Sunday, December 25, 2011

Attack on the Essex


      A Sperm whale (shown above) 
We have all probably read of heard about the mighty whale, Moby Dick, as portrayed by Herman Melville in his novel (first published in England in October of 1851) relating the fictions attack or “stove” (meaning to ram into, in this instance) of the likewise fictional whaling shipPequod”.

Whales are known to ‘stove’ boats more often than you might think; modern day reports have surfaced describing such attacks occurring with sleek ocean going cruisers, but ships, well that’s another matter.  There is the story of the whale ship ‘Union’ that has been floating around since her sinking back in 1807, wherein it went down after some sort of contact with a sperm whale, but the details of the event are so vague that there is reason to suspect that the Union ran into the whale, as opposed to the whale running into the ship.

As you would expect, any other story regarding the sinking of a Nantucket whale ship such as the Essex would probably have had some enduring press coverage even if Herman Melville had not taken it as the model for the turbulent concluding chapters of his Moby-Dick novel. As things turned out, Melville's use of the Essex story has practically turned Melville into a Nantucket resident in the imagination of the public. Even though this popular misconception exists, as for Melville, at least as far as anyone knows, he had not even been to Nantucket when he wrote the book.

The demise of the Essex began fifteen months out of its home port. The ship, is documented as departing Nantucket Island Massachusetts on August 12, 1819, and enjoyed a rather early success in its hunt for whales, before November 20, 1820; on that date she arrived at a point just a short distance south of the equator. At eight AM that fateful morning, someone amongst the crew of 20, spotted whales and in turn small boats were ordered lowered for the happy pursuit. The first mate’s (Owen Chase) boat had been splintered by a whale in a previous hunt, so he was forced to return to the ship for repairs.

While on deck, awaiting repairs, Chase noticed that a large sperm whale with huge scars upon its head, was speeding directly for the ship, so he immediately ordered the helmsman to come about so as to avoid it.  “The words were scarcely out of my mouth,” Chase later wrote, “before he came down upon us with full speed, and struck the ship with his head just forward of the fore-chains; he gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar, as it nearly threw us all on our faces.”

While the few men who remained on board struggled to establish the necessary repairs, which they likely knew was a wasted effort; the whale struck again and within ten minutes the ship was awash and capsized. My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?Captain George Pollard, Jr., shouted when his small boat, maneuvered up to the wreck of the ship. His reply, “We have been stove by a whale.”

A full month later, on December 20, 1820 while they were sitting inside the remaining small boats, dispirited, silent, and dejected,  one the companions was said to have suddenly and loudly called out, ‘there is land!’ It turned out to be tiny Henderson Island. On this island the survivors found fresh water, which was the good news. They also found that the island had a very limited supply of food, which was the bad news, so on December 27th, except for three men who chose to stay, the survivors set out in 3 small boats (each, about 25 feet in length) hoping to make land on Easter Island or in the worse case scenario, the coast of South America.

This latest adventure began the most severe part of the return trip. On January 10, Second Mate Matthew Joy departed the living and was in turn given a sea burial. Within a few days, the seemingly hopeless survivors would look upon the dead in a different light by making them a necessary part of the food supply.

Perhaps more than any other incident regarding the Essex’s few survivors, was not cannibalism per say, but the action which occurred when four of the men in Captain Pollard's boat decided by a majority vote, not to wait for the next death but to draw straws or as they called it ‘lots’, to see who should be shot so as to provide food for those remaining few. The food source lot fell on the captain’s young cousin, Owen Coffin, who was quickly shot dead by Charles Ramsdell, who had the bad luck of drawing the executioner’s lot.

The misfortunes of the men in the boats there after continued to multiply. They missed Easter Island completely, passing to the south of it. Then the three boats somehow separated, first Owen Chase’s from the other two and then Captain Pollard’s from the third, which was lost without a trace.

A total of 92 days after the loss of the Essex on February 18, 1821 Owen Chase, Benjamin Lawrence, and Thomas Nickerson were rescued off the coast of Valparaiso, Chile in South America. On February 23 Captain Pollard and Charles Ramsdell were rescued. The three men that had been left on the island were thereafter rescued despite the rescuer having initially been directed to the wrong island. Only eight (8) of the twenty (20) men on the Essex were left to tell the tale.

