Notes from Ken Burns' The West

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Devil’s Tower is a massive rock, about 1000 feet tall, it looks like a massive tree stump. 

Indian tribes were incredibly diverse. In some, women owned all the land and husbands joined their family when they married. In others, punishment for an affair was cutting off part of the nose of a woman. 

In some tribes, there was no word for “I” or “me”, it was just “we” 

Cabase De Vaca was one of the first Europeans to land in the west, in about the 1500s. He in some ways became a leader of Indians. 

Many Spanish people were coming in looking for gold and trying to convert people to Christianity and killing those who resisted. 

Names are incredibly important in Indian culture, they would name people by what they did, like “rock forehead”. 

The Spanish really were taking over the west while the Americans took the east. Then the Indians rose up and overthrew the Spanish, but the Spanish came back. The Indians of various tribes banded together to get rid of them. 

The Spanish introduced horses to the west. Before, there were none. With horses, people could feed their families easier, which meant they could use more time for other things, like war, which is when it started to be celebrated. Women would like only those who were brave in war. 

Smallpox and other European diseases wiped out so many of them. 

In 1770s, a Spanish priest set out to convert people of California. He established many places, known as missions, which became cities. San Jose. San Francisco. The “mission district” refers to this old origin. They were on a mission to convert. San Diego. Most in 1776, the same year independence was declared on the east coast. 

A town popped up in 1781, settled by people who the missionary fathers considered lazy and corrupt, interested in drinking and women and gambling. It was Los Angelos. 

During the mission period, trying to convert people to Christianity, in California, 3 out of 4 Indians died. 

Lewis and Clark set out on the Missouri River west, looking for the ocean. Finally, they realized there was no water passage to the Atlantic. With them was about two dozen people, one was a captured Indian who was their translator, she was like 16. When they hit the mountains of the west, summer was leaving so they were going to die in the winter, then they came across a shosone Indian village, who had never seen a white man before, and one of the biggest coincidences: the chief was the Indian girls brother.  They finally got to the pacific in around 1805 

So Mexico owned a lot of the west, including the land that became Texas, California, etc (originally called Tejas). They agreed to let Americans move in, so long as they were ruled by Mexico City, but eventually so many Americans moved and were tired of taking orders from far off Mexica City, that there was talk of making Texas an independent state from Mexico. Then, a war broke out, Texas wanted independence. Sam Houston was leading the fight, and at the start of the war Texas declared a constitution, modeled after the U.S. constitution. Many people came from all across America to join Texas in the fight. Houston finally got part of the Mexican army cornered, and in about an hour killed 600 men, and had 700 surrender, and his army only lost 6 men. That was the end, Texas had won its independence. Texas tried to enter the union (become a state) for 7 years, but congress refused, mostly because of fear of starting a war about slavery states vs non-slavery states. The same thing sort of happened to California: Americans just moved there, even though it was owned by Mexico, and because they didn't stop them at first, the population grew until it was more America than anything else. President Polk wanted California and New Mexico, so he started a war basically with Mexico to fight for it (they wouldn't sell), that was the Mexican American war, 1.5 years, and it ended when Americans entered the capital, Mexico city.

Cherokee was the tribe of Indians that most adopted western culture, living alongside whites, building structures, etc. Andrew Jackson ordered all Indians to move to the west (in part because there was gold on their land), and many, many died en route, on what's known as the Trail of Tears. 

The mormons (they call themselves later day saints) believed that Jesus had preached in America after being resurrected, and would return when a true church was established. They were hated, and chased out of many states. The governor of missouri said that if they didn't leave, they'd be exterminated. A man named Brigham Young lead 10,000 of them outside the United States, to a place near the valley of the Salt Lake, which was in the desert. 

Most people didn’t really care about the west, then gold was discovered in California and everything changed. Like everything. People from across the US and around the world rushed into California. That’s really what made people move, they wouldn’t have spread out west without gold. 

