Culture Shock was intrinsic to American experience,
not only upon arrival, but time after time after migrating
hither and yon. A person whose ancestor rowed ashore
from a seventeenth century barque was as likely to suffer
culture shock in his own lifetime as an immigrant from anywhere.
Southerners moving North, Easterners moving West, and
more so Westerners moving East, all of these and
more took their turn as migrants, to be traumatized by sudden
encounters with strange character-types, ways of work,
technology, even climate and diet.
The stories of migration and immigration have been separated
unreasonably. Flight from religious and political persecution
has been taught generally to be the superior motive
for immigrating, and those who taught saw to it that
their own ancestors were of such ilk.
Actually, elementary computations readily
demonstrate that more people have migrated from
one part of the country to another
for freedom of worship or non-worship,
for liberty, equality and fraternity, for human dignity,
than have immigrated from abroad.
(In all cases, of course, there must be implicated
an economic factor.)
For every honest-to-God Puritan, Anabaptist,
Frenchman, Jew, and Irishman who could be said
to have landed in America because of persecution abroad,
ten or perhaps a hundred Americans have changed
their home within the United States because of
oppression of some kind. Many dissenting Puritans
had to leave their homes and settle elsewhere
as individuals or communes. The innumerable and
widespread Indian migrations were products largely of the
hatred and aggression of the Europeans.
Blacks fled the South at every opportunity;
it was not the Southern countryside or culture that they hated,
but their complete lack of liberty, including economic suppression.
Catholics have been forced out of towns and neighborhoods.
Mexican-Americans of the Southwest were forced into moving.
Early Mormons moved Westwards in peril of their lives.
West coast Japanese-Americans found themselves
consigned to camps in World War II, whence, released,
many refused to return to their old neighborhoods.
An indicator of the movements of the population was devised by the
Bureau of Census and applied retrospectively and
up to the present, the "Mean Center of Population,"
a scientific fiction, a hypothetical point,
such that if a map of the U.S. surface were flattened out,
was made rigid, and everyone stood in place on it,
the map would balance perfectly on a spindle
fastened at the point. Thus, each decade, it
could be remarked that the Center of Population
was shifting westward. In 1790 it was located
East of the Appalachian Mountains, a few miles Southeast of
Baltimore, Maryland. A Southern as well as Western movement of the
Center could be noticed after World War I, because
so many people migrated to Southern California,
Florida and Arizona. The fulcrum moved markedly and
similarly after World War II, so that by
1990 the Center was calculated to be
9.7 miles Southeast of Steelville, Missouri.
We might conjecture a similar "Center of Emigration" for the world to
chart the incoming American population from abroad. The Center
would perhaps be first in Siberia, then in the United States, probably
around Tennessee, then it would move Northeastward, crossing the
ocean to Southern England, but then (artificially, of course, or
statistically) to perhaps Gibraltar because of the large incoming of
Africans, then would move North decade by decade as the larger
British and Germanic emigration came about, then in the 1880's
the Center would be moving toward Southern Europe, indicating the
emigration of Mediterranean and East European stocks, until finally by
the year 2000, hesitating whether to move East or West to denote the
large East Asian immigration, it would be somewhere
around Genoa, the city of Columbus.
Counting the hundreds of African nations, Indian nations, and
distinct sub-ethnicities of the European countries,
when their peoples moved into the American maw,
and then the Asian and North and South American nations,
we arrive at a thousand kinds of people --
whose inter-relations, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
were quite capable of peaceability,
when proper conditions were enforced.
Internal migration is to be considered in connection with foreign
immigration. A fascinating pattern evolves as immigrants become
migrants, for it was as migrants that some of the traits of the many
nationalities that came to America were expressed: the Jewish peddler
of Vitebsk starting up with a pushcart in New York and selling it to a
later Jew from Lvov as he himself goes West to
Arizona to peddle from a horse and wagon, then to set up a dry
goods store, and finally to establish a department store;
the English machine crew from Manchester agreeing to accompany a
machine system from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee to get it going;
an Italian railroad gang slurping up handfuls of spaghetti and meat
balls from the great table of their boarding house in Kansas City;
the Swede languishing of loneliness and malnutrition on a
desolate farm near Rapid City, South Dakota,
awaiting the arrival of his aunt and uncle from Chicago;
and so on through a million and more stories -
Armenians and Lebanese spreading around the cities of the Northeast
and the farms and cities of California, exchanging
places with friends and relatives from the old country,
leapfrogging each other to spread all over the place.