For nearly 200 years now there has been a good bit of debate as to why the whale attacked the Essex in the first place. Some say it mistakenly thought the ship was another whale intruding upon its territory, thus just looking for a fight you might say. Others theorize the whale was angered by the attacks being placed upon the other whales in the vicinity, by the whaling crew so it attacked the “mother ship”.

Finally, there’s my own more complex revenge theory: You may recall that the attacking whale was described as having a scarred head, now further consider the incident of the whaling ship Union a mere 13 years prior in 1807, wherein she allegedly ‘accidently’ struck a sperm whale before she sank into the depths of the sea.  The scarred head was no doubt the result of the altercation with the good ship Union a few years prior, and the attack on the Essex was simply the sweet taste of revenge or what the whale may have considered a simple grudge match.

Think a whale who was around in 1807 would not be a ‘player’ in 1820 or later? My theory is further supported by the fact that these guys live to see 70 years of age or more. So if he was 30 in 1807, he could have been a mean SOB at 43.

Sources ...

Post Script:                    For those of you, who take a part of their valuable time to review or read the critiques or posts that I have provided for the past several months, hopefully for a bit of additional information on the subjects and a small bit of entertainment as well, please be aware that I appreciate your patronage. However, I have not had the necessary stamina of recent date to continue with this activity.  In fact, the last 4 or 5 posts; I completed some time ago, which I had hoped would prevent an interruption in the daily posting sequence. Perhaps, if my page count continues to grow, I will be able to resume this process at a later date.

I believe this evenings critique totals around 190, most of which cover various topics of interest which you may have some desire to review ... they are all listed by month on the left side of this page.  Additionally, at the very bottom of this page I have made the necessary adjustment so as to list the top 10 posts for your added convenience, there you can simply click on the topic of choice.

Happy Holidays ... 12-25-11

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Just Like chariot racing, gladiator games or contests are believed to have originated as games for upscale Roman funerals. The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome is said to have occurred when three pairs of gladiators fought to the death during the funeral of Junius Brutus, who was the founder of the Roman Republic, in 264 BC; others may have been held earlier but there are no records of such. Following an unknown number of years, the games gradually lost their exclusive connection with the funerals of individuals and became an important part of dramatic public spectacles staged by politicians and emperors alike whroughout the days of the Empire. 

The overall popularity of gladiatorial games during the Roman era is indicated by the large number of wall paintings and mosaics or pictorial representations depicting gladiators on the walls of ancient Roman homes. Additionally, evidence shows, that images were placed upon decorative household items depicting gladiatorial designs.

The first Gladiatorial events, like chariot races, were held in large open spaces with only temporary seating available; there is some evidence that a few were held in the Roman Forum, which was kind of like the downtown plaza or market place of the day. As the games became more frequent as well as quite popular, with the public I might add, the need for a larger and more permanent structure became necessary. The industrious Romans eventually designed a building specifically for this type of spectacle which they called an amphitheatrum because the seating extended all the way around the oval or elliptical performance area, in addition, the ‘floor’ was covered with sand. This structure as I’m sure all of you know came to be called the Coliseum.

The name Gladiator derived from the Roman sword called the gladius; as individuals they were typically not free, they generally consisted of condemned criminals, prisoners of war, and slaves. A very few gladiators were volunteers,  who were freed-men (gennerally former slave gladiators) or very low classes of free-born men who chose to take on the status of a slave for the monetary rewards or the fame and excitement of it all. Those who were gladiators automatically came to be considered beneath the law and by definition not a respectable citizen. A very small number of upper-class men chose to compete in the arena (even though this was explicitly prohibited by law), but they did not live with the other lowly gladiators and constituted a very special, obscure form of entertainment, as was the extremely rare occurrences of females who competed in the arena.

A well trained gladiator had the possibility of surviving a fight and some of those who did, even thrived. The superior gladiators did not fight much more than two or three times a year, and the best of them became popular heroes, not unlike today’s superior athletes. Skilled fighters could win a good deal of money plus the “wooden sword” that symbolized their freedom. Freed gladiators had the option to continue fighting for money, but they usually became trainers in the gladiatorial schools or free-lance bodyguards for wealthy folks.

