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Events of the West (1850 - 1860)

   
1850 Five Cayuse Indians, among them Tiloukaikt, the tribe's chief, are hanged in Oregon City for the Whitman massacre. All five had turned themselves in to spare their people from persecution. "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people?" Tiloukaikt said on his way to the gallows. "So we die to save our people."
1850

California enters the Union.

Two of California's native inhabitantsWith miners flooding the hillsides and devastating the land, California's Indians find themselves deprived of their traditional food sources and forced by hunger to raid the mining towns and other white settlements. Miners retaliate by hunting Indians down and brutally abusing them. The California legislature responds to the situation with an Indenture Act which establishes a form of legal slavery for the native peoples of the state by allowing whites to declare them vagrant and auction off their services for up to four months. The law also permits whites to indenture Indian children, with the permission of a parent or friend, and leads to widespread kidnapping of Indian children, who are then sold as "apprentices."

1850 Complaints by Americans that miners from Mexico, South America, Canada, Australia and other parts of the world are taking gold that "belongs to the people of the United States" prompt the California legislature to enact a Foreign Miners' Tax which requires all miners who are not native or naturalized citizens of the United States to obtain a license at the staggering cost of $20 per month. In the diggings, foreign miners stage protest demonstrations which quickly lead to violence, and within a year the tax is repealed, only to be reinstituted in 1852 at the eventual rate of $4 per month.
1850 Levi Strauss begins manufacturing heavyweight trousers for gold miners, made of the twilled cotton cloth known as "genes" in France. Strauss had intended to make tents, but finding no market, made a fortune in pants instead.
1851

The United States and representatives of the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Arikara, Assiniboin, Mandan, Gros Ventre and other tribes sign the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, intended to insure peace on the plains. The treaty comes as increasing numbers of whites -- gold seekers, settlers and traders -- make the trek westward, and as Native Americans react to this invasion by attacking wagon trains and, more often, warring against one another for territorial advantage.

Fort Laramie Treaty MapThe treaty divides the plains into separate tracts assigned to each tribe, who agree to remain on their own land, to cease their attacks on each other and on white migrants and to recognize the right of the United States to establish roads and military outposts within their territories. In return, the United States pledges that each tribe will retain possession of its assigned lands forever, that they will be protected by U.S. troops from white intruders and that they will each receive $50,000 in supplies and provisions annually for the next fifty years. Both sides agree to settle any future disputes, whether between tribes or between Indians and whites, through restitution.

Unfortunately, the chiefs who sign the Fort Laramie Treaty do not have the authority over their tribes that the United States negotiators assume, and the negotiators themselves cannot deliver the protections and fair treatment they promise.

1851 James Savage becomes the first white man to enter Yosemite Valley while pursuing a band of Indians who had raided several trading posts in the region.
1851 Federal commissioners attempting to halt the brutal treatment of Indians in California negotiate eighteen treaties with various tribes and village groups, promising them 8.5 million acres of reservation lands. California politicians succeed in having the treaties secretly rejected by Congress in 1852, leaving the native peoples of the state homeless within a hostile white society.
1851 John L. Soule, in an editorial in the Terre Haute Express, advises: "Go West, young man, go West." But New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley gets credit for the line.
1852

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, galvanizes public opinion against slavery and stiffens its defenders in the South.

Chinese miner at workBy year's end, more than 20,000 Chinese immigrants have come to America, all but 17 arriving at San Francisco to join in the search for gold. Most are part of a Cantonese emigrant labor pool that has worked throughout South Asia for generations, and they view California as but another place to practice their itinerant trade. In most cases, they arrive indebted to Chinese merchants who have paid for their passage, and this network of debt, reinforced by village and kinship loyalties, makes the immigrant Chinese community highly organized and, at the same time, keeps it insulated from mainstream American society. Thus, even in the remotest mining camp, the Chinese live within a system of obligations that links back to their home.