Between 1830 and 1860,
about 60% of the Boston population moved out
in each decade, in Philadelphia 70%.
Of the Irish traced through parish records in New York City,
in the period 1850 to 1869,
55% left the city, 17% remained and 28% died.
Similar German records reveal 58% who left,
40% who remained and 2% who died.
(The difference is death rates is real: Irish suffered
worse living conditions, a withering incidence of
contagious tuberculosis, a higher birth rate
with its consequent high mortality, and
more alcoholism and accidents.)
The immigration-migration process was often impulsive - but just as
often exceedingly planned, carefully executed, an amazing story of
individual and family accomplishment. It is generally not studied or
taught because the social sciences that treat of these matters were
unknown or undeveloped in relation to so-called history - mainly
constitutional and political history - until the
most recent political generation.
It seemed not part of the real America, whereas it was most of
America beginning at the beginning, when the fascinating chains of
communications stretched back from the first of those who left the
new village and plantation to those left behind, from even the
escaped slaves, convicts, indentured servants, runaway and kicked-out
boys and girls, back to those who remembered them and wanted to
know what they were doing and what the new world was like.
Migration consists of demographic changes within the locality; people
moving in and out of a town from around the area; movement within a
state; regional movements; and inter-regional movements, that is,
national patterns. The rates of all of these have been rapid.
A fifth of the people changed local domicile annually
(about one-third of all tenants); another fifth moved
somewhere within the same state; another fifth moved in the region;
again a fifth moved between regions or nationally. These estimates
leave a fifth of the people staying in place for at least a year.
They would qualify as old-timers, except that soon they would move.
Actually there were probably more people who were substantially
homeless in America over a period of three centuries than there
were in the fifth who stayed at the same abode for a year or more.
Once more, American history is unique. Never in the archives of
history can so extreme an example of a restless
(and presumably unhappy or at least anxious) population be found:
and, we recall, these were all individuals or small voluntary groups,
unless one were to count the armies that marched their men up and
down the country during the Civil War. The statistics make of
America a sort of perpetual frontier.
The Civil War veteran, North and South, was a driver of the
internal migration wagon. The frontier got much of its railroad,
mining, agricultural impetus and its ideology from him. The legions
of pensioned war veterans acted as a kind of Republican Party task
force to spread the gospel of industrialism and free enterprise. They
buffered the even more insistent but impoverished Confederate
veterans who would have taken over more territory in their absence.
By their attitudes, they helped, too, to suppress welfare activities by
governments around the country.
The USA is probably the only nation in the world where for four
hundred years, when you met a farmer and asked him what he had in
mind for the future, a typical reply would be, "I don't know,
maybe sell out and move on.." Or you might hear "Maybe try my
luck in ..." The expression "It's time to pull up stakes" froze many
a poor woman's heart. Land was something to be gotten
at a bargain, used up, sold at a profit - I speak here of a large minority,
perhaps a large majority of American farmers. Perhaps 95% of all
those who attempted to farm in America.
As time went on, the immigrants from abroad and their descendants
spread around. A study of the origins of the people of the States of
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin of 1850 evidences
that 2.33 millions or half were natives of their State, 0.28 millions
came from elsewhere in the Old Northwest, 0.17 came from New
England, 0.718 came from the Middle Atlantic States, 0.462 from the
South, and 0.527 from Europe. If migration within these large states,
each the size of England, were figured in - moves from one village or
county to another, only a small percentage would have been born and
lived within the circumference of a few miles.
Despite concentrations in states such as Wisconsin, Germanics came to
form today the leading source of ancestry in thirty states. English
ancestry is leading in five states, second in only nine, but found
well represented in all states. Irish (2/3 Catholic) hold a plurality of
ancestry in five states, second place in 20, African-Americans hold first
place in ancestry in seven states, second place in only one. Italic
ancestry holds a plurality in two states, second place also in two states.
