspired the Ku, Klux, Klan in the late 1860s an army of white supremacists clad in silly costumes and cruel ignorance

The KKK beat and/or lynched black people (called colored at the time) at will and burned their homes and their churches. Indeed, the last known lynching didn’t occur in the U.S. until 1952 and there still exists around 10, 000 Ku Klux Klan fanatics in our own times.

Racism and sexism prevailed far into the 20th century and, for that matter, persists in many instances even into the 21st century. For purposes here, all we need to know, however, is that a form of slavery continued forward in all kinds of guises after the Civil War—low paying jobs, crop sharing, second-rating as citizens, even as human beings, segregation in schools and so forth until the Equal Rights movement of the 1960s. Back in the post-war years of the 1860s, however many blacks moved West and North for better treatment and more freedom but the west, in many instances, was far more open to blacks than the North was: black cowboys

were paid an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work and treated without prejudice in most places and especially in the cattle towns. Indeed, some black cowboys even made a positive mark in history for themselves like the famous Nat Love, seen here
  who became a respected and honored cowboy in Texas after being born a slave in Tennessee. Another famous man who also happened to be black was Bill Pickett, pictured here
  who invented bulldogging on his horse, Spradley. Songs were even written about this cowboy:

Old Bill Pickett’s gone away

Over the great divide

To the place where all the preachers say

Both saint and sinner abide

If they check his brand like I think they will

It’s a runnin’ hoss they’ll give to Bill

Some good wild steer ‘till he gets his fill

And a great big crowd to watch him ride…

With the above in mind, the old Chisholm Trail opened after the war so ranchers could drive their cattle to Kansas railheads. In 1867 the first herd moved out of O.W. Wheeler’s ranch to deliver some 2,400 steers to Abilene. In Texas those beeves were only worth $4.00 a head but the North and East was paying $40.00 a head and thanks to the stockyards and

railroads, the cattle could be transported to those far-away distances

Then at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory the Central and Pacific railroad was connected creating the First Transcontinental Railroad crossing the United States.

This 1969 accomplishment changed the destiny of the country, creating a national cohesiveness from, if you will, sea to shining sea. Indeed, the stagecoach PIC traveled around 5 miles per hour and at top speed in flat terrain could cover as much as 70 miles in a day. When the railroads were connected at Promontory, it was possible to travel by train from San Francisco to New York in as little as ten days. The wheels of modernization had begun to turn.

The cornerstone of that modernization was placed by government nepotism and the greed of a few men desiring to build empires…for themselves. As Zinn tells us, “Between the Civil War and 1900, steam and electricity replaced human muscle, iron replaced wood, and steel replaced iron…by 1900 there were 193,000 miles of railroad. The telephone, the typewriter, and the adding machine speeded up the work of business.”

Certainly there were some rags to riches stories during those times but mostly the men who built America’s big industries were born into money and so power. For example, as Zinn also says, “The first transcontinental railroad was built with blood, sweat, politics and thievery, out of the meeting of the Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. The Central started on the West Coast going east, it spent $200,000 in Washington bribes to get 9 million acres of free land and $24 million in bonds, and paid $79 million, on overpayments of $36 million, to a construction company which was its own. The construction was done by three thousand Irish and ten thousand Chinese, over a period of four years, working for one or two dollars a day.”

The great industrial giants, banking and government were the sources of big business enterprises that created the elitism of the times. The biggest names such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould and James Mellon had all bought their ways out of the Civil War and Morgan had even profited from it in a most devious way: He bought 5,000 rifles from an army arsenal for $3.50 a piece (using daddy’s money) and sold them in the field for $22 dollar apiece. The problem was those rifles were defective and shot off the thumbs of soldiers. Nevertheless, a federal judge upheld the deal.

Nepotism and Narcissism became the catalyst for the second Industrial Age and those two tyrants would soon enough be made invisible by early social engineers who would romanticize the history of a nation boasting freedom, individualism and opportunity for all.

