Sunday, February 28, 2010

Persecution Envy

Ken Hutcherson, once a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, is now a minister. He recently posted on the right-wing website WorldNet Daily, the following hateful screed in which he makes the ridiculous comparison between Christians today and African Americans during the days of Jim Crow:


"CHRISTIANS: THE NEW NEGRO

I did not become a Christian so I would have to fight for my constitutional freedoms all over again.

Growing up in Alabama being black, knowing how that felt and the way I was treated in an all-white world of power and control, I had to fight for equal rights under the Constitution. How ironic now as a Christian to have those same thoughts and feelings again and to have to try and wrestle control of my constitutional rights from the secular community.

Many reading this may not understand where I came up with this concept of calling Christians “the new Negro.”

The reason is because there are undeniable similarities. Jim Crow laws were passed to keep me from having my constitutional rights and my rights under the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Even though the Constitution gave me those freedoms, man was smart enough to be able to keep me from living those freedoms by saying I was “separate but equal.”

Today, my constitutional right of freedom of religion is being eroded again by laws such as the Hate Crimes Bill and repeated attacks by the politically correct crowd. Threats that came along as a result of an African American wanting to get out from under Jim Crow laws were formidable and scary and designed to keep African Americans quiet. The same thing is happening to Christians today.

“Speechless: Silencing the Christians,” by Don Wildmon, lays out determined strategy of coalition of liberal secularists, homosexual activists and Fortune 500 companies

Another way secular society is trying to control Christians is by the fallacy of the separation of church and state. That establishment clause was intended to protect the church from the state, not to keep the church from participating in the state. Christians’ ignorance of the meaning of the establishment clause has allowed us to be controlled just like the African Americans were in the 1950s and ’60s.

Many may question why I’m writing this article because they can’t see the fight in our society and world concerning the overt attack on Judeo-Christian values.

If you don’t believe one could be attacked for their stand on Judeo-Christian beliefs alone, take the case of Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Look at her refusal to compromise her Christian values. She has been vilified, demonized and lost her title simply because of her constitutional right to freedom of religion. What is so encouraging is that she will not compromise; she will not give up her values and would rather please God than take what the world has to offer her.

Sarah Palin is another example.

The politically correct crowd has a very difficult time dealing with Sarah because of who she is. Mrs. Palin is a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage, pro-hunting, white, conservative, Christian male who happened to have been born a woman! The politically correct crowd knows exactly what to do with a white male with those attributes, but a woman?

She is the perfect picture of the politically correct woman – strong, beautiful, able to both buy and fry the bacon, take care of the family, run an entire state and still take care of her baby. But because of who she is, and because she does not subscribe to politically correct thinking, she has been attacked for no other reason than her Judeo-Christian values, just as African Americans were attacked for no other reason than their skin color.

If you still don’t think Christians are being attacked for our beliefs, consider Pastor Ake Green in Sweden and Pastor Stephen Boisson in Canada and many other men of God around the world who have been jailed and had their non-profit status threatened because they dare to call homosexuality a sin. The sad commentary is many Christians have backed off our God-given responsibility to tell the truth because secular society has deemed the truth “political.” Marriage is a church issue, pornography is a church issue, homosexuality is a church issue, and divorce is a church issue. The problem is, as soon as the secular elites named them political, the evangelical church – especially the white evangelical church – retreated and held up the cowardly white flag.

If you don’t think Christians have become the new Negro, just look at Christmas! We are no longer able to celebrate Christmas in schools. Even though as taxpayers, our tax dollars help pay for our broken educational system, we are forced to celebrate winter break and the fabulous “holiday tree!”

How about the wonderful greeting, “Happy Holidays!”? Department stores are afraid to put up signs with the word “Christmas” on them. Don’t mistakenly think this is anything new. Secular society began taking Christ out of Christmas when they started calling it “Xmas” – and we let it happen.

In my wonderful state of Washington just last year, Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state legislators allowed an Atheist Manifesto to be put up right next to the Nativity scene of our Lord Jesus Christ! I have to say straightforward: the state of Washington is the armpit of the United States, and our lovely legislators are supplying the odiferous scent to the armpit.

Because 2008 was such a disaster, this year there will be no Christmas or religious displays in the Capitol rotunda, period. Oh, except they will put up a huge holiday tree.

Can anybody tell me where common sense is? Everyone in the world knows it’s a Christmas tree. This nonsense is all in the name of tolerance toward whom? It’s certainly not toward those of us who hold strong Judeo-Christian values. As Christians, it’s an attack on what we hold dear. But just like the Negroes, Christians should understand they are not equal under the Constitution’s right to freedom of religion.

The only difference between Christians and African Americans is that Christians put up with this intolerance while standing behind the false disguise of humility and love. We are obsessed with showing the world our love when our primary job is to tell them the truth. The Bible does not say, “Sensitivity shall set you free.” It says, “The truth shall set you free.” Are we not the truth-tellers?

When are we as believers, like the African Americans that came before us, going to say, enough is enough? No more “separate but equal!” Our battle cry is “We are the salt of the earth, onward Christian soldiers and to God be the glory! For in unity we will stand and we will not be stopped!"

******

The idea that somehow Christians are in a position analogous to that of African Americans in the days of Jim Crow is patently stupid and offensive. There were more than 4,000 documented cases of African Americans hanged, tortured and burned to death in the Jim Crow South between the 1880s and the 1930s. The actual number, experts agree, was much higher. The whites involved in these crimes never faced a day of imprisonment and were praised by the segregationist leadership of Southern states. Show me something comparable experienced by Christians in America.

Under eugenics laws passed in several Southern states, more than 35,000 African Americans underwent involuntary vasectomies and hysterectomies in states like Alabama in the 1920s and 1930s. These procedures became so common in one state that they became known as "Mississippi appendectomies." Have Christians undergone treatment by the medical and scientific communities remotely similar to this?