In Hawaii, the Japanese are the largest ancestral strain, in California,
the Mexican, who also hold one second place. Norwegians of the near
Northwest hold second place in three states. The French of New
England and Louisiana are second
most common therein.
Jews reside everywhere and have so since the beginning of the country
(except where for a time they were excluded). Whereas for most
immigrants and migrants, locating by a sizeable number of
one's own ethnic or religious identity determined their movement,
with the Jews a pioneering merchant spirit led them to every out-of-
the-way place to establish a merchant and trading business,
confident that they would make a go of it, and ultimately be in touch
with co-religionists or ordinary non-practicing Jews; indeed, the
process began with their setting up lines of credit and sources of
merchandise with Jews established in the
cities settled earlier or overseas.
This is the bolder version of the way many nationalities spread their
people and customs and influence around the United States:
Japanese orchardists, Italian masons and sculptors, Hungarian musicians,
English metal-workers, Scottish engineers, Welsh miners, Greek café
("ice cream parlors") and restaurant owners. When immigration was
severely limited, to the occupational chain was added the illegal entry
chain. The Mexican was (and is) coming through knowledge of a job
chain and an alien smuggling chain. Not a Greek Orthodox priest who
ever served in America but had not arranged for the accommodation in
parish homes and a dishwashing job for Greek sailors jumping ship and
presenting themselves before him as
guide to heaven on earth as well
Religious cults found footholds and migrated in complex patterns.
Generally the original American sub-cultures carried their religious
labels westward, accumulating new legions of Baptists and
Methodists as they went along. The Catholics migrated through
America by several routes: their early grasp of the missions of the
Southwest and Northern and Central California persisted and
expanded with a new migrant population from the East; from the
cities of entry and down from Canada, they spread throughout New
England and the Northeast, composing an all-around plurality; their
early presence around New Orleans was contained by largely Baptist
elements migrating from the border states and Deep South; from
Chicago, a belt of Catholicism stretched up to Lake Superior;
clusters were to gather elsewhere, in Missouri, for instance, and
The tendency has been toward religious diversity in the smaller
centers of the country; the Sunbelt, to which Northern migration
was heavy in more recent times, did not exist as a frontier concept
for people and industry.
The process of westward movement from the earliest times finds itself
called often "The Winning of the West." The Indians would call it "The
westward plague of two-legged locusts." This was unhappily true.
The 1874 invention of barbed wire by an Illinois farmer named Joe
Gladden transformed much of the Midwestern and Western
From 1872 to 1874, a buffalo-killing frenzy came upon people,
abetted by the U.S. Army that used it to starve the Indians. Parties
came from as far as Britain to shoot the helpless great beasts.
Twelve million buffalo were slaughtered, plus countless elk, deer,
and any other animals to be sighted along a gun barrel.
These were strange destructive years: the Chicago Fire of 1871, the
Pestigo statewide forest fire, the Boston fire of 1872, and a 1872
plague of locusts devouring the Western plains, and then this killing
mania. (One is tempted to reflect upon Ignatius Donnelly's theory
that gases from Donati's comet were touching
down upon the United States.)
One of the many myths about the immigrant is that in the beginning he
preferred the wide-open spaces whereas, later on, he clung to the
cities. Considering the myth of bucolic blessings, that made the earlier
immigrant superior to the later. Some commentators, seeking to justify
the latter, expostulated that the land had given out, the frontier was
gone, they had nowhere to go.
Actually most humans have preferred the city to the country, when
offered the choice. But in the first two centuries there were only
several small cities, and few coming from Europe would have had
urban experience. Cities averaged 1,000 to 50,000 in the earlier
period and rose to contain from 50,000 to one million when Naples
and London led the pack. It was often the case that the potential
immigrant to America went first from his rural neighborhood to his
nearest city, such as London, failed to locate there, and managed
somehow, willy-nilly, to find himself aboard a boat to America.
There, if lucky, he would be indentured to a townsman or find town
employment; else he was condemned to work upon the land or enter
upon the search for land, obviously not difficult to obtain in exchange
for labor, a little cash down, an application, or seize-squat-survive.
Making a success from the land was another question;
usually the farmer failed. Free Blacks headed for towns, and so did
the emancipated African-American whenever he found a way to
survive there, no matter how hard the conditions; meanwhile,
however, before the turn of the century, Blacks transported
themselves in considerable numbers to the
far Middle West farmland.