The Unfolding of Modernism: Coal and Coalitions

Dec 29, 1890 marks the end of the old, American frontier. This is the date when the Lakota Sioux slaughter occurred to end the 400 year war with the Native Americans. Leaving the treaty by the wayside, the 7th Calvary surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss guns

The story goes that an accidental shot was fired to start the bloodshed but if that was actually true we will never know but the result was that the Calvary opened fire from all sides killing men, women and children where an estimated 300 Indians died and 25 troopers. (Twenty troopers were awarded the Medal of Honor for that day’s work). In the end the Indians were given an undignified mass grave as seen here

The gates of modernism had been opened.

In 1892 Ellis Island was opened with a young girl by the name of Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland. 700 immigrants arrived that opening day but millions would follow.

America in its growing years had made a great many mistakes, had faltered in it ideals of individual freedoms and the promises made in the Declaration of Independence, a far more important document to the average person than the Constitution which is, as someone once said, is only what the judges say that it is. But beneath it all a great spirit of Americanism prevailed, in the least, as a yearning for justice, freedom and, if you will, fair play. Business, banking and manufacturing during the last decade of the 1800s became indecently self-serving, however. As a result the gap between the haves and have-nots winded all the more. But the greatest statement of U.S. aggression was the ambitious pursuit of the otherwise senseless Spanish/American War.

In 1887, Theodore Roosevelt 

wrote to a friend, saying, “…I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one…” Many business minds agreed with him but, as always, before a Democracy can go to war, the government desires the people to support it. Randolph Hearst
the wealthy newspaper and magazine mogul was the perfect choice to create fear and hatred of Spain in the people so Hearst sent the famous and beloved artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to “get sketches of the insurgents fighting for independence from Spain.”

Remington sent a telegram to Hearst saying there was no warring to sketch. Hearst replied with this message: “You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war.”

By the time the general American public was fed the stories of the little guy (Cuba) having his freedom usurped by big Spain the recruiting offices were swamped with American men wanting to give the Cuban’s freedom. And then, in 1898 the U.S. Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor was blown up, losing 268 men. Americans never take an attack on our Navy boys lightly so somewhere between Hearst's propaganda and the Maine incident, President McKinley began (reluctantly) pushing for war.

On March27th, 1898 McKinley presented an ultimatum to Spain. On April 11, McKinley asked Congress for war. American Troops moved into Cuba shortly thereafter.

After the war that had expanded into the Philippines American business interests began taking over railroads, mine and sugar enterprises; United Fruit purchased purchases 1,900,000 acres of land for around 20 cents and acre. Most of Cuban minerals fell to the hands of Bethlehem Steel. At the same time, Spain turned over to the United States, Quam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in exchange for$20 million dollars.

The “victory” gave the U.S.A. a new world status as a super power; a warrior nation no longer a beacon in the world’s window for peace, freedom and opportunity; a new imperialism had been born and to show it off,  Teddy Roosevelt then president had the Navy build eleven new battleships between 1904 and 1907. After completion they became known as the Great White Fleet

The fleet, an obvious showing of power and wealth, went around the world
  On their return the white beauties were painted gray.

During this time of “carrying a big stick” the poor were getting poorer and the rich richer. By the turn of the century unions began forming which were highly disliked by business then and are still condemned in some circles today. For one thing the earlier unions did have their affiliations to the communists. Nevertheless, had industry treated workers even fairly unionization would not have been necessitated. As it was, it wasn’t only men and women but 284,000 children being overworked and underpaid in mines, mills and factories. 


In regard to the above a report in 1914 said 35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 700,000 injured. At the same time forty-four American families making $1 million or more equaled 100,000 families earning $500 a year. This was also the year of the Ludlow Massacre.”

In April of 1914 11,000 miners in southern Colorado worked for Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation owned by the Rockefellers. (I know the coal industry well as I was raised in coal camps with a father who was a miner).

Thanks to a prompting by Mother Jones, a union advocate, a strike was called. As a result the miners were kicked out of the shanties. They weren’t homeless for long, the United Mine Workers Union help to set up tents on a nearby hill and the strike continued.

