United States and American History: 1871

About the history of the United States in 1871, the buffaloes are wiped out, U.S. Steel Corp founded, Barnums' Greatest Show on Earth, Force Acts passed, the great Chicago fire, anti-Chinese riots.


--A Vermont tanner invented a process of tanning buffalo hide, which made it commercially usable. In 1872, the slaughter began. With government approval, marksmen and skinners moved in, and by 1878 the great southern buffalo herd, estimated at 10 million head, had been wiped out. Then the hunters moved north and slaughtered another 5 million. The hunters often moved onto Indian land. If the Indians objected and drove the hunters out, the Army would come in and destroy all of the Indians' possessions, forcing them to surrender or face the elements, without homes, horses, food, or tools. Between 1860 and 1889, the number of Great Plains buffalo was reduced from 50 million to 551.

--Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas was published.

--John Pierpont Morgan established the New York concern of Drexel, Morgan and Company. In 1895, it became J. P. Morgan and Company. Meanwhile Morgan had had his hand in railroads, banking, shipping, steel, coal, utilities, and insurance as well. After the turn of the century, he founded the U. S. Steel Corporation, the 1st $1 billion corporation in the world. It controlled 70% of the nation's iron and steel business.

--P. T. Barnum opened his circus in Brooklyn, billing it as "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Jan. Virginia Woodhull presented a petition to Congress demanding enfranchisement of women under the 14th Amendment. Her presentation brought her considerable public acclaim, but the petition was denied.

Feb. 28 The 2nd "Force Act" was passed by Congress, providing that State and congressional elections be brought under control of Federal supervisors.

Mar. Smith College for women opened.

Mar. 3 An act was passed changing the status of Indian tribes and nations from that of independent powers with whom the Government must contract by treaty, to that of dependents, to be governed by legislation or executive order.

Apr. 20 President Grant signed into law a 3rd "Force Act," also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. It gave the President military powers, which included suspension of habeas corpus in order to stamp out terrorism.

May 11-12 Suffragist anniversary celebrated in New York's Apollo Hall. Virginia Woodhull spoke of "The New Rebellion":

If the very next Congress refuses women all the legitimate results of citizenship, we shall proceed to call another convention expressly to frame a new constitution and erect a new Government...We mean treason!...We are plotting Revolution! We will overthrow this bogus republic and plant a Government of righteousness in its stead!

Oct. 8-9 A fire which started in a stable on Chicago's west side rampaged through the city, destroying $200 million worth of property and leaving it in total ruin. Over 90,000 people were homeless and 3 died. The original draft of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was consumed by these flames. (See also: Man Made Disasters, Chap. 9.) The same night of the Chicago fire, the logging town of Peshtigo, Wis., caught fire, killing about 1,150 persons.

Oct. 9 Mormon leader Brigham Young appeared in court to face charges of practicing polygamy and committing murder.

Oct.24 Anti-Chinese riots raged through the pueblo of Los Angeles. When an interclan dispute--a struggle between 2 rival tongs over possession of a slave woman--erupted into street fighting, Chinatown's Nigger Alley residents barricaded themselves behind their doors for 2 days while revolvers blazed and bombs exploded in the streets. Large, uneasy crowds gathered at the edges of the Chinese neighborhoods, afraid that the fighting might spread into the rest of the town. The town marshal was called in. When a deputized bystander was caught in the crossfire and killed, hundreds of armed white citizens rushed into Nigger Alley seeking revenge. Twenty-three Chinese men were lynched by the rampaging mobs. One riot spectator, P. S. Dorney, wrote: "The mob was in a state of frenzy over the famine of rope. 'Rope, more rope!' was hoarsely howled upon all sides. and--let humanity blush--a woman, a married one, and a mother, rushed to appease the human tigers with her clothesline." An elderly Chinese doctor pleaded for his life in English and Spanish, offering his executors a bribe of $15,000 if they would spare him. The doctor was hung on the makeshift gallows and the crowd made away with his money. A valuable diamond ring he wore on his index finger was also found missing--along with his finger. When the violence spree ended, 30 Chinese had been hanged, shot, or stabbed to death, and countless others were wounded. A large part of Nigger Alley was gutted as the result of arson.

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