Such games started out with an elaborate procession or parade that included the combatants or the gladiators with a bit of music thrown in.  That was followed by animal displays, oftentimes featuring trained animals that performed tricks, but more often this segment was staged as ‘hunts’ in which exotic animals were pitted against each other or hunted and killed.

A break for lunch was devoted to executions of criminals who had committed particularly heinous crimes such as murder, arson, sacrilege or being of the Christian faith (prior to the days of Constantine’s conversion that is), after all, they were guilty of sacrilege and treason, because they refused to participate in rites of the state's religion or to even acknowledge the divinity of the emperor. Such public displays of the executions not only made it degrading as well as painful for the condemned, but were considered a pretty good deterrent for others who might be even remotely entertaining such folly.

Later in the afternoons came the high light of the games; the combat of individual gladiators. These were usually matches between individuals with different styles or types of armor and fighting techniques, and sometimes a gladiator trainer, generally called a “Lanista” by the Romans, would play the role of a referee of a sort, so I guess there must have been some sort of rules the participants were required to follow.

All gladiators swore a solemn oath, similar to that sworn by the legionary (the military of the era) but much more dire or dismal. It went something like this: “I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword” Strangely enough, it has been argued this terrible oath actually gave a measure of honor to the gladiator.  Although it is popularly reported (especially in film) that these bouts began with a gladiator standing before the audience and bravely shouting for everyone to hear: “Those who are about to die salute you”, the fact is, if such a display ever really happened, it was indeed rare.

Sources ...                                                                                                                         

Friday, December 23, 2011

Women Warriors of Amazon

... Not Your Typical Warrior ...

Amazon was believed to be a nation that used all-female warriors in Greek mythology and Classical antiquity or you could just say in the olden days. Herodotus, who was an ancient Greek historian and is often called “the father of history”, said they were from a region bordering the modern country of Ukraine located in Central and Eastern Europe. Other specialized historians place them in Asia Minor, or perhaps Libya, both of which are located just north of Egypt.

In most versions of the myth, men were not permitted to have sexual encounters or even reside within Amazon country; however, at least once each year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, the warrior-women visited a neighboring tribe of males who were forced to performed the necessary act to impregnate the women that were no doubt very similar in appearance and stature as the female-warrior depicted above. The resulting male children, were killed, sent back to their fathers or tossed into the wilderness to fend for themselves. The females were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in typical agricultural pursuits, hunting, and most importantly, the art of war.   

Another version of this story states that when the Amazons went to war they would not kill all the men they encountered. Some they would take as slaves, and once or twice a year they would have sex with their slaves for the sole purpose of procreation so as to insure the continuation of their peoples, otherwise the story ends just the same.

The ancient Greeks so believed in the existence of these vicious women that once accepted throughout the land, they were introduced into national poetry and art. The Amazon women’s occupation was almost always depicted as being that of a hunter and warrior; their weapons of choice included the bow, spear, axe, a half shield (nearly in the shape of a crescent), and in early art a helmet was worn by the typical warrior. They were most often depicted on horseback but every now and then they were on foot. The sure way to recognize an Amazon woman, if in fact there was doubt, can easily be determined, in vase paintings at least, by the fact that they are wearing only one earring.

Women-warriors continued to be discussed by authors (and not just Greek’s) during the European Renaissance (14th to 17th century) and with the Age of Exploration (early 15th to early 17th century) or the age of Discovery as some historians call the period; but they were located in ever more remote areas of the world, for example in 1542, when Francisco de Orellana (a Spanish explorer and conquistador) reached the greatest river in all of South America he named it after a tribe of warlike women he claimed to have encountered and fought there: Amazon.

Such a confrontation by the Spaniards was clearly proof positive that this was the true location of the legendary Amazons so often described by the ancient Greeks. Add to that historic incident the fact that similar and earlier events had come into play during the exploits of the well known Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus. There were also events of like kind described nearly 150 years later by Sir Walter Raleigh, who was the Englishman best noted for popularizing tobacco in England as well as being the sponsor of the Roanoke Colony that has for more than 400 years been quite the mystery.