A man who found gold in California took a boat to SF, called Yerba Buena back then, and walked along Montgomery street screaming gold from the American river and carrying a vial of gold. He owned a shop nearby the gold that sold pickaxes, so he knew people would make him rich. A couple months later, 3/4 of all the men in SF had left to search for gold. 

There was so much gold for the first people who got there. You could make a fortune just by using a spoon and looking under rocks. 7 miners (using Indian workers), got 270 pounds of gold in 2 months (should be about 4 million dollars). The gold diggers called themselves 49ers, because that was the year they hoped would change their lives. 1849, when the gold rush began. About 40,000 miners a year later, 2/3 from America, and 2/3 of them from New England. The rest were from all over the place, California had more immigrants than any other state in the country. 

California was considered a place of sin. Lots of gambling, swearing, etc. Also during the mining, women were so rare people would stare when they saw one. 

As the gold was becoming more sparse, Californian’s pressures the state legislature and got a tax of $20/month imposed on all non citizens, forcing thousands of Chinese and Mexicans away. The Chinese workers who stayed worked mines that were the least desirable, but worked so much harder and longer that they were more successful. Then California passed a second tax, and for the next 20 years or so, 50% of all California’s income was from Chinese miners. 

In 1849, population of SF was 2,000. One year later, it was 35,000. A single lot grew from $16.50 in worth, to $45,000 in 3 years. 

A California law permitted Americans to force Indian children to work for them until 18, basically. 

Some cities offered bounties for Indian scalps, and the California treasury reimbursed them for these expenses. Indians were treated as a race to be exterminated. 150,000 Indians before gold rush, 30,000 20 years later. It was the biggest extermination of indians in US history. 

In three documentaries now, Burns has mentioned the beating of a massachuesetts senator with a cane by a SC senator. In civil war I believe, Congress, and now the West. 

The civil war really kind of started in the west, when Congress said Kansas would hold a vote to decide if it would be slave or free, people formed on both sides and hundreds were killed. This was well before the start of the civil war. 

During the civil war, the west really was anarchy. Usually the killing was of civilians, done by militias on one side or the other. 

Many Chinese were responsible for building the Railroad. It was a really Big accomplishment that was celebrated on both coasts when the railroad spend from the east all the way to the west. 

The Mormons were polygamist and that’s one of the reasons they were despise by a lot of Americans but many of the women who were polygamist we’re also suffragists and early feminists. 

Buffalo were huge in the west. One time people had to wait for them to cross, the herd was 3 miles wide and 10 miles long. So many. 

Cattle were brought up from Texas up to railroads to be sent across the United States. The people herding the cattle were given a new name, Cowboys. 

The battle of the Little Big Horn was a battle that revolved the Indians and couple hundred of army and the Indians completely decimated the army 

The darkest event in Mormon history is when they murdered 100 settlers unarmed who were passing by near Salt Lake City. 

There’s a song in the start of episode 7 that I really like. In the first15 minutes or so. Couldn’t find it. 

In the late 1800s, there was a lot of anti Chinese sentiment. People were murdering Chinese, blaming them for economic downturns. A California law was passed making it illegal to hire a Chinese worker. 

The Congress passed the Chinese exclusion act. The year before, nearly 40,000 Chinese came to America, the next year, only 23 were allowed in. 

Two railroads started a fare war when they built to Los Angelos, and at one point you could go from as far as St Louis to LA for just $1. This combined with cheap land and farming meant people flocked there, and what was once a very Mexican city became very Anglo. 

To punish Mormons, the US made polygamy a crime, punishable by jail time. 

Buffalo bill was a guy who basically did everything in the west: he dug for gold, he hunted buffalo, he herded cattle, he fought Indians. He came back to the east and put on shows, reenacting scenes from the west. Millions came to see them, and he became famous. 

Los angelos surpasses SF as the biggest and most powerful city when it built a series of tunnels and acquaducts 200 miles to get fresh water, since it was running out. This was 1913. 

From wiki: union square is named after the union because of the rallies for the union that were held there during the civil war.