In South Carolina in the 1950s, white schools had water fountains but black students had to use a dipper to scoop water from open buckets. The school systems provided white students with buses but black students living far from campuses had no access to transportation. Each white campus employed a janitorial staff, but black teachers and students had to serve as uncompensated custodians at Jim Crow schools. White schools providing seating for every student while at one black school, an investigator for the NAACP found, did not possess a single desk. Do Christians today suffer from discrimination even remotely approximating this?

In Liberty, Mississippi on September 25, 1961, a member of the Mississippi state legislature, E.H. Hurst, murdered an African American man, Herbert Lee, in broad daylight for his participation in a black voter registration drive. A jury no-billed him and a black witness to the crime was later assassinated with impunity. Are Christians today subject to such legal injustices?

Regarding all the tired claims of a "war on Christmas," I have no idea what people on Hutcherson's side of the political divide are talking about. In my Catholic family we said "Happy Holidays" forty years ago and there was no pressure for political correctness in Garland, Texas, in the 1960s. What the Rev. Hutcherson claims is "political correctness," I call manners.

When I know I am speaking to a Christian during the holidays, I say, "Merry Christmas." I don't do the same to people I know are Jewish or Muslim, or members of a non-Christian faith, because to do so is rude and obnoxious. "Happy Holidays" is a polite way to greet people when you don't know their religious beliefs.

The irony is that Christmas celebrations once were banned in New England by zealous Puritans who considered the holiday too "Popish." It's the Christians in New England who declared war on Christmas until the late 1800s.

Trying to make saying, "Happy Holidays," the modern-equivalent of Jim Crow schools and lynching is insulting to those who have suffered real injustice. And by the way, Hutcherson was a child during the worst period of segregation. By the time he was 18 he could vote and Alabama, though still poisoned with racism, had come a long way from the low-point of Southern race relations.

Rev. Hutcherson also dismisses gay rights as political correctness. Actually its a matter of the Constitution. The 14th Amendment states clearly, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Gay citizens are systematically denied equal protection under the law regarding their families, their relationships, their contracts with employers, and so on. The Christian right who, in spite of their huge numbers and their political power want to pretend they are a persecuted minority, are the ones who have fought to deny gays the right to serve in the military, to be protected from job discrimination and summary dismissal, to be able to visit dying loved ones in hospitals, to be the presumed heirs of their deceased partners, etc.

Show me where the Constitution gave Christians the right to deny others equality. Since Hutcherson claims Christians are the "new Negroes" can he show me laws that deny Christians the right to marry, that deny Christians protection from housing discrimination, which ban Christians from serving in the military, etc.?

The anti-gay hostility generated by bigots like Hutcherson are a life and death matter. According to the FBI, "there were 1,265 hate crimes based on sexual orientation in 2007, up from 1,017 two years earlier and 1,239 in 2003. That compares to 3,820 racially motivated incidents in 2007 and 1,400 in which the victim's religion was a factor." As just one sorry example, in February 2008 a 15-year-old boy in Oxnard, California was shot to death by a 14-year-old classmate who had harassed and bullied him after he revealed he was gay.

I can't recall that Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson ever devoted much effort to condemn violence against gays. Certainly not as much time as they did slandering gay men and women as pedophiles and dangers to America. Perhaps Falwell, Robertson and the likes of Hutcherson believe that gays deserve suffering for their alleged sin and therefore don't deserve any legal protection from verbal or physical violence.

Hutcherson, as an African American, should be especially sensitive to the issue of hate-motivated violence. Instead, he is a cowardly bully. His rant is one of uninformed resentment, anger that the country is more diverse, that it speaks with many voices, including non-Christian ones, on religion, and that the Christian right can no longer dictate the politics of this country or translate their bigotry into public policy as easily as they once did.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Beginning of the Reservation Period and Little Big Horn

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below I describe the hardships endured by Native Americans in the "Reservation Period" and the Battle of Little Big Horn.

As white, Chinese, Mexican and African American men and women followed the railroads and staked a new life in the West, those immigrant-bearing trains brought death and destruction to the Native Americans living along the path. Sensing the danger that railroads presented to their future, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors attacked rail line workers and tore up track laid by the Union Pacific line in the late 1860s. Indians were expelled from their remaining homelands and herded onto reservations. The snake-like expansion of white-owned railroads, mines, farms and cattle herds in the West also meant less land and less freedom for Native Americans who moved to cramped, inadequate reservations.

Many whites doubted if Indians could ever be incorporated into white society and concluded that they represented an obstacle to Anglo wealth and progress. Some white newspapers and politicians openly called for Indian extermination. Civil War General Philip Sheridan famously declared that the “only good Indian was a dead Indian.” Sheridan was hardly alone in his sentiments. The New York Herald declared that for the Indian the drawing of blood was “as much of a passion as it is to the tiger, or the shark, who has no possibilities of civilization, and whose fate must be extermination . . .” Even as the Herald declared the Indian doomed, however, the newspaper preferred the more passive approach of penning Native Americans in overcrowded, disease-ravaged reservations, hoping that nature would provide a “final solution” to the Indian problem.

Toward this end, the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 assigned reservations in the Dakota Territory to Arapaho, Cheyennes, Comanches, Apaches, and Kiowas, squeezing these peoples together with already imprisoned Bannocks, Navajos, Shoshones, and Sioux. Eventually more than 100,000 people scrabbled for existence on bleak, shrinking lands. These different Indian nations battled over dwindling resources. At the same time, corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs officials routinely stole government aid meant for the Indians. This embezzlement reduced Indian food supplies, thus promoting malnutrition, disease and widespread depression on the reservations.

