Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Gilded Age

1865-1900 marks The Gilded Age. Authors Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner's novel gave years of reality a name.
During the Gilded Age, the surface glittered, but financial and social turbulence was everyday reality. That era is also known as The Age of Innocence, and perhaps its definition applies exclusively to the East. 'A time when society placed such deep restrictions on its members' (according to one author) that 'citizens became brittle and the spirit roiled.' 

Decisions by bankers and industrialists back East certainly affected Westerners. But The Gilded Age was better known to Westerners as the era of the Great Die-Up. 

The Great Cattle Die-Up

Old cattlemen noted that the cattle showed all the signs of a hard and early winter.  The truth couldn't have been expected: temperatures dropped to fifty below, freezing a sheet of ice over the snow that had already fallen.

Many people are familiar with the story, but for other history-lovers, the author briefly reviews.  Even the cattle barons and billionaires were touched by the chain of catastrophes. Complications tumbled across the open range. The place and time where cowboys could rely on incomes had vanished. The open range had ended.  
Ranchers wanted to keep their eyes peeled for trouble, so they ran fewer head. In this way they could protect the smaller herds from heavy weather.  They fenced off some of their property and grew hay. But recovery was temporary. The ruthless changes marched ahead. Even wealthy Theodore Roosevelt, large acre-holder and rancher, wrote that losses were 'devastating.'
In the Western US, some people dubbed this era one of increased gun play and thievery, calling it The Outlaw Era. The Outlaw Trail, which ran through the US from Canada to Mexico, continued, never faltering.  The loosely connected trails with their resting places for stolen herds, goods and rustlers thrived.  
Statistics aren't plentiful about the increase -- or decrease -- of violence in the West, so the author takes her opinion from documents and experts of that time.  From the first day that pioneers set off from their farms, ranches and towns, legal protection ended.  Even the fledgling forts that were so important in pioneer hearts -- they would have been important to many a woman's peace of mind -- told those seeking legal decisions that forts were placed as reminders to native tribes that the federal government was powerful.  These were places where trade could occur.  These were not places where grievances, even killings, could be legally examined. It's interesting that wagon trains formed their own courts of law, with sentences increasing to banishment from the group.

The Outlaw Trail
Like my hero Thunder Hawk says in Rescuing the Lakota's Bride, "We're getting too serious."

Women's Fashion During the Gilded Age.  

Fashion Authorities insist upon two things: One. Women in the nineteenth century wore many layers of undergarments. Two: no matter what her income was, she'd have accessories and a few 'good' dresses.

It's hard to look at a tiny soddie and agree, so let's concentrate on the top layer of clothes that a  Western settler woman could have sewn for herself: a calico gown.
A dress sewn from calico, a durable cotton fabric
For most women settling west of the Mississippi and further, sewing their own clothes and most of the children's, was a given. In the early sod house days, a treadle sewing machine was considered a treasure. Women would travel to relatives' homes to use their family's sewing machine.  In this and many ways, the Industrial Revolution in America was aided by the Westward expansion.
A sewing machine (no electricity needed)
Sewing machines became cheaper, so more women's lives were much easier.  The men were aided by better farm equipment.  By the turn of the century, agricultural work done by twenty men equaled what one hundred had done in 1850.
These advances continued in the West, while the Panic of 1893 threw havoc over the world.  This economic depression was as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930's.  The economic fallout persevered for four years, though the Great Depression lasted ten.  More panics followed the one of '93 while the world adjusted.  Some of the West's brave farmers had bought new equipment, then were bankrupted.
Still, the West continued. In 1862, Texas and Oklahoma added 2 million residents and these figures grew. The West didn't escape untouched, but people continued to flow from Europe and other nations, believing in the power of the American West.


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