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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. History and today we leave behind the

  • world of industry and corporations to talk about the Wild Wild West. Spoiler Alert: You

  • You have died of dysentery. And in the process, were going to explore

  • how all of us, even those of us who are vegan or eat sustainably-produced food benefit

  • from massive agrobusiness that has its roots in the Wild Wild West.

  • The West still looms large in American mythology as the home of cowboys and gunslingers and

  • houses of ill repute and freedom from pesky government interference, but in fact--

  • It was probably not as wild as weve been told. Ugh, Mr. Green, why can’t America

  • live up to its myths just once? Because this is America, Me from the Past,

  • home to Hollywood and Gatsby and Honey Boo Boo. We are literally in the mythmaking business.

  • intro So, before the Hollywood western, the myth

  • of the Frontier probably found its best expression in Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 lecture,

  • the Significance of the Frontier in American History.”

  • Turner argued that the West was responsible for key characteristics of American culture:

  • beliefs in individualism, political democracy, and economic mobility. Like, for 18th and

  • 19th century Americans, the western frontier represented the opportunity to start over,

  • and possibly to strike it rich by dint of one’s own individual effort, even back when

  • the West was, like, Ohio.[1] In this mythology, the west was a magnet for

  • restless young men who lit out for the uncorrupted, unoccupied, untamed territories to seek their

  • fortune. But, in reality, most western settlers went not as individuals but as members of

  • a family or as part of an immigrant group. And they weren’t filling up unoccupied space

  • either because most of that territory was home to American Indians.

  • Also, in addition to Easterners and migrants from Europe, the West was settled by Chinese

  • people and by Mexican migrant laborers and former slaves. Plus, there were plenty of

  • Mexicans living there already who became Americans with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

  • And the whole west as “a place of rugged individualism and independenceturns out

  • to be an oversimplification. I mean, the federal government, after all, had to pass the law

  • that spurred homesteading, then had to clear out American Indians already living there,

  • and had to sponsor the railroads that allowed the West to grow in the first place.

  • About as individualistic as the government buying Walden Pond for Henry David Thoreau.

  • What’s that? It’s a state park now? The government owns it? Well, there you go.

  • Now, railroads didn’t create the desire to settle the west but they did make it possible

  • for people who wanted to live out west to do so, for two reasons. First, without railroads

  • there would be no way to bring crops or other goods to market.

  • I mean, I guess you could dig a canal across Kansas, but, if youve ever been to Kansas

  • that is not a tantalizing proposition. Second, railroads made life in the west profitable

  • and livable because they brought the goods that people needed such as tools for planting

  • and sowing, shoes for wearing, books for putting on your shelf and pretending to have read.

  • Railroads allowed settlers to stay connected with the modernity that was becoming the hallmark

  • of the industrialized world in the 19th century. Now, we saw last week that the Federal government

  • played a key role in financing the transcontinental railroad, but state governments got into the

  • act too, often to their financial detriment. In fact, so many states nearly went bankrupt

  • financing railroads that most states now have constitutional requirements that they balance

  • their budgets. But perhaps the central way that the Federal

  • government supported the railroads, and western settlement and investment in general, was

  • by leading military expeditions against American Indians, rounding them up on ever-smaller

  • reservations, and destroying their culture. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • There was an economic as well as a racial imperative to move the Native Americans off

  • their land: white people wanted it. Initially it was needed to set down railroad tracks,

  • and then for farming, but eventually it was also exploited for minerals like gold and

  • iron and other stuff that makes industry work. I mean, would you really want a territory

  • called the Badlands unless it had valuable minerals?

  • Early western settlement, of the Oregon Trail kind, did not result in huge conflicts with

  • Native Americans, but by the 1850s, a steady stream of settlers kicked off increasingly

  • bloody conflicts that lasted pretty much until 1890.

  • Even though the fighting started before the Civil War, the end of thewar between the

  • statesmeant a new, more violent phase in the warring between American Indians and

  • whites. General Philip H. “Little PhilSheridan set out to destroy the Indians

  • way of life, burning villages and killing their horses and especially the buffalo that

  • was the basis of the plains tribesexistence. There were about 30 million buffalo in the

  • U.S. in 1800; by 1886 the Smithsonian Institute had difficulty finding 25 “good specimens.”[2]

  • In addition to violent resistance, some Indians turned to a spiritual movement to try to preserve

  • their traditional way of life. Around 1890 the Ghost Dance movement arose in and around

  • South Dakota. Ghost Dancers believed that if they gathered together to dance and engage

  • in religious rituals, eventually the white man would disappear and the buffalo would

  • return, and with them the Indianstraditional customs. But even though a combined force

  • of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors completely destroyed George Custer’s force of 250 cavalrymen

  • at Little Bighorn in 1876, and Geronimo took years to subdue in the Southwest, western

  • Native Americans were all defeated by 1890, and the majority were moved to reservations.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble. Boy, this Wild West episode sure is turning out to be loads of

  • fun! It’s just like the Will Smith movie! Alright, Stan, this is about to get even more

  • depressing, so let’s look at, like, some pretty mountains and western landscapes and

  • stuff, while I deliver this next bit. So in 1871 the U.S. government ended the treaty

  • system that had since the American Revolution treated Native American land as if they were

  • independent nations. And then with the Dawes Act of 1887, the lands set aside for the Indians

  • were allotted to individual families rather than to tribes. Indians whoadopted the

  • habits of civilized life,” which in this case meant becoming small scale individualistic

  • Jeffersonian farmers, would be granted citizenship and there were supposed to be some protections

  • to prevent their land from falling out of Native American possession. But, these protections

  • were not particularly protective and much of the Indian land was purchased either by

  • white settlers or by speculators. After the passage of the Dawes ActIndians lost 86

  • million of the 138 million acres of land in their possession.” [3]

  • Oh boy, it’s time for the Mystery Document. The rules here are simple.

