United States and American History: 1873

About the history of the United States in 1873, John Henry dies, Modoc Indians, Panic of 1873, race riots in Vicksburg.


--The National Granger movement, responding to the farmers' plight of small profits and high costs, listed some 800,000 members in 4 States.

--John Henry, a black railroad worker whose almost mythical strength made him a legend in his lifetime, died while working on the construction of the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. A symbol to his fellow workers of the supremacy of man over machine, he probably was the inspiration for a ballad that gained quick popularity throughout the country.

--President White of Cornell University refused to allow his college's football squad to travel to Cleveland for a game against Michigan. Said President White: "I will not permit 30 men to travel 400 mi. to agitate a bag of wind."

Jan. 17 Four hundred Federal troops were routed by Modoc Indians in the lava beds of Northern California. During the Civil War, white settlers had poured into the Tule Lake area, occupying the lands of the Modoc tribe. The Modocs put up continued resistance. A government attempt to move them into the southern Oregon Klamath reservation was unsuccessful. The tribal members, denied promised food and tools, were facing starvation and they refused to be exiled from their old hunting grounds. They foiled an ambush set by the U.S. 1st Cavalry and moved into their old volcanic sanctuary in the California lava beds. In this eerie setting of volcanic cones and subterranean caves, they carved out a stronghold and waged a successful guerrilla war for several months against State and Federal troops.

On Good Friday, U. S. General Canby led a group of Federal commissioners to the lava beds to urge immediate surrender. "The Modoc law is dead; the white man's law rules the country now; only one law lives at a time," one commissioner announced, after he had passed out cigars. Captain Jack, the chief of the Modoc tribe, responded with a bullet through Canby's chest. Two months later, Captain Jack was tried and hung for the General's murder. The Modoc chief's mummified body turned up on the East Coast as a carnival exhibit. By July, Federal troops finally defeated the Modocs and the survivors were exiled to Indian Territory. In 1909, the Government allowed the 50 remaining Modocs to return to an Oregon reservation.

May 7 U. S. Marines landed in Panama to protect American lives and property.

Sept. 18 The Panic of 1873. Unbridled railroad speculation, combined with overextended credit, had severely weakened the U.S. financial structure. When the leading American banking company, managed by government agent Jay Cooke, suddenly declared bankruptcy, the stock market plummeted. The New York Stock Exchange closed its doors by the end of the month. That year alone, 5,183 businesses worth a total of over $200 million failed. The nation suffered a heavy depression that lasted until 1877. Throughout industry, wages were cut by more than 25%, and approximately one million industrial workers were left unemployed.

Dec. 7 A race riot broke out in Vicksburg, Miss., leaving 75 blacks dead.

Dec. 12 A procession of the unemployed marched through Chicago.

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