The first phase of the Civil War was fought west of the Mississippi River at least six years before the attack on Fort Sumter. Starting with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Jay Monaghan traces the development of the conflict between the pro-slavery elements from Missouri and the New England abolitionists who migrated to Kansas. "Bleeding Kansas" provided a preview of the greater national struggle to come. The author allows a new look at Quantrill's sacking of Lawrence, organized bushwhackery, and border battles that cost thousands of lives. Not the least valuable are chapters on the American Indians' part in the conflict. The record becomes devastatingly clear: the fighting in the West was the cruelest and most useless of the whole affair, and if men of vision had been in Washington in the 1850s it might have been avoided.
"Life in what the newspapers call 'the Dust Bowl' is becoming a gritty nightmare," Ann Marie Low wrote in 1934. Her diary vividly captures that "gritty nightmare" as it was lived by one rural family-and by millions of other Americans. The books opens in 1927-"the last of the good years"-when Ann Marie is a teenager living with her parents, brother, and sister on a stock farm in southeastern North Dakota. We follow her family and friends, descendants of homesteaders, through the next ten years-a time of searing summer heat and desiccated fields, dying livestock, dust to the tops of fence posts and prices at rock bottom-a time when whole communities lost their homes and livelihoods to mortgages and, hardest of all, to government recovery programs. We also see the coming to maturity of the author in the face of economic hardship, frustrating family circumstances, and the stifling restrictions that society then placed on young women. Ann Marie Low's diary, supplemented with reminiscences, offers a rich, circumstantial view of rural life a half century ago: planting and threshing before the prevalence of gasoline-powered engines, washing with rain water and ironing with sadirons, hauling coal on sleds over snow-clogged roads, going to end-of-school picnics and country dances, and hoarding the egg and cream money for college. Here, too, is an iconoclastic on-the-scene account of how a federal work project, the construction of a wildlife refuge, actually operated. Many readers will recognize parts of their own past in Ann Marie Low's story; for others it will serve as a compelling record of the Dust Bowl experience.
John Jacob Astor's dream of empire took shape as the American Fur Company. At Astor's retirement in 1834, this corporate monopoly reached westward from a depot on Mackinac Island to subposts beyond the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Fur Traders, Trappers, and Mountain Men of the Upper Missouri focuses on eighteen men who represented the American Fur Company and its successors in the Upper Missouri trade. Their biographies have been compiled from the classic ten-volume Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, edited by LeRoy R. Hafen. These chapters bring back movers and shapers of a great venture: Ramsay Crooks, the mountain man who headed the American Fur Company after Astor; Kenneth McKenzie, "King of the Missouri;" Gabriel Franchere, survivor of the Astorian disaster; Charles Larpenteur, commander of Fort Union and fur-trade chronicler. Here, too, are the fiery William Laidlaw, ambitious James Kipp and John Cabanne Sr., diplomatic David Dawson Mitchell and Malcolm Clark, goutish James A. Hamilton (Palmer), controversial John F. A. Sanford and Francis A. Chardon, easy-going William Gordon, and ill-fated William E. Vanderburgh. Completing this memorable cast are Alexander Culbertson, skilled hunter; Auguste Pike Vasquez, mountain man; Henry A. Boller, educated clerk; and Jean Baptiste Moncravie, trader and raconteur.
This book tells the story of the greatest public scandal in the history of the state of Kansas.At the nadir of the Great Depression, in the summer of 1933, a million and a quarter in forged bonds and warrants were discovered in the state treasury and in bond brokerage houses. Before the affair was over, martial law was declared in the statehouse; four criminal convictions were effected--including the three longest sentences in the state's penal history; two state officers were impeached; six federal indictments were handed down, including one against the president of one of the Midwest's leading banks; a record number of civil suits jammed the courts; three banks closed permanently; a major Chicago brokerage firm went bankrupt; and one of the principals in the incident committed suicide. Political alliances had re-formed and regrouped, particularly in the progressive faction of the Republican Party. The honor, pride, and image of the state had been seriously, though not permanently, damaged. The scandal was all the greater because the perpetrators, a freewheeling, charismatic con man named Ronald Finney and his father, W. W. Finney, were intimately involved with two of the state's best-known public figures, William Allen White and Alf Landon. Portions of the book focus on the actions and reactions of White and Landon as they struggled to separate their personal friendships from their public positions. Robert Smith Bader examines the multi-faceted affair in fascinating detail, including the vigorous prosecution of the bond-scandal defendant, and, later, the dramatic behind-the-scenes attempts by the friends of Ronald Finney to obtain his release from the state penitentiary--efforts of a decidedly political nature. This is more than an interesting tale of graft and skullduggery. In setting forth the financial, political, psychological, and personal costs of the episode, the author reveals much about the cultural history of America's puritanical heartland during the joyless years of the Depression.