The so-called “reservation period” of Anglo-Indian relations lasted roughly from 1867 to 1887. Well-meaning liberals, ignoring the diversity and complexity of Indian culture, hoped that the reservations would provide an atmosphere in which “primitive” migratory Indians could be converted into stationary, law-abiding wards of a white republic. Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a heartbreaking 1881 bestseller, A Century of Dishonor, that detailed white brutality toward the Native population, and inspired many readers to call for reform in Indian policy. Reformers hoped that Indians would win acceptance by whites and would rise from poverty if they could be induced to surrender their language, culture, religion, and traditions and accept white cultural norms. Reformers saw reservations as training grounds for Indian citizenship.

Tragically, for many Indians, the reservations more closely resembled a concentration camp. The Indian population, about 2.5 million at the time of first European contact in 1492, had dropped to 250,000 by 1890. This appalling death rate only accelerated at the end of the 19th century, a situation attributable to the food shortages and poor sanitation that prevailed in overcrowded reservations. Indians entered the reservations with their minds reeling from the loss of their homes, the pain of battling for a lost cause, the pressure of white reformers who wanted to strip away their traditions and faith, and the fear of being under constant surveillance of corrupt and abusive federal agents.

THE BUFFALO MASSACRE

The Lakota, or Sioux, in particular resisted the white invasion of the West. With the arrival of the horse, the Lakota adopted an itinerant culture of following and hunting buffalo herds. In the late 19th century, however, whites launched a mass slaughter of buffalo, threatening the survival of the Lakota people.

In the early 19th century, eyewitnesses reported that the ground literally shook when massive buffalo herds charged across the landscape. Between 30 million and 60 million buffalo roamed the land from Canada in the north to the Mexican border in the south, and east to west from Pennsylvania to California. Buffalo rapidly vanished, however, when railroad companies paid hunters armed with rifles to kill buffalo to provide meat for rail construction crews. Others sought the buffalo for their hides. After skinning the animals, they would leave the rest of the carcasses to rot in the sun. Railroad executives and mining camp managers viewed the buffalo as a nuisance, since herds sometimes charged across the tracks in front of incoming trains, knocked over telegraph poles, or wrecked storage buildings or other structures.

Railroad companies provided rifles for passengers, encouraging them to fire at the herds purely for sport, leaving the dead animals behind as the train chugged on. The newest rifles, such as the .50 caliber sharpshooters, were accurate within a range of 600 feet. Thus armed, sportsmen devastated buffalo herds. Western showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody bragged that he had killed 4,000 buffalo in 18 months. One hunter said, “I saw buffaloes lying dead on the prairies so thick that one could hardly see the ground. A man could have walked for twenty miles upon their carcasses.”

The United States Army saw the buffalo massacre as a tactic in the war against Native Americans. The army referred to the animals as the “Indian commissary.” Indians ate buffalo meat, clothed themselves in buffalo hides, made their tents from buffalo skin, and used buffalo fat to make candles. Military commanders reasoned that the extermination of the buffalo would force Plains Indians to abandon their nomadic ways and accept confinement on reservations. If Indians starved to death along the way, many Army officers thought, that was all for the better. “Kill every buffalo you can,” one officer said. “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

The Lakota and other hunting nomads began to experience hunger and had to travel over broader swaths of land in search of prey. In the 1870s, Anglo hunters killed as many as 200,000 buffalo a year. An 1883 scientific expedition found only find 200 buffalo in the Western United States. Their access to their chief food source gone, Lakotas, Oglalas and other Plains Indians concluded the only options left to them were waging war against whites or accepting their own extinction.

LITTLE BIG HORN

One of the fiercest Indian wars pitted the United States Army against the Oglala Sioux. In 1851, the Oglala surrendered vast lands to the United States government. Oglala leaders underestimated the number of white miners who would swamp their territory. They also did not anticipate that the U.S. Army would construct a chain of forts in the middle of their most important buffalo range along the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming. Oglala Chief Red Cloud temporarily halted the white advance, battling to an impasse with the U.S. Army in the Great Sioux War of 1865-1867. Unable to suppress Oglala resistance, the government abandoned Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny and Fort C.F. Smith. The Oglala burned these forts to the ground.

Under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the federal government created the Great Sioux Reservation, located within the present state of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, but territorial disputes remained unsettled. The northern tribes pledged to allow the peaceful passage of railroads near the territory. Unfortunately, construction in the area, and the railway companies’ policy of buffalo eradication, disturbed the buffalo herds that ranged farther away from the Oglala settlements. This forced the Oglala to hunt over larger territories, which brought them into conflict not just with other whites but with other Indian groups as well. Numerous small battles broke out between the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors and the Army between 1868 and 1876.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed the Sioux the right to live and hunt within the Black Hills for "as long as the grass shall grow." That promise became unimportant to the U.S. government and white prospectors when they realized that the Black Hills contained rich gold deposits. Prospectors intruded on Sioux land, and Colonel George Armstrong Custer directed his troops to conduct a surveying mission during the summer of 1874. Custer reported to Congress that the Black Hills contained abundant veins of ore and recommended that the U.S. expel the Sioux living there. Suspicious of white activities in the area, Oglala Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahos formed an alliance and prepared for battle.

Federal agents commanded the Indians to return to their reservations by February 1, 1876, or face an army assault. By this point Red Cloud had stepped down as the Oglala military leader because he believed resistance was futile. Crazy Horse now led the Oglala, who fought alongside Hunkpapa Sioux under the command of Sitting Bull. Four columns of American troops arrived and the soldiers engaged in several skirmishes with local Indians and destroyed 100 Indian lodges. Army scouts detected a major Sioux encampment in a valley at a site known to white soldiers as Little Big Horn and to the Oglala as Greasy Grass.