Immigrants regardless of nationality, tended to edge westward behind
somewhat earlier immigrants, for lack of town jobs, until in the end the
land gave out and pioneering became obviously more foolhardy than
hardy. Close examination of the records might disclose that
the jobs in the cities stopped the pressure for open lands rather than
the reverse, or mythical bucolism, whose scenario has the latecomers
as low-grade peasants who suckered for the city, whereas the
early-comers were high-grade robust farmers. Those who were kinder
to the late settlers declared that these people really wanted land,
but not finding it, had to stay in the city.
The opposite thesis might be more true, that the latecomers made
better farmers than the earlier ones, who hardly understood the land
and exploited it to the point of ruination, then moved on to wreck
more of the virgin land and forests. And it is true that wherever the
late-comers - I speak mainly of the Southern and Eastern Europeans
- found the chance, they farmed well, or took up patches near their city
jobs and turned to truck farming.
So little of the idyllic farmer has composed the Americans that
it is rare to find a land title and active farm whose overseeing family goes
back a century. This hardly indicates a love for the land or skill at
farming. (We shall inquire whether it reflects gross
mismanagement over a period of three centuries, hardly deserving
the praise heaped upon the American farmer, "the most productive
in the world." To be considered, too, are the immense subsidies
given to farmers by the federal government beginning in the 1930's
and continuing annually for sixty years. Else the farmers would have
expelled themselves much more rapidly from the land.)
The initial and persisting distinction between good and not so good
farmers was ethnic. The Germanics, no matter from where, created the
better farms and were followed and accompanied by Slavic and
Scandinavian farmers as they traversed the continent, beginning in
Pennsylvania, fostering a wide belt North into New York, and moving
as such through the middle of the country to the Mississippi, into the
near Northwest and later across the country from Missouri mainly.
The English, and especially the Scottish, Welsh, Scots-Irish, and Irish
Catholics were not usually well adapted to farming. Although the
Agricultural Revolution got a sharp impetus from English landowners,
these were not the same people as those who landed in America.
America's primitive conditions could not
leap into agricultural revolution (the word "virgin farmland" really meant
land that took far too much energy with primitive tools and social support
systems, without a road and market infrastructure).
As the Germanic settlers fanned out, they were preceded and
accompanied and followed by a large number of other groups,
mainly at first of New Englanders, who were the first to strike out
for Oregon, though by this time the whole was becoming a mixed
group, not moving and settling ethnically, but more likely
religiously, as Lutherans, Congregationalists, or Methodists, or
Baptist church groups. Both the Germanic and New England Anglo
westward movement provided the cadres for numerous towns and
some cities en route.
The Oregon Trail was a path very early marked out. Many Indians and
traders had taken the route. In the 1840's began a large-scale migration
by pushcart, wagon, horseback and foot over the two thousand miles
that separated Oregon settlements from assembly
points like Independence, Freeport Landing, and St. Joseph in
westernmost Missouri. They had come by the same means from
points South and East but most had used also the flotilla of
Mississippi-Missouri Rivers steamboats. From a quarter to half a
million people started out on the trail. A major fraction of these split
off to go to California, attracted by the gold mines and the
opportunities available there. About ten per cent died in the several
months en route, not more than in the ocean crossings of the century
and not so many more than those who would have back home,
if there was a home. .
Hostile Indians were not commonly encountered. In fact the
emigrants traded with the Indians and the Mormons who had
preceded them and had come up from Utah for the purpose. (We
recollect that the Mormons, after being persecuted in New York,
Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, had made their great trek
several years earlier, and prospered in dealings with wagon
trains pausing at Salt Lake City.)
The Oregon Trail passed through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and
Idaho, none of these especially tempting, then in Oregon territory,
Baker City, North to Pendleton, passing through the Cascades
Mountains North of Mount Hood, and over to Oregon City,
Portland and Astoria by the Pacific. The attractions of the Willamette
Valley caught most of the migrants. The region
prospered and its people hardly felt the Civil War so far away.