  • I guess the author of the Mystery Document. And then you get to see me get shocked when

  • I’m wrong. Alright.

  • I have seen the Great Father Chief the Next Great Chief the Commissioner Chief; the Law

  • Chief; and many other law chiefs and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall

  • have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done

  • for my people. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done (…) Words do not pay

  • for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do

  • not protect my father's grave. (…) Good words will not give my people a home where

  • they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing.

  • It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises.

  • I mean that could be almost any American Indian leader.

  • This is totally unfair, Stan. All I really know about this is that the Great Father Chief

  • is the President. I mean it could be any of a dozen people.

  • How bout if I say the name in 10 seconds I don’t get punished?

  • Aaaand start. Sitting Bull Crazy Horse Geronimo Chief Big Foot um Keokuk Chief Oshkosh Chief

  • Joseph Ch-OH YES YES SUCK IT STAN SUCK IT! And now let us move from tragedy to tragedy.

  • So if youre thinking that it couldn’t get worse for the Native Americans: it did.

  • After killing off the buffalo, taking their land and forcing Indians onto reservations,

  • the Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted a policy that amounted to cultural genocide.

  • It set up boarding schools, the most famous of which was in Carlisle, PA, where Indian

  • children were forcefully removed from their families to be civilized. This meant teaching

  • them English, taking away their clothes, their names, and their family connections.

  • The idea put succinctly, was tokill the Indian, save the man.”

  • Now, the U.S. wasn’t the only nation busy subjugating its indigenous inhabitants and

  • putting them on reservations in the late 19th century. Like, something similar was happening

  • in South Africa, in Chile, and even to First Peoples in Canada.

  • And youre usually so good, Canada. Although the slower pace of western settlement meant

  • that there was much less bloodshed, so, another point to Canada.

  • And as bad as the American boarding school policy was, at least it was short lived compared

  • with Australia’s policy of removing Aboriginal children from families and placing them with

  • white foster families, which lasted until the 1970s.

  • Alright, Stan, we need to cheer this episode up. Let’s talk about cowboys! The Marlboro

  • Man riding the range, herding cows and smoking, solitary in the saddle, alone in his emphysema.

  • Surely that is the actual West, the men and women but mostly men who stood apart from

  • the industrializing country as the last of Jefferson’s rugged individuals.

  • But, no. Once again, we have the railroad to thank for our image of the cowboy. Like,

  • those massive cattle drives of millions of cows across open range Texas? Yeah, they ended

  • at towns like Abilene, and Wichita, and Dodge City--because that’s where the railheads

  • were. Without railroads, cowboys would have just

  • driven their cattle in endless circles. And without industrial meat processing, there

  • wouldn’t have been a market for all that beef.

  • And it was a lot of beef. You know what I’m talking about. I’m actually talking about

  • beef. By the mid 1880s the days of open range ranching

  • were coming to an end as ranchers began to enclose more and more land and set up their

  • businesses closer to, you guessed it, railroad stations.

  • There are also quite a few things about western farming that just fly in the face of the mythical

  • Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideal. Firstly, this type of agricultural work was a family

  • affair; many women bore huge burdens on western farms, as can be seen in this excerpt from

  • a farm woman in Arizona: “Get up, turn out my chickens, draw a pail

  • of watermake a fire, put potatoes to cook, brush and sweep half inch of dust off

  • floor, feed three litters of chickens, then mix biscuits, get breakfast, milk, besides

  • work in the house and this morning had to go half mile after calves.”

  • These family-run farms were increasingly oriented towards production of wheat and corn for national

  • and even international markets rather than trying to eke out subsistence.

  • Farmers in Kansas found themselves competing with farmers in Australia and Argentina, and

  • this international competition pushed prices lower and lower.

  • Secondly, the Great Plains, while remarkably productive agriculturally, wouldn’t be nearly

  • as good for producing crops without massive irrigation projects.

  • Much of the water needed for plains agriculture comes a massive underground lake, the Oglala

  • Aquifer. Don’t worry, by the way, the Aquifer is

  • fed by a magic and permanent H20 factory in the core of the earth that you can learn about

  • in Hank’s show, Crash Course Chemistr--What’s that? It’s going dry. MY GOD THIS IS A DEPRESSING

  • EPISODE. Anyway, large-scale irrigation projects necessitate

  • big capital investments and therefore large, consolidated agricultural enterprises that

  • start to look more like agri-business than family farms.

  • I mean, by 1900, California was home to giant commercial farms reliant on irrigation and

  • chemical fertilizers. Some of them were owned, not by families, but by big corporations like

  • the Southern Pacific Railroad. And they were worked by migrant farm laborers

  • from China, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico. As Henry George, a critic of late 19th century

  • corporate capitalism, wroteCalifornia is not a country of farms, butof plantations

  • and estates.”[4] When studying American history, it’s really

  • easy to get caught up in the excitement of industrial capitalism with its robber barons,

  • and new technologies, and fancy cities because that world looks very familiar to us, probably

  • because it’s the one in which we live. After all, if I was running a farm like that

  • Arizona woman I talked about earlier, there’s no way I could be making these videos because

  • I’d be chasing my calves. I