Sources ...                                                                              

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Appalachians

Looking southwest from the observation tower high atop Mount Mitchell in Yancey County, North Carolina, USA. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is not only the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains; it's also the highest peak in North America east of the Mississippi river.

The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a system or range of mountains located in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago.  The range is primarily located in the United States beginning in Alabama and Georgia but extends 1600 miles north into the southeastern region of Newfoundland, Canada.

A gigantic collision of the world’s continents initially caused the formation of the Appalachians.  When the mountains were originally formed, they were much higher than they are today; in fact they were more like the present-day Rocky Mountain range located to their west. When the Atlantic Ocean was still in its infancy, the Appalachian Mountains were being ravaged by the forces of erosion. For more than 100 million years now, erosion has systematically whittled away at the mountains, leaving only their innermost parts standing. The erosion process continues today and is constantly altering their landscape.

These days, folks from western North America, love to point out that most of the High Plains, at the base of the Rockies, are as high as or even higher than most major Appalachian summits, but now you know that the Appalachian Mountains were not only once comparable in size but are some where around 400 million years older than the glorious Rockies as well, which shows, first hand, what a mere 400 million years of erosion can do.

The Appalachian Mountains are made up of mountains, ridges, and valleys such as the Great Smoky Mountains that run from Tennessee to North Carolina. You might say the Blue Ridge Mountains are the backbone of the system; they extend from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Then also included is the highest mountain on the eastern coast, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.

It was not until about a hundred years after the first English settlements on the Atlantic coast had passed, that the Appalachian ‘barrier’ was overcome by westward expansion. The first gateway to the west, came to be called the Cumberland Gap, which is a narrow mountain pass that was first used by wildlife, Native Indian tribes, and finally by settlers moving west.         

In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, who was an English naturalist and scientist, led a small group of explorers to the Gap after hearing about Native American descriptions of the pathway through the Appalachian Mounts, in opposition to over the mountains. Walker called it “Cave Gap”, and named the river north of the pass the Cumberland River. Then in 1769, Daniel Boone explored the area but is wasn’t until  1775 that he blazed a 200 mile long trail known as Boone's Path or Boone's Road through the gap into central Kentucky, thus forever opening the door to the great American west.

Today, when compared to the world's great mountain ranges, the Appalachian Mountains may be rather undistinguished. Comparably low and gentle, some folks would hesitate to call them “mountains”, though they may seem high to the many “lowlanders” who populate their rolling foot hills; admittedly they are no match to the lofty, snowy peaks of the Himalaya, Andes, or the great Alps.

But after you get past their relative lack of height and ruggedness as seen today, the most important characteristic of the Appalachians when compared to other mountains, especially those in western North America is their extensive forest. There are only a few minor and scattered exceptions; where in the entire range of the Appalachian Mountains is not cloaked with a deep, thick, dense forest.

And let’s not forget the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which is a 2,167 mile (3,488 kilometers) long footpath along the ridge tops and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains stretching from Maine to north Georgia. The trail meanders through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. It’s often called the 3rd leg of the “Hikers Triple Crown” and requites on average about 6 months of your time. In 2010 there were only 527 individuals who were documented as having completed the full trek.

Sources ...                        

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Zeus, King of the Gods

Depiction of the Ancient
Greek god, Zeus

According to the ancient Greeks, Zeus was the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. Zeus is said to have overthrown his Father in his quest to attain his superior position. Immediately following his father’s demise, he then drew lots with his brothers Poseidon and Hades so as to reasonably decide who would rule what areas or regions. Poseidon’s lot awarded him the sea’s of the earth and Hades got the mysterious under-world of earth. So you might say that Zeus bested his brothers in the draw because he’s lot in effect made him the supreme ruler of the other gods and mortals (man-kind) alike.

Technically speaking, this made him the god of the sky, which included the weather; the various aspects of law and order; and the fate of man; which in and of it’s self was no small thing.  He was a majestic man, mature with a sturdy figure and his face was cloaked with a dark beard. His usual attributes (the basic building blocks for a character’s combat ability) were lightning bolts, a royal scepter (a big stick) and a majestic eagle.