Where the cities developed industry, as in Cincinnati, Cleveland,
Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City and St. Louis, succeeding waves of
Germans, British and other ethnic groups newly arrived in America
joined in building industry. The great westward movement from the
Southern culture, Celtic and English by origin, was less commendable
for its farming. On its Northern edges it mingled with the Northern
elements and on the Southern it was sui generis except that it deviated
around the French of New Orleans and infiltrated and took over the
Mexican lands of the Southwest.
They ultimately moved in large numbers to Southern California and the
great central valley, where, externally at least they began to become
more like Northerners in speech and manners. But they were now
among equally large Mexican and African Americans. New York and
Illinois, abetted by Iowa and other Midwestern states sent large
contingents into Southern California as well. They were blocked from
the Northwest by the Mormons and by the new Eastern and foreign
immigration settling around the mines and Northern ranges.
Numerous studies have finally come about of particular towns West of
the Alleghenies and of what happened exactly in their settlement. It
appears that they were composed in the first place of persons who
were overly optimistic about their chances of success. Problems beset
them immediately. They spent much time and energy in disputes and
were unstable for a long time.
The myth of unity, community decision-making, democratic
participation was rarely true. It was a shock for most people coming
into a place, even there together by some chance or plan, to discover
that they, Americans, had little of those wonderful talents that
historians accorded them. Early Kansas towns for example did not
only have to endure struggles over slavery, but conflicts between
cattlemen and farmers, representing different ways of life.
Just as Europe seemed to be emptying itself of people, the East
seemed to be breaking up in the westward movement. Along the trunk
lines of the nation, beginning early in the nineteenth century and continuing
to this day, a person never lost sight of some vehicle before
and behind, carrying other migrants and their property west. It was a
highly individualistic and yet highly social migration.
In the town of Jacksonville, Illinois, for instance, the outward
appearances were of a voluntaristic community, with a mixed group of
Yankee and Southern founders, who set up a number of voluntary
associations where everybody could belong to something and do
something for the community; large houses were built in plantation and
Victorian style that seemed to prove a stable social order and
prosperity. Peace, stability, prosperity.
Actually the town had none of these except partially and from time to
time. The people fought over the Union. The ordinary run of people,
whether in the beginning or in the end, entered and lived in cheap
housing, that became dilapidated and was finally torn down.
Depressions struck the town hard. Only a core remained,
telling one another of their superiority over the "movers," as the
bulk of the population was called, and publishing
self-praise in a local press.
Between 1850 and 1860, only one-quarter of the residents stayed on;
between 1860 and 1870 only 21 survivors could be traced in the
town. Yet the town was growing in absolute numbers. When a list
of "old settlers" from among the town and settlements and country
people around was published in the seventies (as of 1831 or about 40
years) only 400 names showed up among many thousands. The
thousands of school children with ancestors from various countries
and regions who went through the town system were of course taught
that these few hang-ins were the world's best people and
responsible for all the good pointed out around.
The institutions, formal structures, constitutions, numerous types of
voluntary associations, laws of all kinds, signposts, newspapers,
infrastructures of bridges, roads, tunnels, railroads, and collections of
houses, even though they hardly gave the impression of long duration
and permanence of Europe, did make the scene, over let us say 80% of
America throughout the three hundred years of its existence, appear
durable, at least, and familiar to visitors and residents.
Whereas, in fact, these were a scenery that served constantly
different troupes of players. A boarding house and a set of jerrybuilt
houses would from one month to another be occupied by entirely
different faces and families. Cemeteries would go unattended and were
dug up after a few years. When people met as citizens of the town,
they would ask one another where they had come from in the
first several minutes of conversation.
Of those Americans who were not immigrants but had been born in
America, the vast majority were themselves strangers in their own
land, voluntarily. They could not stand where they came from, and for
precisely the same reasons the immigrants had for coming to America.
Where they had been, they would tell you, the land was overworked,
the town jobs were diminishing or dull, one could not make a decent
living, a gang of crooks ran politics, their church group couldn't
support a church house any more, their loved ones had died or moved
elsewhere, there was no decent schooling for the kids, and so on.