Custer decided to divide his column into four groups and positioned three of them to prevent Indians from retreating from their settlement. He then led 225 men in a charge along the Little Big Horn River into the valley on June 25, 1876. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Cheyenne and Sioux warriors closed in on the American forces and slaughtered Custer and all his men. In militarily defeating Custer, the Oglala and their allies unintentionally handed the American government a propaganda tool that whipped up anti-Indian frenzy in white society. Reportedly upon hearing of Custer’s death, Chief Sitting Bull remarked, “Now they will never let us rest." Custer’s “Last Stand” became the battle most frequently depicted in American art. Paintings, art prints and newspapers depicted the cavalrymen bravely fighting off an overwhelming force of near-naked savages. Custer’s defeat became a public symbol of the American resolve to fight on for a just cause to the last drop of blood. The New York Herald quoted the commissioner of Indian Affairs as responding to the massacre with the remark, “A white man’s life is worth more than an Indian’s” and that, “It is not too much to say that the prevailing feeling among the public favors the policy of extermination.” The U.S. Army pursued warring Indian nations until, by 1877, the Sioux leadership of Indian resistance in the Plains ended.

Michael Phillips is the author of "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001" published in 2006, and "The House Will Come To Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics," co-written with Patrick Cox and published in 2010 by The University of Texas Press. His essay “Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” appears in "Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations,” edited by Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León and published by Texas A&M Press in February 2011.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Buffalo Soldiers

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below is an account of black soldiers in the American West and the use of African Americans as strikebreakers/

Partly in grudging acknowledgment of the brave service provided by 200,000 black soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War, in 1866 the federal government created the first all-black infantry and cavalry regiments to serve in the Western United States. Even “Radical” Republicans were not fully immune from the white supremacist ideas of the era, and the law establishing these segregated units required them to be led by white officers. These units primarily served in the American West where, as historian Monroe Lee Billington notes, “they guarded wagon trains, stagecoaches, and railroads taking Americans to the frontier. They aided local law enforcement officers to round up cattle rustlers and other outlaws. In addition, they built roads, strung telegraph wire and performed other perfunctory duties that aided the movement of the nation westward . . .” While African Americans in the South and the East suffered confinement to the lowest rung in the nation’s racial hierarchy, in the West they formed part of a conquering army that suppressed Native American resistance and paved the way for white and black seizure of Indian lands.

With African Americans composing 10 percent of soldiers serving from the end of the Civil War to the Spanish American War in 1898, black fighters played a highly visible role in the “Indian Wars.” Native Americans reportedly dubbed these men “Buffalo Soldiers,” perhaps because Indians reportedly thought the hair and skin color of African Americans resembled that of buffalo, or because many of the soldiers wore buffalo skin robes in the wintertime, or because of their respect for both the buffalo and for African Americans as fighters. Most black soldiers served in Texas and Kansas, as well as in the Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico territories. The African American Ninth Cavalry played a key role in defeating the forces of Chief Victorio, a Warm Springs, New Mexico, Apache leader, in a war that lasted from 1876 to 1880.

African American troops often suffered as the U.S. Army placed them in the uncomfortable role of restraining white settlers intent on illegally taking Indian land and serving as strikebreakers. After its victory over Apache leaders Victorio and Nana in New Mexico, commanders dispatched the Ninth Cavalry for the job of restraining white “boomers” from crossing the Kansas border and taking land illegally in Oklahoma, action that often resulted in violence between black soldiers and would-be settlers. In more than fifty cases, beginning in the late 1870s and continuing until the start of the 20th century, railroad and mine owners and other powerful Western business owners exploited black soldiers to replace striking white workers. The army also dispatched black military units to quell violence in the previously mentioned Lincoln County War in New Mexico.

Sadly for the black servicemen in the West, an anti-military mood gripped the country after the Civil War and soldiers in the late 19th century did not enjoy the respect accorded their wartime predecessors, a problem intensified by racism, according to Monroe Billington. “ . . . [T]his postwar army was composed primarily of lower-class urban workers, European immigrants, and African Americans – people for whom other Americans often expressed contempt,” Billington wrote.

African Americans frequently endured hostility from the whites they encountered. When whites murdered black soldiers, as often as not authorities looked the other way. Meanwhile, local law enforcement often harassed black soldiers, arresting them on trumped-up charges, beating and killing them, or sentencing them to lengthy sentences for the most minimum of offenses.

Meanwhile, the Army discriminated against black men. In spite of their often-acknowledged bravery, black soldiers received only four percent of the Medals of Honor awarded in the period between the end of the Civil War and the Spanish American War. The Army promoted no African American enlisted man to the rank of officer in that time period, though no military rules prohibited such an action. Only twenty-two Africans received appointments to the West Point military academy in the late 19th century, and only three could overcome the racism at that institution and graduate. Military records also note repeated instances of black soldiers denigrated by their officers with racial slurs.

Black soldiers were not alone in being used as strikebreakers by ruthless businessmen west of the Missouri. In 1891 in Washington state, African American civilians, excluded from unions and needing decent-paying jobs, arrived under the protection of Pinkerton guards in Newcastle, near Seattle, to serve as replacement workers at coalmines owned by the Oregon Improvement Company. White workers had gone on strike against the OIC, which subjected its employees to long hours in unsafe conditions and housed them in “company towns” where the OIC served as landlord. Miners received wages not in cash but in company “scrip” redeemable only in OIC-owned stores. White workers attempted to affiliate with the Knights of Labor, an effort that led the company to bring in African American replacement workers from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

One group of white workers assembled in Pierce County near Seattle and resolved that “we will no longer submit to the introduction of the negro race among us, and that we cannot and will not recognize the negro as worthy of association with us; neither will we submit to any association with them in any manner whatsoever.” Some white labor leaders believed that black workers were naïve dupes of the mining company and expressed the hope that once they realized how bad conditions were at the OIC mines they would leave. In fact, leaving was almost impossible for most of the imported miners who were too poor to return home and who, in any case, were closely monitored by OIC guards told to prevent their escape.

