Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ken Burns: The West: 4, Death Runs Riot

Black Kettle
This is the fourth in this series on The West, meaning the American West.  This presentation touches on Kansas a couple of times, and takes its title from that struggle.  It talks of how Missourians crossed to Kansas, to effect the elections, and of John Brown taking his revenge by hacking to death five slave supporters.  Bleeding Kansas Slave vs Abolitionists lasted from 1854 to 1861.
During the election of 1856 Republicans ran on a platform of eliminating the dual barbarisms of slavery and polygamy.  The Mormon issues gave the new Democratic, President Buchanan something to use to get away from the topic of slavery.  Instead he sent 3500 troops to march against U.S. citizens.  This effort fizzled with a peace treaty, and pardon of all Mormons who may have participated.  The issue that hung over everyone was that of Mountain Meadows Massacre.  This was basically the killing of a group of immigrants by local Mormons and Paiute Indians.  It has remained a stain against the church to this day.
In Texas, Mexican Americans, were treated like second class citizens, even though most of the property had originally belonged to this group.  The justice system was applied unfairly.  Cortina had enough, and decided to take matters into his own hands, and became the Robin Hood of the Rio Grand.
John Brown made another uprising, at the arsenal ofHarper's Ferry.  His group killed ten people, before they were captured.  Brown was sentenced to hang.  As he went to the gallows he said, "The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but by blood."
The slavery question spilled over into open conflict after the 1860 election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.
In 1862, 3500 Confederate soldiers were determined to invade the West, and separate the Federal government from its riches.  They had initial success, were stopped by Captain Chivington, known as the Colorado Fighting Parson John Milton Chivington, and his men of Federal Volunteers at Glorieta Pass. While his men held the Confederates at bay, others slipped around behind, and rappelling down the mountain, got into the rear of the Confederates, destroying 70 wagons of provisions, and bayoneting 500 horses and mules.  With their supplies nearly destroyed, they tried to make it back to Texas, traveling through dessert.  Of the original 3500, 1500 never returned.
Returning now to Kansas and Missouri, guerrilla parties fought back and forth.  William Quantrill lead the confederates on the infamous  Lawrence Kansas Massacre.  The difference with fighting in the West, is that civilians were often the target, and many were killed, or their homes burned, or ransacked.  No civilians would suffer more than the people of Kansas and Missouri.
Samuel Clemons  24 years ole, and his older brother, decided the war was not for them.  They headed west, and is was during this time Samuel Clemons became Mark Twain, writer for a newspaper in Virginia City.  "Nevada Territory is fabulously rich in gold, silver, lead, coal, iron, quick silver, thieves, murderers, desperadoes, lawyers, Christians, Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, coyotes, poets, preachers, and jackass rabbits."  He also wrote of the three virtues of the constitution. "Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Conscience and the prudence to never practice either of them."
The movie then focuses on the Peace Chief, Black Kettle, of the Southern Cheyenne. "We are for peace, and we have made peace."  However even in making peace, he was not immune from attack.  Chivington lead a group of federal volunteers against them at Sand Creek.  Chivington responded to talk of peace saying he was not authorized to make peace.  On November 29, 1864 700 men, drunken on whiskey they had drunk to keep warm attack with Chivington's instructions,  "Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice."  200 were killed, mostly women and children.  Black Kettle escaped, but then a few years later, Nov 27, 1868, was killed by a group lead by General George A. Custer.
My biggest disppontment with this movie was the exclusion of the Bear River Massacre, which if measured by loss of life, was more significant than Sand Creek.

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