According to Greek philosopher and poet, Homer’s account, Zeus, like the other Olympian gods, lived on Mount Olympus which is still the highest mountain in Greece; believed to extend its lofty summit into the heavens.

Every single thing good and bad alike came from Zeus, and according to his own choosing he had the power to assign that good or evil to the mortals of earth. It was common knowledge to the Greek's that he avenged those who were wronged, and punished those who were dumb enough to commit a crime, for he kept close watched the doings and sufferings of all mortal men and women.    
In accordance to Greek mythology, Zeus was born sometime around 700 BC. When he reached adulthood, he became the leader of both immortals and mortals as described above; being born of the god species, he was granted immortality, therefore he could not die.

Zeus is often called the father of the gods and men alike, as well as being the most high and powerful being among the numerous immortal gods, who all obeyed only him.

He was married no less than 3 times, his Sister Hera being wife number three, by whom he had two sons, and one daughter. Despite being married, it did not stop Zeus from striking up relationships with beautiful  mortal women and goddesses, much to the displeasure of Hera. In fact he continues to be renowned (legendary) for the many love affairs that he had with both mortal as well as immortal partners.

Sources ...                                                                              

What Really Caused the Death’s at Wounded Knee?

"What's left of Si Tanka’s (Big Foot's) band"
US Library of Congress,
Image taken in 1891

From the prospective of most Lakota Indians the White Men may call it a battle but they view it as a massacre.   It has been described by the few surviving Indians of Wounded Knee Creek that on that morning of December 29, 1890, one could hear the twigs snapping in the cold frigid air.

It’s important to keep in mind that 350 of the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation Lakota Native Americans had already been captured (for being “off reservation”) and had allegedly been disarmed by US troops, before this event transpired. The later day 7th US Calvary, of Custer fame, you might say was on watch detail when they suddenly attacked and massacred almost the entirety of men, children, and women that made up this group of Indians being led by Chief Si Tanka aka Big Foot, aka Spotted Elk.

There has been a good bit of debate during the last 120 years or so as to what prompted the American soldiers to open deadly fire that cold December morning; one of the survivors, a Lakota woman, who was treated by the Indian physician Dr. Charles Eastman in a make-shift hospital gave the following account shortly before she died of her wounds:

The deaf young Lakota called Black Coyote was refusing to give up his rifle; he was deaf and had not understood the earlier order to surrender his gun to the soldiers. Another Indian shouted: “Black Coyote is deaf,” although not in English. But the soldier refused to heed his warning, so he said “Stop! He cannot hear your orders!” At that moment, two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, and in the struggle his rifle discharged.  The deafening report of that single shot caused pandemonium amongst the soldiers and they opened up with their guns upon the unarmed men, women and children.

The Lakota woman went on to describe her very own unsettling experience that early morning, regarding how she had concealed herself in a clump of bushes in an attempt to survive. As she hid there in the bushes she noticed two terrified little girls running past. She quickly grabbed them and pulled them into the bushes with her. She put her hands over their mouths in an attempt to keep them quiet but a mounted soldier spotted the three of them. He fired a single bullet into the head of one girl and them calmly reloaded his rifle and fired into the head of the second girl. He then fired into the body of the Lakota woman. At this time she pretendedto be dead; although wounded, she obviously lived long enough to relate her terrible ordeal to Dr. Eastman. She stated further that as she lay there pretending to be dead, the soldier leaned down from his horse, used his rifle to lift up her dress in order to see her private parts, snickered and rode away.

This miscommunication began the action which the government has called a “battle” and the Lakota still call a “massacre.” The Lakota people say that only 50 of the original 350 followers of Si Tanka survived that morning of slaughter.

Some have made the argument that since the U.S. was at war with the Indians that any act of violence, including the killing of women and children, was simply an unfortunate result of war. These days it would be called collateral damage. In addition, there is a different but similar account of the events described by the dying Lakota woman:

According to some accounts, a medicine man named Yellow Bird who was at Wounded Knee Creek began to perform the Ghost Dance, which according to the medicine man would make the Lakota invincible to the soldier’s bullets. As tension mounted, a soldier began trying to retrieve a rifle from a Lakota brave. A struggle ensued and the rifle discharged; at the same moment Yellow Bird threw some dust into the air, and approximately five young Lakota men with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at Troop K of the 7th Calvary. After this initial action, the firing became haphazard.  The Calvary reported that in less than an hour at least 150 Indians had been killed and 50 had been wounded. Army casualties were reported as 25 dead and 39 wounded.