1853 Willamette University in Oregon becomes the first university west of the Rockies.
1853 Kong Chow Temple is established in San Francisco, the first Buddhist temple in the United States.
1853 Domingo Ghirardelli begins selling rich chocolates to rich San Franciscans, establishing a confectionary that will become a landmark of the city's skyline.
1853 California begins confining its remaining Indian population on harsh military reservations, but the combination of legal enslavement and near genocide has already made California the site of the worst slaughter of Native Americans in United States history. As many as 150,000 Indians lived in the state before 1849; by 1870, fewer than 30,000 will remain.
1853 San Francisco's newspaper, the Alta California, criticizes the emergence of Chinatown, a concentration of about 25,000 Chinese immigrants along Dupont Street [now Grant Avenue] in the heart of the city: "They seem to have driven out everything and everybody else." In the gold fields, anti-Chinese prejudice leads to a ruling that Chinese miners can only work claims that white miners have abandoned as worthless. Still they manage, through persistence and organization, to recover enough gold to stir fresh resentment against them.
1853 Mexico agrees to the Gadsden Purchase, selling a strip of land running along Mexico's northern border between Texas and California for $10 million. Intended as the route for a railroad connecting the Mississippi to the Pacific, the territory goes undeveloped when the approach of the Civil War causes the project to be put aside.
1854 British Baronet Sir George Gore organizes a 6,000-mile buffalo hunting expedition on the Great Plains, leaving Fort Leavenworth for a three-year adventure. By this time, the increasing presence of travelers on the plains has divided the buffalo into a northern and southern herd, where once they roamed freely from Kansas into the Dakotas. Gore's expedition represents a more direct threat to the herd, and to the Indian peoples for whom the buffalo defines a way of life.
1854 Conquering Bear, the Lakota chief who signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, is killed when troops from Fort Laramie storm into his encampment to arrest a warrior who had shot a Mormon calf. Meeting resistance, the troops open fire. All but one of the troopers is killed in the Lakota counterattack, and in retaliation the army sends a force against the band which kills 86 and carries off 70 women and children. Though Conquering Bear had offered to make restitution for the calf, as the treaty required, the incident instead proves to the Lakota that Americans cannot be trusted to keep their word.
1854 After much bitter debate, Congress approves the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing these two territories to choose between slavery and free soil.
1854 The Republican Party, born out of opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, declares its opposition to slavery and privilege, and its support for new railroads, free homesteads and the opening of Western lands by free labor.
1855 Heavily armed Kansas militantsA pro-slavery legislature is elected in Kansas when 6,300 ballots are cast in a region with only 3,000 voters. Intimidation and ballot-box stuffing by "border ruffians" from neighboring Missouri account for the result. Later in the year, free-soil supporters hold a convention at Topeka, where they declare the pro-slavery legislature illegal and draft a constitution calling for the territory's admission to the union as a free state.
1855 Abolitionists in New England and other parts of the North form Emigrant Aid Societies to send anti-slavery activists into Kansas, where they can vote to keep it free. In Georgia and Alabama similar societies send in settlers who will vote in defense of slavery.
1856 Stirred by the impunity of the pro-slavery forces in Kansas, John Brown, a militant abolitionist, leads his sons in a night raid on pro-slavery settlers living along Pottawatomie Creek. Five men are dragged from their cabins and massacred. In reaction, pro-slavery forces rampage through Lawrence, Kansas, a free-soil stronghold, killing one man. Daniel Woodson, the territory's recently appointed pro-slavery governor, declares Kansas in a state of open insurrection, as a force of 300 pro-slavery men attacks Brown at Osawatomie, where he and forty supporters drive them off. Later in the year, Brown leaves Kansas to continue his war against slavery in the east.
1856 John C. Fremont becomes the first Republican candidate for the Presidency, pledging to eradicate the "twin relics of barbarism," polygamy and slavery. He wins 11 states in the election, but loses to James Buchanan.
1857 Responding to complaints by federal officials in Utah and national outrage over the Mormon practice of plural marriage, President James Buchanan sends U. S. troops to impose federal law in Utah. To the Mormons, this appears the onset of another persecution, which Brigham Young is determined to resist. Rather than engage in battle, however, he attacks the federal troops' supply lines, burning Fort Bridger, destroying supply trains and setting fire to the plains to deprive the advancing army of forage for its horses. At the same time, he readies a plan to evacuate and destroy Salt Lake City, should the federal troops get through.
1857 Mountain Meadows, UtahIn this atmosphere, a wagon train of non-Mormon settlers moving through southern Utah on their way to California falls victim to Mormon fears. Paiutes besiege the settlers at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah and call on local Mormons to help destroy them, or face attack from the Indians themselves. Perceiving the settlers as part of the general threat to their community, the Mormons, led by John D. Lee, lure them from their wagon train and, with Paiute help, murder all but a few of the children. Whether Brigham Young approved this Mountain Meadows Massacre is unclear, but once aware of it, he does nothing to help federal authorities find the murderers.
1857 In Kansas, pro-slavery forces meeting at Lecompton draft a constitution making the territory a slave state. They submit to local voters only the question whether they approve a "constitution with slavery." Free-soil supporters boycott this election, and the "constitution with slavery" is submitted to Congress. But the free-soilers convince the territory's acting governor to convene a special session of the legislature, which calls for a second vote on the Lecompton constitution itself. In this referendum, Kansans reject the pro-slavery constitution by an overwhelming margin.
1858 Political supporters secure a federal pardon for the Mormon's alleged violations of federal law, and two weeks later federal troops move through a nearly deserted Salt Lake City to establish an outpost forty miles away, bringing the "Mormon War" to a close.
1858 President Buchanan, under pressure from the South, urges Congress to admit Kansas to the union under the Lecompton constitution. Instead the House calls for yet another vote. Kansans again reject the pro-slavery constitution by nearly ten-to-one.
1858 The first non-stop stage coach from St. Louis arrives in Los Angeles, completing the 2,600 mile trip across the Southwest in 20 days.
1859 Gold is discovered in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, sparking the Pikes Peak gold rush which brings an estimated 100,000 fortune-hunters to the Rockies under the banner "Pikes Peak or Bust."
1859 Oregon enters the union as a free state.
1859 Silver is discovered at the Comstock Lode in Nevada, turning nearby Virginia City into a boom town.
1859 Free-soil and pro-slavery forces meet in convention at Wyandotte, Kansas, drafting a constituion that will make the territory a free state. Voters approve the new constitution, but Southerners in Congress delay its acceptance.
1859 Juan CortinaJuan Cortina, member of a prominent Mexican family living near Brownsville on the Rio Grande border, leads an uprising against the mistreatment of Mexicans by Texans. He and his supporters occupy Brownsville and proclaim the Republic of the Rio Grande with the shout, "Death to the gringos!," but they leave the city unharmed. Cortina defeats a force of Texas Rangers and local authorities, but when they are reinforced by army troops, he retreats into Mexico where he continues his guerilla war against Anglo injustice for another ten years.
1859 John Brown is hanged for his attempt to incite a slave uprising at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
1859 During this decade, a tidal wave of 2.5 million immigrants enter the United States, including 66,000 Chinese.

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