Ignobility stalks Kansas in an urban-centered and media-shaped American culture that tilts toward the coasts. The snubs proliferate. In the movie Vacation Chevy Chase contemplates a stop in Kansas at the House of Mud, "the largest free-standing mud dwelling ever built." A novelist skewers the oft-maligned Kansas landscape, "Love a place like Kansas and you can be content in a garden of raked sand," A poster urges the daring to "ski Kansas," and a New Yorker cartoon depicts a highway sign that announces, "You are entering Kansas, or some state very much like it." In the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, the evildoers suggest testing their anti-matter weapon on Kansas because "the world wouldn't learn about it for a year." A tee shirt bears the message, "Auntie Em--Hate you. Hate Kansas. Taking the dog. Dorothy."The tattered image of modern-day Kansas and how it got that way is the subject of Robert Smith Bader's pioneering study. That today's consensus view of Kansas as a drab and backward society has historical roots will surprise few, but many will discover that early in the century Kansas occupied an enviable position in the national psyche. Turn-of-the-century Kansans stood at the threshold of two decades of economic prosperity and of national leadership in the two most prominent socio-political movements of the era--Progressivism and prohibition. During the early 1920s Kansas reached the pinnacle of its influence; the New York times proclaimed it "the national piper" and observed that the rest of the country "dances to her piping." But the Jazz Age discovered livelier music, and Kansas came to epitomize the dry, strait-laced, fundamentalist, and traditional society that the "flaming youth" of the 1920s rejected. To H. L. Mencken, Kansas was the quintessential "cow state," chock-full of hayseeds, moralizers, and Methodists--everything he deplored. With the onset of the Great Depression, which hit Kansas Hard, and the Dust Bowl, the state's reputation plunged precipitously. Criticism without and self-doubt within mounted. By the end of the 1930s Karl A. Menninger was moved to psycho-analyze the entire state and to conclude that it suffered from a pervasive "feeling of inferiority." During the postwar years the popular stereotype of Kansans as " uniformly austere and melancholy, tortured by heat, dust, cold, tornadoes, and their own consciences" matured and took root. By the early 1970s a journalist felt justified in describing Kansas as an "eclipsed state." Bader concludes his study of the rise and fall of the image of Kansas with a marvelous survey of recent popular culture and with a call for a reexamination of the state's historic strengths.
J. Fletcher Williams' History of St. Paul, first published in 1876, is a thoroughly charming, intimate chronicle of the city's earliest years. The author spins tales of villains, heroes, dark deeds, and progress with wit, irony, and relish. Sprinkled among the careful descriptions of pioneers, city fathers, and important events is a healthy dose of trivia, oddities, and "firsts." Lucile M. Kane's introduction to this edition suggests that the book "to an unusual degree mirrors the man--with all his learning, passion for patient investigation, interest in people, exuberance, dramatic sense, humor, and affection for his adopted city." Minnesota residents, visitors, and students of history will enjoy this insider's view of small-town St. Paul in the 19th century.
In 1895, a 27-year-old journalist named William Allen White returned to his home town of Emporia, Kansas, to edit a little down-at-the-heels newspaper he had just purchased for $3,000. "The new editor," he wrote in his first editorial, "hopes to live here until he is the old editor, until some of the visions which rise before him as he dreams shall have come true." White did become "the old editor," remaining with the Emporia Gazette until his death 50 years later. During his long tenure he gained nation-wide fame as an author, political leader, and social commentator. But more than anything else, he became the national embodiment of the small-town newspaperman and all the treasured virtues that small towns represented in the minds of Americans.
Home Town News is both a fascinating biography and a compelling social history. As Sally Foreman Griffith shows, White's popular image--kindly yet crusading, fiercely independent yet deeply rooted in his community--doesn't do justice to the man's complexity. Shrewdly carving out a position of leadership in a faction-torn town, White carefully shaped his paper's vision of its community to promote local economic growth, Republican political control, and social harmony. With his emergence as a leader among Midwestern progressives, he carefully adapted the ideas and rhetoric of small-town boosterism to changing economic realities. The book uses White's career to help us understand the role of journalism--and the journalist--in turn-of-the-century American culture. Far from being a simple chronicler of daily events, the small-town newspaperman carried considerable weight in his community. He was a leading force in local business, a galvanizing influence in civic life, and a key political activist. As giant corporations came to dominate the national economy, the newspaperman played a pivotal yet ambivalent role in the resulting social transformation: he sought to preserve local autonomy even as his paper introduced his readers to mass-produced consumer goods.
Home Town News also tells the story of Emporia, Kansas, during this period of social change. Its richly textured descriptions of small-town life take us beyond abstractions like "modernization," "progressivism," and "boosterism." As we observe the Emporia Street Fair of 1899, the heated controversy over the morality of a local doctor in 1902, and the elaborate campaign to build a Y.M.C.A. in 1914, we gain new insights into the processes that have shaped modern America.
Dismissed as a "gaudy liar" by most historians and often discredited by writers who deprecated his mixed blood, James Pierson Beckwourth was one of the giants of the early West, certainly deserving to rank alongside Kit Carson, Bill Williams, Louis Vasquez, and Jim Bridger.
Sometime around 1800 James Beckwourth was born a slave in Frederick County, Virginia, the natural son of Sir Jennings Beckwith and a slave girl. In 1810 Sir Jennings moved with his family to the wilderness of St. Louis, Missouri, where Jim was educated and eventually apprenticed to a blacksmith. His father recorded a Deed of Emancipation in his name on three different occasions, sending young Jim out into the world with his blessings.
Jim Beckwourth's apprenticeship as a fur trapper was served with General William Ashley's grueling 1824 winter expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Except for a short stint as an army scout during the Seminole campaign, Jim spent the remainder of his long, eventful life in the West, dying among the Crow Indians whom he loved. He was fur trapper, trader, scout war chief of the Crow Nation, explorer, hotelkeeper, dispatch carrier, storekeeper, prospector, Indian agent for the Cheyennes--in short, a mountain man extraordinaire.
In his old age Beckwourth dictated an autobiography to T.D. Bonner, a man more interested in making money with Jim's adventures than in accurately recording his life. Beckwourth was later disparaged because of the inaccuracies that crept into Bonner's account.