Regardless, most black replacement workers had rational reasons for staying. “Part of the reason was economic self interest,” labor historian Robert A. Campbell wrote. “They were trying to earn a living, support their families and live a respectable life in a society that did its best to perpetuate their former status as slaves. Their opportunities were limited and they had to take advantage of those that were available.” If white workers demanded class solidarity from their marginalized black peers, they proved incapable of maintaining it themselves. White miners started returning to their jobs by late June. In any case, the Knights’ virulent racism had fatally undermined their cause and allowed the OIC to split the work force along racial lines.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"An idle, thriftless people": Mexican Labor and Anglo Prejudice in the Late 19th Century West

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below if a description of the racism and violence faced by Mexican and Mexican American workers in the late 19th century West.

Pressure from labor unions, and elites worried about the arrival of “racial undesirables” on American shores, led to passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which banned the further immigration of Chinese people to the United States. Wealthy whites found other cheap labor sources, from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. An emerging source of labor came with Mexicans and Mexican Americans, who drew Anglo hostility that often matched that shown the Chinese. In the white mind, Mexicans descended from three “inferior” racial groups: Indians, blacks, and the Spanish. The Protestant majority also disdained the Mexicans’ Catholicism.

Most Mexicans within the United States were poor, working their own small farms or serving as migratory agricultural labor. Before the Mexican American War, wealthy Mexicans in California owned about 15 million acres. Anglos poured in following the 1848 conclusion of the war and the subsequent annexation of California. One-time Mexican elites found themselves surrounded by land-hungry newcomers. Wealthy Mexicanos held land titles issued by the Mexican government. Anglo judges repeatedly invalidated these land claims. Whites often supplemented lawsuits with petty harassment or even violence.

White merchants, bankers and lawyers in New Mexico conspired to raise property taxes to force Mexican landowners to sell. By 1854, Anglos had seized all but one Mexican land grant in Texas. The Texas Rangers, a state law enforcement agency, initiated a campaign of terror against Mexicans within the state, murdering as many as 5,000 in the 19th century. The seized land would then be distributed to whites, who subsequently made fortunes as ranchers and farmers.

Formerly rich Mexicans declined into poverty and depended on low wages paid by the now-dominant whites. The poverty of the former landowners was then taken as evidence of Mexicano cultural and racial inferiority. Author Richard Dana expressed a typical Anglo attitude, describing Mexicans as “an idle, thriftless people.” Another author, Lansford Hastings, complained that a Mexican “always pursues that method of doing things, which requires the least physical or mental exorcise [sic] unless it involves some danger, in which case, he always adopts some other method.”

Mexicans worked as migrant farm labor or as low-wage workers in urban barrios (ghettoes). As irrigation methods became more sophisticated, improved technology brought more acreage into cultivation, and the spreading railroads expanded the marketplace for Western farmers, a wave of Mexicans poured into the United States. The biggest surge of Mexican immigration would await the bloody Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

The level of discrimination faced by Mexicans and Mexican Americans depended on how large their population was in a given area, the presence of whites or African Americans seeking similar employment, and whether the immigrants were perceived as transient or as seeking permanent residence. Mexicans faced particularly harsh discrimination in many parts of Texas.

No Texas school system ever segregated Mexican and Mexican American children by law. Instead, segregation of Anglo and Hispanic children derived by custom. Where there were few Mexican children, no segregation occurred. In farm communities, however, separate quarters for Mexicans and Anglos were established early on. In 1902, Seguin, in South Texas, became the first school system to segregate Mexican children but the practice spread until, by 1930, 90 percent of heavily Mexican South Texas schools provided separate facilities for Anglo and Mexican children. Restaurants in Texas and other Southwestern states often would not serve Mexican customers or would require them to wait outside for food. Park and public pool managers frequently excluded Hispanics.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

"Never leave your children with them, especially little girls": Chinese Workers and Racism in the Late 19th Century West

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below if a description of the racism and violence faced by Chinese workers in the late 19th century West.

Perhaps no group inspired greater nativist panic within the Anglo community in the West than Chinese immigrants. Dangerous railroad construction depended heavily on low-wage Chinese workers, buffeted on one side by the resentment of Anglo workers and on the other side by the exploitation of bosses who kept their wages low with the threat of deportation. Between 1850 and 1880, the Chinese population in the United States grew from 7,520 to 105,465, a 15-fold increase. By the 1870s, the Chinese represented 8.6 percent of the total population of California, and 25 percent of California workers were born in China.

Only 5 percent of Chinese immigrants were women. Railroad companies at times purchased Chinese women who were used as prostitutes servicing the male workers. Chinese labor built the particularly difficult Sierra Nevada portion of the first transcontinental line, a project that resulted in thousands of workers’ deaths. Toward the end of the 19th century, Chinese men worked not only in railroad construction, but also as domestic servants, in textile and shoe manufacturing, and in cigar factories.

Companies hiring the Chinese happily played a game of divide and conquer with Anglo workers and their Asian peers. The press published stories accusing Chinese men of forcing white women into prostitution and cheating white customers at Chinese-owned businesses. Workers simmered with anger at the use of Chinese immigrants as replacement workers, which allowed employers to stymie white-run unions’ demands for higher wages. Adding fuel to the anti-Chinese fire, popular magazines and newspapers printed stories accusing Chinese men of being sexual predators. “No matter how good a Chinaman may be, ladies never leave your children with them, especially little girls,” Scribner’s Monthly warned. Not surprisingly in this atmosphere, violence against the Chinese became pandemic in California and other Western states.

