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Making the white man's West: Whiteness and the creation of the American West

Dissertation
Author: Jason Pierce
Abstract:
More than any other region of the country, the American West has been associated in the popular mind with the white race. The West had long been considered a land of opportunity, of cheap land and seemingly limitless natural resources. Millions of people went West, transforming the region from a supposed wilderness to the newest, most modern region of the country. American Indians, Whites, African-Americans, and Asians met in the West, making the region the most racially diverse in the nation. Yet increasingly the region was considered a stronghold for "real" whites, the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic whites of Northern European ancestry. The region was thus a stark contrast to the sprawling, overcrowded, and dirty cities of the East. These Gilded Age cities of steel and industry were teeming with irredeemably foreign immigrants who had been attracted by the promise of a better life. Hailing from Eastern and Southern Europe, these new immigrants were reshaping American cities and siphoning away the hereditary claim to power of Anglo-Americans by the irresistible force of their numbers. Indeed, one key difference between the minority groups of the West and the new immigrants was of the East was that the latter had larger numbers and the power of the ballot. In the American West no other racial group was in a position to challenge whites. American Indians were relegated to reservations and denied the right to vote, African-Americans were so numerically small that they wielded little power, and Asian Americans were ineligible for citizenship and barred from entering the country in large numbers after 1882. That left Hispanics as the only ethnic or racial group with any political power, but only in New Mexico did they achieve any semblance of control. In marked contrast to the East, the West was said to be populated by the best native-born Anglo-Americans and a select few foreign immigrants who had been culled from the rest of the immigrant population by the rigors of the Westward movement. Westerners, therefore, looked askance at Eastern cities and their non-Anglo population and came to consider the West a refuge, a white man's country. This had not always been the case, and, indeed, antebellum Americans, several generations earlier, wondered about the efficacy of adding the West to the nation. The reluctance and trepidation of some Americans toward the West was the result of commonly held beliefs about the effect of environmental conditions on race. Americans believed that the American Indians of the West were unquestionably savage, and the Hispanics of the Southwest, a region acquired by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, were considered a degenerate and lazy race of mongrels. Both supposedly inferior groups had fallen into their current states in part because of the environment of the West. The Great Plains, Washington Irving declared in the 1830s, were devoid of agriculture and therefore of civilization. Richard Henry Dana and other Americans felt that the benevolent climate of the Southwest drained away racial vigor. Dana, in fact, predicted that Americans who settled in California would soon be as lazy as the native Hispanic population. Despite the rapid settlement of Anglo-Americans in the West following the 1848 discovery of gold in California, these negative interpretations of the West proved remarkably resilient. To counter these early nineteenth-century views, Western promoters and intellectuals invented the myth of the West as a white man's country. Promoting the continued settlement of the region by desirable whites, whether native born or foreign, became the work of the largest landowners in the region, the railroads. Railroads, with millions of acres at their disposal, desperately wanted to attract settlers to their lands--especially farmers. Settlement would be beneficial to the lines because settlers would pay for the land and then, in turn, create a market for the railroad to ship goods over the rail lines. Beginning in the 1870s, the various transcontinental and trunk railroads began an active campaign to attract settlers. Celebrating the West as a white man's country set up clear racial and ethnic lines. The West, Westerners claimed, was free of the machine politics, crime, and corruption that was supposedly characteristic of Eastern immigrant communities. There was room, however, to embrace other cultures in the region. The dominance of Americans of Northern European extraction was no accident. It was a concerted effort to ensure the West was attractive to desirable peoples. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION WHITENESS AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN WEST. 1 CHAPTER ONE INDIANS, SLAVES, AND THE GEOGRAPHY OF RACE. 15 CHAPTER TWO "WITH MANIFEST PROLIFICACY:" MISCEGENATION, WHITE EXPANSION, AND THE FOREBODING FRONTIER, 1803-1848. 32 CHAPTER THREE THE HEALTHY WEST, 1840-1900. 49 CHAPTER FOUR SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN: CLIMATIC GENIALITY AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF ANGLO CIVILIZATION, 1860-1900. 60 CHAPTER FIVE THE "BEST BLOOD MIGRATES:" DISTANCE, EXCEPTIONALISM, AND RACIAL VIGOR. 90 CHAPTER SIX PROMOTING THE WHITE MAN'S WEST: RAILROADS AND WHITE SETTLEMENT. 111 CHAPTER SEVEN INDIANS NOT IMMIGRANTS: CHARLES FLETCHER LUMMIS, FRANK BIRD LINDERMAN AND THE COMPLEXITIES OF RACE AND ETHNICITY IN AMERICA. 146 CONCLUSION 170 xii