So what really caused the events at Wounded Knee, I’m betting that both of the stories I’ve described above are well short of the whole truth. Perhaps the only aspect of the tragedy that both sides can readily agree upon is that it was very cold that early 1890 December morning in South Dakota.  

Sources ...                                                                        

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The American Cattle Drive & the Cowboy

A classic image of the American cowboy, as
portrayed by C.M. Russell an artist of the
Old American West.

The amount of ‘press’ such as early ‘dime’ novels, short stories, TV shows, magazine articles, and motion pictures that has been produced or published relating the life and times of the Cattle Drives and the American Cowboy during the last fifty years or so is enormous.  Perhaps five or ten thousand years from now some young archeologist reviewing this great wealth of information will be shocked to learn the era of the cattle drive, which many folks  consider the industry that  spawned the “cowboy” of the old American West only lasted about 30 years.

Although the cattle drive was short lived in American history, the fact is the various duties and tasks performed by the men and women who came to be known as cowboys and cowgirls have deep historic roots tracing all the way back to the earliest European settlers of the Americas, especially those from Spain.

The term, ‘cowboy’ was not used in the English language until 1725 and is believed to be a translation of the Spanish word ‘vaquero’ which describes an individual who manages cattle while mounted on a horse.

When first used, the term cowboy may have been intended to literally describe, ‘a boy who tends cows’.   Originally (as early as 1000 AD), the English word ‘cowherd’ was used to describe a cattle herder, quite similar to a ‘shepherd,’ or a sheep herder; typically thought of as a teenage boy, who generally worked on foot.

I expect that explains why to this day, those who manage cattle are never called ‘cowmen’ or ‘cowwomen’. They are or have been called many other names which include: ‘Cowhand’ appearing in 1852 and ‘cowpoke’ which appeared in 1881. Other common names are ‘buckaroo’ and ‘cowpuncher’.

On the other hand, if you were from South Arizona’s Tombstone area; during the 1880s, the term ‘Cowboy” or “cow-boy”, was often used in the negative sense to describe men who were caught up in various crimes. It seems there was a loosely organized band of outlaws that was called “The Cowboys”, who were known to profit regularly from stealing cattle, alcohol, and tobacco, from across the U.S./Mexico border, not to mention occasional killings on both sides of the border.

Following the American Civil War, young men came from the eastern, Midwestern, and the southern US to work on ranches and find employment on the cattle drives; more than 50,000 partook in the cattle drive endeavors alone. To be a cowboy became a passion amongst eastern college men in those days; in fact there were a few cowboys who came from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe as well.

You see, it was not until after the Civil War that there was a demand for beef back east. So, in 1866 the first large-scale effort to drive cattle started in Texas with plans to herd or drive the cattle to Sedalia, Missouri, the nearest railhead for shipment to Chicago. However, farmers in eastern Kansas were afraid that these Longhorns, which had been taken from the wild, would transmit ‘cattle fever’ to local animals as well as destroy their crops. These groups spread the word that they would beat, shoot and perhaps kill, all cattlemen found on their Kansas lands. As a result, the 1866 drive failed to reach the railroad.

The following year, in 1867, a cattle shipping facility was built around the railhead at Abilene, Kansas, and quickly became a center of cattle shipping; loading more than 36,000 head of cattle that very year. The route from Texas to Abilene became known as the Chisholm Trail. It ran through present-day Oklahoma, which then was Indian Territory in those days. However, in spite of Hollywood’s telling of the story, there were relatively few conflicts with Native Americans; after all they were not stupid; the typically toll they charged was generally ten cents a head.