Whites savagely beat Chinese residents in Eureka, Truckee, and other California towns. In 1871 in Los Angeles, Anglo mobs murdered twenty-one Chinese immigrants, while in 1885 whites in Rock Springs, Wyoming, killed twenty-eight and wounded fifteen in a Chinese neighborhood. White workers battled to end Chinese immigration to the United States. Cigars made by whites in California bore a “union label” signifying that no Chinese worker had been involved in the manufacture of the product. In San Francisco, the home of the nation’s largest Chinese population, an Irish immigrant named Denis Kearney formed the Workingman’s Party in 1878, its platform proclaiming, “Treason is better than to labor beside a Chinese slave.” In spite of worker unrest, crews completed five transcontinental rail lines between 1869 and 1893.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Abortion Restriction in the Late 19th Century West

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below is a description of the battle over abortion in the West after the Civil War.

In one realm of their lives, Western women steadily lost autonomy as the 19th century progressed: reproduction. As in the East, fear of the nation’s changing racial and ethnic demographics and increased male domination over women’s medical care led to the outlawing of abortion in several states. The criminalization of abortion did not begin until the second third of the 19th century. Early on, abortion laws did not focus on the morality of the issue but instead were aimed at outlawing specific abortion methods said to threaten a mother's health. Several early laws, for instance, outlawed the use of poisons to perform abortions. By 1840, only eight states had enacted laws restricting abortion.

The struggle of the American Medical Association, founded in 1847, to ban abortions, overlapped with the campaign by male doctors to "professionalize" the medical field and eliminate competition from female midwives who provided most health care to women. Before the mid-19th century, most women, if they sought help in childbirth outside of friends and family, consulted midwives, who also provided information on natural methods of birth control, abortion and women’s health and nutrition. To many male doctors, midwives represented a loss of income.

The AMA successfully lobbied states across the Union to require medical licenses for practitioners. Since medical schools of the era did not admit women, this legislation effectively eliminated women as health care providers. Deaths and injuries occurring at the hands of midwives and other female medical providers during abortions provided major sensational evidence for male doctors in their arguments for excluding women from the profession and for outlawing abortion. Abortions at the time had a 30 percent mortality rate for women, as opposed to 3 percent mortality in live births.

Rivalry between male and female medical providers and concern about women’s safety did not alone account for the new interest in abortion. Between 1800 and 1900, the rate of fertility — the average number of children born to each woman — dropped for white women by almost 50 percent, from seven children per woman to 3.56. This occurred even as an unprecedented number of “new immigrants” from Eastern and Southern Europe arrived at the East Coast and from Japan and China on the West Coast from the 1870s to the 1900s. Anglos expressed a fear of “race suicide” instigated by the failure of white Protestants to have enough children to keep up with the birth rates of Catholic, Jewish and East Asian immigrants and African Americans. An 1865 tract by anti-abortion physician Horatio Storer, for example, warned that abortion was "infinitely more frequent among Protestant women than Catholic." Other doctors inveighed against abortions sought by women of "high repute." Another physician complained that "our most intelligent communities," meaning wealthy white Protestants, sought to limit family size through abortion and contraception while people of color, Catholics and other outsiders gave birth to increasingly large families.

In the West, with its proximity to Mexico, its importation of Chinese railroad workers, the increasing immigration of African Americans and the still large presence of the Native American population, such demographic warnings no doubt frightened Anglo elites. The West helped lead the national trend toward abortion abolition. While anti-abortion activism in the North and South paused during the Civil War, the West was less affected by the conflict and responded more quickly to the AMA’s anti-abortion lobbying. Politicians in five Western territories in the West drew up anti-abortion clauses in the region’s new legal codes. Performing an abortion “on a woman then being with child” became a criminal offense in the Colorado and Nevada Territory in 1861, and in the Arizona, Idaho, and Montana territories by 1864. Part of this emphasis stemmed from the federal control of the Western territories at a time when the Republican Party dominated national politics. Ideologically, the Republican Party more willingly embraced the power of the state to “systematize and professionalize public policy” than Democrats. Republicans also were, as abortion historian James C. Mohr noted, “very open to the influence and the advice of professionals and experts.”

Farther West, legislators moved from restrictions on procedures that physically harmed women to outright bans on abortion itself. In 1864 in Oregon, the state legislature eliminated allowances of abortion before the “quickening” when the fetus begins moving in the uterus, and defined the aborting of any “child” in utero as manslaughter, whether or not the mother suffered injury from the procedure. By 1869 in Nevada, the legislature outlawed even the dissemination of information on abortifacient drugs and abortion procedures. By the 1880s, states had passed 40 different anti-abortion statutes, laws that generally provided an exception only when abortion was necessary to save the life of a mother. Men saw women as a reproductive weapon in the conquest of the West and had enacted laws to make sure Anglos remained a demographic majority in the region.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“This is an awful place for children and nervous mothers would ‘die daily'": Women in the Late 19th Century West

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below is a section on women's experiences in the Trans-MIssissippi West following the Civil War.


The outlaw culture of the West crossed gender boundaries. Myra Belle Shirley, who later assumed the alias “Belle Starr,” won fame as a stagecoach robber, cattle rustler, and horse thief in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to those criminal activities, she fenced stolen goods and became know for successfully harboring wanted criminals. Working as a card dealer at a Dallas, Texas, saloon in the late 1860s, she gave birth to a daughter fathered by one legendary gunman (Jesse James’ crime partner Cole Younger) and married outlaw Jim Reed, the couple fleeing to California after a warrant was issued for their arrest.

The couple returned to Texas, and Shirley again dealt cards and worked as a prostitute until Reed was killed in 1874. Shirley entered into a series of volatile relationships with six common-law husbands, all of them criminals. Living in the Indian Territory, she died mysteriously from several shotgun blasts in 1889, shortly before her 41st birthday. Though no one was ever arrested for her murder, two of her sons figured as prominent suspects.