INTRODUCTION: WHITENESS AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN WEST. The West has always been as much an idea as a physical place. The frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner famously argued, exemplified what was best in the American character: ruggedness, individualism, resourcefulness, and progressivism. The frontier made America exceptional. As Turner declared, the frontier by 1890 was gone, but the West remained, and it remained the place where American desires could find room enough to roam. Turner's famous address reflected the deep sense of uncertainty that many Americans felt in the fin de siecle period. America was changing, becoming more industrial and, alarmingly, less white. Tens of millions of immigrants were filtering through the nation's ports, immigrants whose position in society was unclear, but whose presence foretold great changes for the republic. Out of this fear came quotas for immigrants based on race and ethnicity (beginning with the Chinese, but extending to all groups with the passage of the 1924 immigration act), the eugenics movement, and the creation of "Jim Crow" legislation in the South and elsewhere that was designed to keep African-Americans in their place. The West, however, seemed racially homogenous and blessedly free from many of these problems. To be sure, immigrants crowded Western cities, especially in mining areas like Montana's Butte, and Hispanics, American Indians and Chinese were also present in many Western cities, but Westerners felt these groups could all be contained and controlled. The West, much of it overwhelmingly populated by the supposedly desirable peoples of Northern European descent, could be a refuge from the problems of turn of the century America. The rest of America by the early 1900s might be ethnically and racially irredeemable, but the West could be the white man's promised land. 1

Long before Americans settled the West, before there was even a United States, there was already a vision for a white nation. Benjamin Franklin, in 1751, celebrated the ties between England and the colonies and warned of threats to America, both economic and, more importantly, racial. The British colonies offered an opportunity, he argued, to create a white sister nation to Great Britain, a sister that would in time grow to be larger and more powerful. This would only come to pass, however, if measures were put in place to assure the preservation of the Anglo majority. The proliferation of white Englishmen was Franklin's chief concern. He noted, "The Number of purely white People in the World is proportionally very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so." Though clearly superior to other peoples, whites were threatened by the much greater numbers of dark peoples. Yet, the leaders of Britain and the colonies were doing nothing to address the danger posed by massive immigration of non-white peoples into the colonies. Slavery was a particularly troubling institution as it threatened to unleash African peoples upon the allegedly temperate and fertile North American continent, a situation that would invariably lead to a dramatic population increase. "Why," he asked, "increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys [sic], of increasing the lovely White and Red?" Slavery he argued was artificially importing thousands of inferior blacks into America. This would, inevitably, "darken its people."1 Slaves were clearly a problem, and Franklin, like Thomas Jefferson, was ambivalent about the presence of American Indians. 1 Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751), in Leonard W. Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), vol. 4, p. 234. 2

They were clearly "tawney" and, thus, inferior, but yet they were the first Americans and perhaps redeemable. The British colonies in North America could be a biracial nation, composed of the "lovely white and red." Franklin's definition of the white race was much narrower than today. Even most Europeans, with but a few exceptions, he did not consider white. "In Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased," he sighed. Thus, even German immigrants, particularly in Franklin's Pennsylvania, presented a problem. Foreshadowing centuries of anti- immigrationist rhetoric Franklin wrote, "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens [italics in original]?" These immigrants would "shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them." They would, further, remain separate and "never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion." Franklin, like generations of Americans after him, made distinctions not just on race but also what we today call ethnicity. For Franklin the Germans were irredeemably foreign, but later generations considered them among the most desirable of immigrant groups, proving that membership in the white race was often contingent on one's perspective, location, and time, but being white mattered a great deal in the nascent United States. The nation's first naturalization act, passed by Congress in 1790, limited 2 Ibid. 3

citizenship to "white persons"—a requirement that continued until 1952.3 Such a limitation, however, made sense to American leaders, who worried about the limits of democracy and were not eager to grant rights to groups they considered incapable of making the kind of decisions needed to maintain the fledgling republic. The primary function, in fact, of the 1790 law and all subsequent rulings on naturalization was, as Ian Haney Lopez argues, to influence "the pool of physical features now present in this country through literal exclusion and through interference with marital choices [by prohibiting whites from marrying non-whites]. By shaping what we look like.. .immigration laws.. .powerfully contributed to the racialization of the U.S. population."4 Democracy, some Founding Fathers worried, was inherently dangerous. Issues of geography, class, gender, and race threatened to tear the new nation apart. The experience of the next revolution, in France, showed the dangers of an unrestrained and radical democracy. It became the project of America's founding generation to foster only those human drives conducive to democracy. Originally, thinkers like Thomas Jefferson had hoped that Enlightenment concepts of good government, selfless disinterestedness, and virtue would cement the nation together. It soon became apparent that these abstract concepts could not contain the hopes and desires unleashed by the Revolution. America by the early nineteenth-century was "the most egalitarian, most materialistic, most individualistic—and most evangelical Christian—society in Western history."5 3 Ian Haney Lopez, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 1. 4 Ibid., 117. 5 Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 230. 4