Those who remained in a town were "boosters" to the end, but the
movers were the far-blown echo of the real town. There came to be
thousands of local histories written in America; a half century was
deemed enough to warrant a history. But with a dozen exceptions
the thousands of works were unreal, untrue, flattering to the
community and its presently leading citizens, and foreseeing a busy
happy future. And when these thousands of communities set up
monuments to their historical heroes, local or national, or to events
deemed important in local or national history, historical
unreliability vied with aesthetic offensiveness.
Local museums were equally trivial, but improved with time;
churches were usually too plain and young to carry interesting treasures -
nothing so astonishing, for instance, as was honored at the cathedral of
Céziers in France: the hair of the tail of the she-ass that
bore Christ on his entrance into Jerusalem.
In keeping with the "instant iconography" for which Americans
were becoming world-famous, thousands of public historical sites
came to be established around the country, aesthetically and
historically more repulsive than Hollywoodry. A crummy site at
Homestead, Nebraska, represented the first man to obtain a tract of
land under the Homestead Act. He did not long
remain on the land, in fact.
Did all the settlement bring an end to the frontier? The declaration by
the Bureau of Census in 1890 that the Frontier had ended with the
taking up of all free or non-governmental land was premature and
anyhow based on false premises. There was a great deal of
homesteading in the twentieth century, and
one could still obtain some rather poor land under homesteading conditions
just as in the century and a half before. But, as so many of the
"farmers" or land-grabbers discovered when they hastened into
newly opened territories for land,
the land there was usually worse than the land
back where they came from.
For the same reasons, the frontier did not end with the rush to take up
the land of the Cherokee Strip, the last deprivation of the
Cherokees in Oklahoma. It did not end with the extermination of the
buffalo, brought about by soldiers and civilians with their repeating
rifles urged on by Indian-haters and sporting clubs and railroad
agents. The frontier had not ended with the completion of one, two,
or three transcontinental railroads. Late into the nineteenth century
large immigrations to America took place whose members - mostly
German and Scandinavian so far as the Northwest was concerned -
journeyed directly from Europe to the staging areas for farming,
usually the houses of relatives or professional
land dealers and farm-equipment dealers.
Good land was rare once a person left the Mississippi valley. After it
became notorious that a family could not survive on even 150 acres of
land in the "real West," Congress passed a Desert Land Act in 1887
that allowed a man to put down only a quarter of a dollar an acre for
640 acres and three years to attempt some kind of irrigation and then
finally another dollar an acre and the title was his. The results were
pathetic. An estimated 95% of the land disbursed under the Act was
implicated in fraudulent sales. Practically all of it ended in the
hands of large cattle ranchers.
Most of the newcomers did not last for long on the land.
(In one four-year period of the seventies half the population of
West Kansas fled their farms.) Destitute, the unsuccessful majority
retired to the cities behind them or went to the cities of the West
to find work. Some remained on the land, moving around locally,
buying and selling among themselves and with the dealers of the
nearest town, and beginning to organize, besides the voluntary associations,
always there and with new ones on the way, political movements to
facilitate cheap credit and high prices for crops and animals and
their by-products, dairy and otherwise.
All too often the frontier and the West have been described as a safety
valve for the nation, and there has been envisioned some large population
centers of uniform traits in the East, that, upon any
untoward happening - depression, overcrowding - would open and
send some people spinning westwards. From the standpoint of
politics, the West was more of a time bomb; instead of economic
pressures and political pressures having to be taken care of in the
East, their settlement was postponed by Western elements of some
of the adventurous, the cantankerous, the disturbed, the poor, the
immigrant, and property-owners who had failed to keep their standing
- that is, those who would have constituted a
turbulent social and political element.
But the same people brought many troubles to the West and the
nation - private wars, public wars, violence, demands for state and
national legislation of many kinds, and soon had the requisite
number of U.S. Senators to shape national debates, issues and
policies. The safety valve, that is, did not afford better
opportunities to a great many people; they became shortly as poor as
their Eastern brethren, though better off than their Southern
compatriots. It lessened the pressures of law and order and radical
politics on the East and moved them westward. The radicals of East
and West were contemporaries and mostly took on the
same ideas at the same time.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States could still
be divided into cultural regions of some behavioral importance.
There was the South, already described, with its many States, and strongly
influential cultural margins along the Northern border, and the western
border much extended, but with some losses in Maryland,
Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern Florida due to immigrant and
migrant influences. Generally the South's basic sub-cultures were still
the lowland, the uplands and the mountains. Moderating influences
occurred in Louisiana French culture and Texas
German settlement as well.