Martha Jane Burke, a sometimes prostitute who became famous as “Calamity Jane,” earned fame by dressing as a man at age 23 and joining an otherwise all-male geological exploration of the Black Hills in South Dakota. Then, in 1876, again in disguise, she volunteered for service with a 1,300-man forced commanded by Gen. George Crook in a war expedition against the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne peoples. She served an important role, rapidly traveling 90 miles, including a swim across the Platte River at one point to transmit secret military dispatches. Burke later made dubious claims that she had married and borne a child with another “Wild West” celebrity, gunman James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and that she also was a friend of General George Armstrong Custer, famous then for his defeat and death at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Burke performed in William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s “Wild West Show” in 1893, entertaining crowds as an expert horse rider and trick gun shooter. Sadly, alcoholism destroyed her entertainment career and hastened an early death at age 51 from pneumonia.

The West, however, offered much less excitement and drama for many women, some of whom endured lives of isolation. Elite women in particular chafed against the lack of culture and community. A doctor’s wife, A.K. Clappe, complained bitterly in letters of life near the California gold mines, sharing with her sisters the emptiness of life with “no newspapers, no churches, no lectures, concerts or theaters; no fresh books, no shopping, calling nor gossiping little tea-drinkings; no parties, no balls, no picnics, no tableaus, no charades, no latest fashions, no daily mail . . . no promenades, no rides or drives; no vegetables but potatoes and onions, no milk, no eggs, no nothing.”

Such cultural niceties did not concern working-class women who faced exhausting work but also missed the extended family networks that they left behind in the East. Women constituted only about 20 percent of the adults in Western mining communities. As historian Elliott West has observed, women seeking social bonds in such communities faced two major obstacles. First, “there were few women with whom to form new relationships, especially in the early years of a town’s life. Second, the mining camps were among the most unstable and transient gatherings in the history of the unsettled young republic.” About 90 of every 100 residents moved elsewhere within a decade, making it difficult to form communities or create lasting friendships. As one Denver prospector’s wife put it in her diary in an 1863 passage, “I never was so lonely and homesick in all my life. My sweet sweet home! Why did I ever leave you in the stranger’s land to dwell?”

Men and women struggled side-by-side to survive in the West, whether they lived in one of the new frontier cities, in mining camps, in the desert, or in farming communities. The family farm depended on hard work from both the men and the women, with women assigned not only the endless chores of feeding the chickens and other poultry, planting seeds, watering the crops, and helping with the harvest, but also cooking, caring for the young, doing the laundry, hauling water to the house from the well, making and repairing clothes, and acting as a physician when someone in the household fell ill. Women milked cows, churned butter, and gave birth to large families.

In mining towns, women often earned incomes as domestic servants. Some women contributed to the family income by taking in renters, and cooking or doing laundry for other families. In many cases, family structures were informal. In several Central Arizona mining communities in the 1860s and 1870s, almost half the adult women were not married to the men with whom they lived. These couples were often mixed race, with white men cohabitating with Hispanic women. Such women dealt with a sexual double standard in which the community looked the other way when men had sex outside of marriage but defined a woman as being immoral for engaging in the same behavior.

In spite of the more loosely structured gender roles in the West, however, in mining camps, more than 90 percent of women “kept house,” according to late 19th-century censuses. Marriage became more common as frontier towns became more settled. Recent studies suggest that spousal abuse, marital rape, and violence against children were commonplace in the late 19th-century West.

Mining camps in particular posed hazards for mothers raising young children. “The fouled water, streets strewn with garbage and offal, and the crowded living conditions encouraged the spread of cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, and other child killers,” wrote Elliott West. Childhood mortality became a cruel commonplace for these mothers, including one who lost three children in four days in Caribou, Colorado in 1879. The landscape posed another lethal hazard. Young ones were liable to accidentally tumble into mine shafts, be exposed to lethal amounts of mercury, swallow lye or wander into the paths of fast-charging horses or heavy wagons. “This is an awful place for children and nervous mothers would ‘die daily,’” as one woman wrote in Rich Bar, California.

Women lived public as well as private lives. Women married to or living with miners on strike brought food to their husbands on the picket line, and threw projectiles at soldiers and Pinkerton Guards sent to quash the uprising. Women campaigned publicly for the right to vote and sometimes lobbied influential husbands to vote for suffrage. The Grange and other farmers’ organizations allowed women not only to join, but also to hold offices within the organization, and women took the leadership role in the campaign for the federal and state prohibition of alcohol.

Women won the right to vote in the West before any other region. In the 1876 Colorado state constitution, women won the right to vote in school elections and to hold seats on local school boards. By the 1890s, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho had approved women’s suffrage. By 1914, they were joined by California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana. Many historians have argued that the central role women played in the family economy in the West persuaded men to accept full citizenship rights for women. Such men also wanted increased female migration to the West in order to increase the Congressional representation for the region and thus expand the West’s political clout. Others note that in states like Colorado, women used the years before winning full statewide suffrage to form women’s organizations such as local chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Prohibition emerged as a feminist cause for many reasons. Women argued that alcohol led to spousal and child abuse, was a factor in workplace injuries suffered by wage-earning husbands, that money spent on spirits could be better invested in the home economy, and that much alcohol consumption took place in male-intense environments like saloons where men solicited services from prostitutes, often contracted social diseases and later infected their wives.

Women also formed church groups, literary clubs, and organizations that sought to improve city sanitation, hospitals and schools. These groups often attacked issues considered part of the “domestic sphere,” for instance addressing the needs of children and preserving the safety and sanctity of the family. Nevertheless, woman gained vital political experience in these groups. As historian Elizabeth Jameson argues, “ . . . [T]heir participation in rural reform movements, organized labor, and partisan politics contributed to suffrage victories,” she wrote.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Outlaw Chic

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below is a section on the popularity and celebrity of gunmen in the late 19th century West.

