Old West History Archives

Wild West Renaissance Man

Granville Stuart was born with his brothers in West Virginia, and at a young age, he started migrating west. After reaching Montana, Granville and his brother, James discovered gold there, and they spread the news, the result of their writing their brother back east. Unfortunately, the Stuarts didn’t get rich from their discovery.
 
In 1863, Granville rode with the vigilantes that wiped out the “The Innocents”, a gang led by Henry Plummer, who also happened to be the town marshal.
 
Being interested in cattle, and seeing the lush grasslands in Montana, Granville helped start the cattle industry there. By 1883, things were not going well for the cattlemen. Because of rustling, cattle attrition was considerable. So Granville, using his earlier experience, help organize the Montana Vigilantes, who were known as “The Stranglers”, the result of their frequent use of the rope… And supposedly as many as 70 men ended up with hemp around their necks.
 
The harsh winter of 1886 all but wiped out Montana’s cattle, and Granville left the cattle industry behind for…an appointment as Minster to Uruguay and Paraguay. For five years, he lived in South America, only to return to Montana to become the Butte, Montana… librarian.
 
Granville Stuart has been described as an intellectual, a fine writer and a wise man with an engaging sense of humor. Although he had no formal training, Granville was an excellent artist. He wrote and illustrated three books. One was a geographical description of Montana. Another was a narration of the discovery and early settlement of Montana.
 
Granville was commissioned by the state of Montana to write a history of the state. But unfortunately, he died on October 2, 1918 before he could finish it.
 
I think you can agree that Granville Stuart was truly a renaissance man. 

The Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny

President James Monroe

Two speeches, each delivered on December 2, that happened to be 22 years apart, resulted in affecting the development of the west more than any other single action during the 1800’s.

On December 2, 1823, during his seventh speech before Congress, President James Monroe introduced the concept that, for reasons of national security, all European influence should be removed from the areas immediately surrounding the United States.  So, the United States started peacefully acquiring territories owned by European countries.  This policy came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine.

On December 2, 1845, 22 years later, President James Polk made his first address to Congress.  During that speech he reasserted the Monroe Doctrine.  But President Polk went one step beyond, by stating his willingness to use force, if necessary, in removing European influence from areas determined for the expansion of the United States.  President Polk felt that the expansion of the United States was its “manifest destiny.”

President James Polk

President Polk wanted the United States to annex Texas, acquire California and gain total control of the Oregon territory.  Standing in the way of our doing this were just the countries of Mexico, Great Britain and France.

Fortunately, Great Britain peacefully surrendered its claim on the Oregon territory south of the 49th parallel.  With the annexation of the Republic of Texas into the United States, Mexico declared war.  As the United States entered into the war, President Polk was afraid that Great Britain and France would come in on the side of Mexico.  But that never happened.

In 1846, with the defeat of Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hadalgo, the vision of President Polk’s speech of December 2, 1845 was realized.  The final pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.  The United States now controlled the areas that one day would become the Pacific Northwest, Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Tough Texas Town Is Killed

December 24, 1884 began like any other day in the small town of Helena, Texas. Helena was known as the toughest town on earth… and the town was filled with cowboys waiting for the spring cattle drives going north, Civil War veterans, highwaymen and gunmen.

Meanwhile, at one of the bars, a drunken cowboy shot off his pistol, a normal occurrence at the bars in Helena… But this bullet accidentally killed a 23-year-old Emmett Butler. Now, typically an accidental killing was given little notice. But Emmett Butler was the son of William G. Butler, the wealthiest rancher in the area.

Upon hearing of his son’s death, William Butler came to town demanding his son’s killer be turned over to him…And when the town refused, he left vowing to, “Kill the town that killed my son.”

Around Helena, little was thought of his remarks. No one, no matter how wealthy, could kill a town as prosperous as Helena, Texas. Besides, it was the county seat.

A year after Emmett Butler’s death, the San Antonio Railroad was laying track through the area. William Butler offered the railroad free right of way and $35,000 on one condition… And that was that the railroad would build its tracks seven miles southwest of Helena, Texas.

The railroad agreed, and after the track was laid, the new town of Karnes City, Texas sprang up next to the railroad tracks… and Helena businesses started moving to Karnes City.

The final blow came nine years later, almost to the day, after the death of Emmett Butler… when on December 21, 1893, the citizens of the county voted to move the county seat to Karnes City.

And Helena, Texas, true to the promise of William Butler… died.

William Becknell Creates the Santa Fe Trail

In the early 1800’s the Southwest was part of Mexico, and Mexico was under the domination of Spain. Because the Spanish were afraid of the expansion of the Anglos, they closed the area to anyone from the states. Any American trader they found in the area ended up in jail.
 
In 1821 William Becknell and four other men were doing some trading with the Comanche Indians on the American controlled side of the Rockies when they encountered some Mexican troops. The troopers told Becknell that Mexico had won their independence, and the area was once again open to Americans. Immediately Becknell headed for Santa Fe, where he was able to sell everything he had at an enormous profit.
 
Five months later he was back in Missouri looking for men “to go westward for the purpose of trading for horses and mules and catching wild animals of every description.” With less than half the volunteers he was looking for, on November 16, 1821 Becknell and three wagonloads of merchandise arrived in Santa Fe.
 
Becknell’s delivery of goods to Santa Fe was a feat to be admired, but the delivery was not what made him famous. It was the route he took to get there.
For decades Mexican traders had used a route that went over a dangerous high mountain pass. What Becknell did was to create a shortcut that led across the Cimarron Desert. The route created by Becknell became known as the “Santa Fe Trail”. It became one of the most important Old West trading routes used by merchants and travelers until the 1870’s with the arrival of the train.
 

Chinese Massacred at Rock Springs

Coal was very important for the operation of the railroad. And because of that, many railroads controlled their supply of coal by owning the coal-mining operations. One such mining operation owned by the Union Pacific Railroad was located in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
 
In 1885, the miners were trying to unionize. In order to break their efforts, the Union Pacific brought in Chinese laborers to work the mines. The Chinese were hard workers, but they neither understood the concept of unionizing, nor were they interested.
 
Frustrated, on September 2, the striking miners decided to strike out at the easiest and most visual target they could find. About 150 miners descended upon the Chinatown area of Rock Springs, with the objective of chasing the Chinese out of the area. When the miners started approaching, most of the Chinese abandoned their businesses and homes, and hid in the hills. Unfortunately, not everyone made it. Without weapons to defend themselves, 28 Chinese were killed, and 15 others wounded.
 
A week later, the U. S. Military arrived and escorted the remaining Chinese back from the hills. Many of them returned to the mines. Even though the identity of the participating miners was known, the local authorities took no legal action against them. However, the Union Pacific did fire 45 miners for their part in the massacre.
 
This was but one of a number of violent events that took place throughout the West. It was symptomatic of the hatred of the Chinese that three years earlier had resulted in the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited further Chinese immigration into the United States. Incidentally, the Chinese Exclusion Act remained the law until World War II when China joined on the side of the Allies.
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