By the 1890’s the railroads had expanded their range throughout the west, which pretty much killed the need for the cattle drive. Additionally, barb-wire fences had become standard throughout the northern plains, and meat packing plants that had historically been in the eastern cities of the US were built closer to major ranching areas, making long cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas unnecessary anyway. Thus, the age of the open range was gone and large cattle drives were yet another thing of the past.

While it's true that some cowboys of the old west were rustlers and others were even professional gunfighters, the average American Cowboy was not only very often lonely, but he lived in harsh conditions and was frequently exposed to danger. They didn’t make a lot of money and were forced to enjoy, you might say, a simple life style. As a general rule they were reserved around strangers, did not tolerate unkindness, cowardice, dishonesty, chronic complaining, or the mistreatment of lady folk, who were rather scarce in the western frontier. In short, they were often described as being tough as nails, but generous and hospitable. But as long as Americans and the world continue to demand the by-products of beef, unlike the cattle drive, the cowboy will without doubt, live on.

Sources ...                         

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Indentured Servants or Redemptioners


Forgotten Slaves of America

A contract from 1738

Indentured servitude is in reference to the historical practice of contracting individuals to work for a fixed period of time, typically 3 to 7 years, in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other necessities that may arise during the term of indenture. Typically the father of the person or persons to become the indentured made the arrangements with a ships captain by signing the legal papers, which seldom included monetary consideration. Such servitude included both men and women; most often under the age of 21, who were destined to become farm hands, shop helpers or alternatively, house servants in a foreign land.

In terms of living conditions and discipline, they were often described as being treated like relatives, but in the eyes of the law, they were considered slaves. There was no initial cash payment made to the servant. It was a system that provided jobs but most importantly, transportation for poor young people from the overcrowded labor markets of Europe who wanted to come to labor-short America (and other distant places like Australia) but could not afford to pay for it.

According to historical record, in colonial North America, farmers, planters, and shopkeepers were hard pressed to hire free workers, chiefly because cash was very short and it was said to be easy for potential workers to set up their own farms or homesteads. As a result, the more common solution was to pay the ship passage of a young worker from Europe to America, who would work for several years to off-set the expense the shopkeepers, farmers, etc, had incurred so as to have them delivered. During the indenture period they were not paid wages, but they were provided food, room, clothing, and sometimes training for a particular trade.

The ship captain (with legal documents in hand) would transport the indentured servants to the American colonies aboard his ship, and sell their legal papers he had obtained to anyone who needed worker(s). So as to accomplish this end the captain would often place an advertisement in the local news paper.  At the indentures end (4 to 7 years later), the young person was often given a new suit of clothes and was free to leave. Many immediately set out to begin their own farms, while others used their recently acquired skills to pursue a trade.

These workers or slaves as indicated above were usually Europeans, including Irish, Scottish, English, or German, who immigrated to Colonial America in substantial numbers as indentured servants, most particularly to the 13 British Colonies. During the 1600’s, nearly two-thirds of English settlers who arrived were indentured servants.   In fact it has been estimated that the redemptioners (persons selling themselves into indentured servitude without the assistance of a father) comprised almost 80% of the total British and continental emigration to America prior to the American Revolution that began in 1776.

Indentures were not permitted to marry without the permission of their owner or master, they were often subjected to physical punishment, and their obligation to labor was enforced by the courts. So as to ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if she became pregnant. There is some indication that at the end of the indenture's term they sometimes received a payment known as “freedom dues” at the time of being released from bondage.

Indentured servants or redemptioners were a separate category from a “bound apprentice”. They were American-born children, usually orphans or children from an impoverished family who could not provide what was considered proper care for them. They too, were under the control of courts and were “leased” out to work as an apprentice until a certain age. A couple of the most famous Apprentices were Benjamin Franklin, who illegally fled his apprenticeship with his brother, and Andrew Johnson, who would become president.        

Indentured servitude was without doubt a large aspect of colonial labor economics, from the 1620s until the American Revolution. Only a few indentures arrived after 1775, so Colonial planters, and others alike, turned to black slaves for their labor force.  Like thousands of black slaves that were legally traded after them, indentured servants were not free men and women; possession of their labor could freely and legally be transferred from one owner to another. But the biggest difference and of the utmost importance, unlike the black slaves, they could look forward to eventually becoming free men and women.

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