New England culture was now along with New York-Pennsylvania
culture and their extensions all the way to the Pacific
Coast a pluralist Yankee culture. The great immigrant cities stood
by themselves already: New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland,
Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Boston - they were
much more alike, a mixture of immigrants and old propertied controls;
they stood apart. California was becoming unique as a sub-culture of
the Mid-west with strong infusions of poor Southern White and
Northern big city attributes, hardly at all mixed or fully
manifested at this moment in time.
In the great cities were sub-cultures, too.
It was not only incorrect but indecent to deny the authenticity of
these compact neighborhoods, often composing a fifth of a great city,
from the standpoint of culture. The Milwaukee Germans might be
compared with the rural Pennsylvania or Texas Germans, or rural
Pennsylvanians and Texans generally with respect to cultural
creativity and activity. Likewise, the New York Italian
neighborhoods and indeed practically all of the immigrant city ethnic
microcosms were no doubt less typically American, but
not less culturally active than the typical
rural cultural regions of the country.
The post-Civil War Virginia inland, Chesapeake Bay, Tidewater,
Eastern Bank cultures and several others of the larger Virginia
complex fell into a "slough of despond" that was not alleviated by
their considerable cities of Norfolk, Richmond, and even
Washington (D.C.), because foreign immigration to these cities and
to all Southern cities (except New Orleans) was minimal.
Nor did immigrants or their children migrate to Southern cities. The
Minnesota Scandinavian culture was quite lively by contrast, but its
ruralness handicapped it and not until it was securely urbanized in
considerable cities did it attain a high level in the sciences and arts.
Jewish city culture, both ethnic and full American, came to exceed in
these regards all the others, ethnic and native, rural or urban, and
remains to be treated here in later chapters. The several African-American
cultures that characterized the great cities of the North and
South need be compared not only among themselves but also with the
Black culture of the mountains and deltas of the South.
That is, the city had its cultures, that are as important to analyze (but
have not been) as the various rural and semi-rural sub-culture
complexes that have arisen and in many cases died out throughout the
United States. Wherever Americans went, and whether from abroad or
from inside the country somewhere, they tended to group together.
These affinity groups built morale and provided mutual support. They
revealed in myriad instances the limits of
American individualism. They were voluntary:
movement in and out was relatively free.
However, wherever people were forced to live in urban colonies -
whether they were mountain folk of Anglo-Kentucky or Hindustan,
Jews or African-American - social problems became sharper.
Trying to ghettoize them, realtors and racists
(leading surrounding dwellers by the nose) figured as prime
villains in the process ofAmericanization.
From the 1860's through the 1880's the final Indian wars and
skirmishes occurred. In Minnesota during the Civil War, a forceful
Sioux attack in retaliation against forced land concessions brought on
a conflict in which many hundreds died. A slaughter of
Cheyenne and Arapahos came at the hands of the Colorado militia in
1864, whose commander, at one time a Methodist preacher,
gathered a large collection of Indian scalps for exhibition purposes.
Congress began what turned out to be a hundred-year campaign in
1867, that sought to confine Indians to remote reservations. In the
Southern tall grass high plains, several tribes resisted an agreement
to confine them, and the Red River War of 1874-5 ensued.
In 1871, Congress decided that they were
no longer treating with nations, therefore needed no treaties,
but could govern the Indians by simple statute.
In the 1880's, Congress broke up tribal land systems,
assigning allotments to individual Indians,
but administering the lands in trust.
The trust made much money, it turned out, leasing the
lands for exploitation by miners and oilmen.
Badly administered, not to say corrupt,
only a century later was the trust brought to court
by the Indians for an accounting of the billions of dollars involved.
The seventies were also notable for the annihilation of
General George Custer's isolated detachment of cavalry at the
Battle of the Little Big Horn River. The
dashing, vainglorious, foolish man let his troops be
trapped despite all warning. The victorious Sioux
then retired, but were pursued everywhere.
Chief Sitting Bull, their leader, escaped to Canada.