The gunman hired by Rockefeller interests raided the tent colony with Gatling guns. The miners held on asking for a raise in pay, and eight hour work days.  When the mine owners and the Gatling guns failed to stop the strike the National Guard was called out.

When the miners saw the Guard they felt relieved. the National Guard would uphold justice, would they not?

Soon two National Guard Companies were stationed overlooking the tent colony where a thousand men, women and children were living on the Ludlow hillside. Then, on April 20th a machine gun attack began on the tent population. The miners had no way of knowing the wages for the National Guard were being paid for by no one other than Rockefeller. That night the Guard snuck through the darkness to set fire to the tents.  The next morning the charred bodies of eleven children and two women were found.

Only four years later we would be fighting in World War I and the rest is history.




There is an old saying that tells us that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  People, by and large, are selfish and self-serving at the core level of life and living it. Governments are merely a collection of people and people have frailties, faults and fears. This is why the Congress and the Senate were never meant to be  lifetime career opportunities; they were not meant to turn themselves into  good-old-boy fraternities! They were meant to be a representation of and for the people, but Instead they have a created a boomerang effect. That is, they have become, by and large, self-serving insitutions. For only one example, we Americans are told that no one is above the law. Congress members in many instances not subject to the same laws that the rest of us are. For only one excample, they have the right to buy stock (for themselves) with insider's information. This is clearly unjust! Thus, no one should serve in the Congress or the Senate for more than three terms. Our forefathers would certainly agree and this should be put to vote!

While it is true that our founding fathers were, themselves, elitists they also had both empathy and understanding of the common person. This was made clear in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence; no doubt the most important paragraph in all history:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If only this much became the focus of government we would quickly become the example of justice and freedom in the world; we would excel as the peacemakers and yes, the good Samarians even in the face of world hypocrisies, tyrannies and fanaticism. This effort does not mean that we would become passive to aggressions or weak in the face of adversity. It means that we would stand firm on the principles of humaneness and compassion even in the wake of cruel and heinous acts of others. (Certainly the unfeeling madness behind such acts as the 911 murder spree would be responded to with vengeance. But, even in those extreme circumstances, our motives would remain consistent in the desire to deconstruction all hegemonism; the great destroyer of human will and freedom).

As this article has shown, we—as a country—have not been the ultimate example of the righteousness we typically like to mirror but our original ideals ground us in the possibilities of becoming the light in the window for the rest of the world…if…we choose to live by those ideals as opposed to merely preaching them.

It is simply (and obviously) time we paid attention not only to our own history but the entire history of war-mongering callous civilization; it is simply time to understand that most suffering in the world is man-made and not the misfortunes of nature. For example, nearly all hunger is a choice of militancy and/or politics and not drought, storm or flood. What we need is greater consciousness of the sick and helpless wandering about in our own society; to walk the Christianity that we so loudly talk as a people or to practice the principles of simple humaneness. How can so many children be going to bed hungry at night in the wealthiest country in the world?

What the world needs now is what that old 60’s song told us is love, sweet love and a leader-nation in making the world a better, safer and happier place to be. That nation was created in 1776 or at least the possibility of being that nation was. But governments like heartfelt charities that start with the best intentions, slowly turn inward toward self-service and self- enhancement. This has been the case since the old god/kings that inspired demagoguery to rule from one generation to the next into our own times. We are better than this and we can have a better world…if we really want it.  

References and suggested further reading:

Brinkley, Alan * The Unfinished Nation *Alfred A Knopf

Erdoes, Richard * Saloons of the Old West *Gramercy Books

Phillips, Lance * Yonder Comes the Trains * Galahad Books

Tannahill, Reay * Sex In History *Stein and Day

Raphael, Ray * Founding Myths * The New Press

Ward, Geoffrey C. * The West * Little Brown and Company

Zinn, Howard * A People’s History of the United States * HarperPerennial

Howard Ziinn's A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present
Amazon Price: $19.99 $7.94 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 17, 2013)
Even if you've read 100 American history books--you have not read American history if you haven't read: A People's History of the United States--A must have book for every home library


Apr 23, 2013 11:31am
Thank you for a great historical article. Thumbs up!
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