Billy the Kid hardly represented the only celebrity gun-slinging lawbreaker and lawman of the late 19th-century West. Jesse Woodson James became such a media-savvy robber of banks and trains that once, after he and other members of the Cole-Younger criminal gang robbed $22,000 in gold and currency (more than $350,000 in today’s dollars) from a train in Gadshill, Missouri in January 1874, he startled the engineer by throwing him a stick that was wrapped with a press release James had written. Headlined, “THE MOST DARING TRAIN ROBBERY ON RECORD,” the press release read in part, “The robbers were all large men, all being slightly under six feet. After robbing the train they started in a southerly direction. They were all mounted on handsome horses. P.S. They are a hell of an excitement in this part of the country.”

The brutal career of Jesse James reveals why such outlaws attracted so much attention and even admiration among contemporaries and have figured so largely in later Wild West mythology. During the Civil War, Missouri natives Jesse and Frank James rode with the murderous William Clarke Quantrill and his band of Confederate guerillas. “Quantrill’s Raiders” in 1864 looted and burned Centralia, Kansas, before coldly executing 75 Union prisoners of war. James killed at least three Union soldiers in hot pursuit of the gang, launching his bloodletting career.

As the Civil War ended in 1865, a general amnesty was offered guerilla fighters, but probably because of James’ role in the infamous Centralia Massacre, when he rode to Lexington, Missouri, along with his brother Frank and his future partner in crime Cole Younger, Union soldiers ambushed the band. Riding lead, Jesse James rode into the soldiers’ crosshairs, and a bullet knocked him off his horse and pierced his lung. He crawled to safety and escaped to Nebraska, where his mother nursed him to health. The James Brothers suffered in their transition to civilian life, according to Western historian Jay Robert Nash. “The James boys had tasted battle and blood and adventure,” Nash observed. “They had survived the worst carnage ever seen in the country, and either out of boredom or an ambition that went beyond the dull chores of their farm, they, like many others in that turbulent era, buckled gun belts, mounted horses, and rode into small towns to rob banks.” The James Brothers gave voice to the regional and class resentments of the era, blaming “Yankee bankers and railroad magnates” for their financial troubles, sentiments widely shared by the general public that would elevate these violent criminals to heroic status.

The next year the James Brothers and their cousin Cole Younger formed a criminal gang and launched their career as bank robbers, carrying off more than $60,000 in gold and money (worth more than $682,000 in today’s currency) from the Clay County Savings Bank. The gang murdered an innocent bystander, William “Jolly” Wymore, passing by the scene of the crime on his way to classes at William Jewell College, who stared too long at one robber who feared he had been recognized.

Yet, no matter how ruthless the tactics of the James-Younger Gang, their perceived resistance to Northern “invaders” and the unprincipled actions of law enforcement continued to win the gang admiration and sympathy. James and his associates had murdered several employees of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, well known in the 19th century known for its violent tactics against labor unions. Bearing a grudge, Pinkertons surrounded the farm of the James Brothers’ remarried mother Zerelda Samuels when James and Frank paid her a visit on the evening of January 26, 1875. The detectives shouted out to the James Brothers, demanding their surrender as a bomb was thrown through the farmhouse window. The blast severed Samuels’ arm and killed Frank and Jesse James’ eight-year-old half-brother Peyton Samuel, who suffered for an hour before his death. The Pinkerton attack, labeled an “inexcusable and cowardly deed” by contemporary newspapers, disgraced the Pinkerton agency, which never fully recovered its reputation.

The gang’s end came the next year with a daring but unsuccessful robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. While part of the gang entered the First National Bank, armed lookouts waited outside and were spotted by townspeople, who responded by arming themselves and taking concealed positions as they fired at the robbers. Locals fatally shot gang members Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell, while bullets struck Cole, Bob and Jim Younger and Charlie Pitts. The surviving members of the gang made it out of town, but the wounded James Brothers split off from the Youngers and Pitts. Authorities trapped the latter group near a swamp in Madelia, Minnesota and in a shootout killed Pitts. The Youngers surrendered and were later sentenced to life imprisonment. Having killed a cashier and others in the misadventure, the James Brothers were now seen by many as mere murderers. They now drew hundreds of pursuers who searched for the outlaws in vain across the Midwest.

The Brothers formed a second gang in Missouri, but their infamy made life dangerous, especially after a robbery on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific train in Winton in July 1881 resulted in the slaying of a train engineer. Missouri Gov. Thomas Crittendon offered a $10,000 reward (worth more than $176,000 today) for the capture and conviction of Frank and Jesse James. The earlier James gang had been built on family kinship, but the reward money proved too tempting for the Jameses’ newer, less familiar associates. Jesse James would murder one gang member, Ed Miller, when he suspected the latter planned to turn himself in and inform on the brothers. A dispute over money stolen during a robbery at Blue Cut, Missouri led to the killing of another gang member. In return for the reward, on April 3, 1882, gang member Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the head as the notorious gunman stood on a chair to straighten a picture at his home.

Fearing that Frank James would seek vengeance, Robert Ford’s brother Charlie, also a member of the gang, suffered nightmares and eventually committed suicide. The public generally saw Robert Ford as a traitor and a coward. Ford used his reward money to open several saloons but ended up drifting from town to town before being murdered himself at the age of 30 in Creede, Colorado, June 8, 1892. By then, the public again transfigured Jesse James into a folk hero, a Robin Hood who resisted unjust authority, robbing from the rich and helping the poor. This image shines through a folk song, later performed by 20th-century folk singer and protestor Pete Seeger, which proclaimed:

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor . . .
Talking with his family brave.

Robert Ford came along like a thief in the night

And laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Romanticized in dime novels, plays, and “true detective” magazines, the Western outlaw provided 19th-century urban readers with fantasies of adventure in the wide-open spaces and vengeance against the wealthy and powerful. In the end, many Americans saw Billy the Kid, Jesse James and other gunslingers as less lawless, sinister and greedy than “robber barons” like the Rockefellers, the Astors and the rest of the callous rich whose gaudy wealth stood in shocking contrast to the appalling poverty seen in America’s spreading urban landscape.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.