The Far West found the Blackfoot, the Crow, the Utes,
the Modocs, and the Nez Perces harassed and increasingly confined
by the Army and irregulars. They settled finally in
Chief Cochise led the Apache nation in war and peace -
interminable frustrating encounters: it was impossible to keep Whites
from squatting, impossible, also, to keep young braves from
marauding. Wounded in a skirmish in Mexico, dying, he asked his men to
carry him up the mountain to watch the sun rise.
The Chiricahua Apaches produced a great chieftain in Geronimo, who
led them for two decades in clashes with successive punitive
expeditions of the U.S. Army. He gave up finally, though officially he
was said to have been captured. He then toured the world with Buffalo
Bill's Wild West Show. Children of all ages could watch fascinated,
night after night, while Indians and Cavalry galloped around the arena
in noisy mock battle.
In the late eighties, a Paiute Indian had visions of a Messiah and
predicted that he would lead all Indians to victory over the Whites.
Sitting Bull, who had returned from Canada, was killed while resisting
arrest, and a massacre of defenseless Indians - men,
women, children -occurred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Practically the last incident of the Indian Wars occurred here now,
in 1890, on December 29.
Soon Theodore Roosevelt, ardent nationalist, loud-mouthed trust-buster,
big game hunter, author, doughty warrior, and manic
President, would be writing the epitaph of the Indian, prematurely:
"The settler and pioneer have at bottom had justice on their side;
this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game
preserve for squalid savages." Only the total context of my book lets
me dare print this seductive dogma, so accepted and so well taught
to each other by so many Americans, so replete in falsehood,
deception, and harmful myth.
The time had come for "benevolent" policy that would
treat the Indians as Americans of unfortunate heritage.
All tribal Indians were provided with reservations
where they might be directly ruled by the Whites when
considered necessary and where schools were provided for
teaching a strictly Euro-American version of
culture and history.
Between 1896 and 1990, federal
government policy forbade the use of any Indian
language in schools, though to suppress their language is a
mortal blow to a people's culture. (During much of this
period, millions of American children were reading the
sad story of the last day of class for
little "French" children, for now (1870) the
"bad Germans" had taken over Alsace-Lorraine and
banned the teaching of French (where German was
the family language).
When reservations seemed not to make "good Americans"
out of the Indians, a Dawes Severalty Act
of 1924 authorized the President to cut up any
reservation and give to each family up to
160 acres of its land, which was held in
trust for the household and given over in free title
only after 25 years. Soon,
much of the reservations was falling into the hands of
speculators. The Indians ended up with a few million
acres of land under these programs. On occasion,
valuable mineral and metal deposits happened to be
discovered there, and individual Indians profited.
In 1924, United States citizenship was extended to all Indians.
Contrary to popular belief, Indians gained little in consequence; the
right to vote mattered mainly where they lived in some numbers.
A political generation later, in the Eisenhower administrations,
over 100 reservations were abolished,
redistributing the land to individual Indians, hoping that
they would assimilate to the larger society. A decade later, this
policy had disintegrated and tribal governance was
restored here and there. In the couple of hundred reservations that
persisted, little conventional paid work was available, and
unemployment rates of 50% were common, an absurd statistic, of
course, since there were rarely any jobs
to be disemployed from to begin with.
Surprisingly, but in accord with the liberalizing trend of the
Supreme Court, lately the Indians have been presenting old treaties
and claims against the United States in state and federal courts and
have been receiving (would that it were just in the nick of time)
heavy compensation in certain cases.
Indians with valid racial and tribal credentials found, too, that
they might legally set up gambling casinos, a
highly profitable kind of operation, under their treaties and
agreements of the past. The Pequots of Connecticut, who had been
practically annihilated in 1637 by land-grabbing English Puritans,
using other Indians as allies, still held on to a reservation in their
name. The score who had remained thereabouts were able to
muster three hundred, practically all of mixed ancestry -
red, black and white - who qualified as tribal nationals;
they built a community economy on the basis of gambling that
brought in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually in the 1990's
and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Administering their
patrimony democratically, they came shortly to resemble an
upper-class suburb, giving more money, however,
to support museums, education, health, and other philanthropies.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, it appeared that
the Indians would begin to turn the tables,
debauching Whites by the same techniques as were used to
ruin Indians in generations gone by.