Americans were not interested in the self-sacrifice of political theorists; they were instead filled with fiery millennial ideals, acquisitive, and intoxicated by the idea of equality. A solution was needed, and one appeared from the unlikeliest of sources. Rather than worry about the effects of self-interest and equality, it became possible to embrace these as part of America's society. Self-interest, social equality (for whites at least), and religious millennialism justified the position of the middle class, a growing and increasingly powerful segment of the American population. As Paul Johnson notes, "the middle class became resolutely bourgeois between 1825 and 1835. And at every step, that transformation bore the stamp of evangelical Protestantism."6 The religion of revivalists like Charles Finney argued for a world of moral order and free labor that made sense to middle class businessmen. Material gain coupled with revivalist values could create an ordered, moral society. The Northern middle class became a symbol of this new order and its most vocal proponent.8 Racial questions, nevertheless, needed to be addressed, and newly-minted Americans set out to deal with these questions in the early national period. Virtue may not have been able to hold the nation together, but it could be used to limit citizenship to whites. African-Americans and American Indians could be excluded from citizenship because they were, supposedly, slaves to their instincts and base passions. In the eyes of Englishmen and Americans, Ronald Takaki argues, being civilized meant being "Christian, rational, sexually controlled, and white." These were considered Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York 1815-1837 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 8. 7 For Finney's life and work see Johnson and also Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996). 8 Wood, 229-270 and 325-369. 5

characteristics that neither Indians nor blacks could possess, and without them neither group could attain an understanding of republicanism or civic virtue.9 Similarly, freedom was extended only to whites, while the lowest rung of the social order was occupied by African-American slaves.1 Excluding slaves and American Indians through concepts like freedom and virtue was vital, American leaders felt, to the survival of the nation. With African-Americans and American Indians barred from participation, citizenship could be extended to all whites, regardless of social class. Being white meant being a citizen. As Franklin's dislike of the Germans illustrated, however, being white was a subjective classification, but groups that were able to establish themselves as white could find acceptance in America. Led by David Roediger, Noel Ignatiev, and others, scholars in the 1990s began to trace how white ethnic groups came to be considered white, creating a field of inquiry known as whiteness theory.'l White wage workers, according to David Roediger, asserted that their common racial identity made them equal to their social betters. Roediger argued that "whiteness" in the United States emerged as a way for wage workers in the early republic to subvert the notion, then common, that they were somehow subservient to their employers and therefore less free than the independent mechanic or yeoman farmer. They might be "hired help," but they were 9 Ronald T. Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 12. 10 The classic discussion of the relationship between white freedom and black slavery is Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975). 11 Some of the more important works on whiteness theory are David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, The Haymarket Series (New York: Verso, 1991); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge 1995); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass.: 1998); George Lipsitz, George, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006). 6

white and therefore free. European immigrant groups, particularly the Irish, also asserted a common race with Anglo-Americans in the early national and antebellum periods. Like the free, Northern African-Americans they often lived around, Irish immigrants were a laboring class that was "poor and often vilified" by society, and considered by many to be of a different (and inferior) Celtic race than Anglo-Americans. As Roediger notes, "Shared oppression need not generate solidarity but neither must it necessarily breed contempt of one oppressed group for the other."12 Nevertheless, rather than reaching out to African-Americans of the same class, the Irish embraced white supremacy, rejecting the common class issues they shared with free African-Americans. Whiteness also brought with it privileges beyond freedom. Ownership of property also was conferred through notions of whiteness. Being free, in the eyes of people like Thomas Jefferson, meant being an independent property owner. Slaves, conversely, were considered property, and American Indian peoples lost their lands to whites with notions of private property.14 Western expansion in the nineteenth-century occurred within this larger debate over notions of race, class, and freedom, and it brought challenges and opportunities for issues of race in America. What would Western expansion do to Americans? Would Western settlement change Americans in some fundamental way? Could the West, on the other hand, be used as a kind of racial dumping ground, a place where freed African- Americans and Eastern Native Americans could be relegated in order to racially cleanse the nation? All of these seemed like possibilities as Americans began to expand to the 12David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness, 134. 13 Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. 14 Cheryl Harris, "Whiteness as Property," Harvard Law Review, 106 (June 1993), 1709- 91. 7

Mississippi and beyond. The West as a racial dumping ground did seem to make a certain amount of sense to antebellum Americans.15 By the 1830s, the nation had even embarked on an ambitious Indian removal program, sending Eastern Indians like the Cherokees to a new Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Removing free blacks, however, proved to be little more than a fond hope, though some organizations and individuals did advocate for the creation of a black territory in the West. Some early visitors to the Trans-Mississippi West, however, were filled with fear and trepidation over the possible settlement of the region by whites. They believed the West threatened the very survival of the white race. Drawing on the best science of the day, early nineteenth-century Americans argued that racial inferiority was the product of environments that were historically unfamiliar to whites. Hot and muggy climates, like the Southeast and Latin America, would, in time, hurt the racial vigor of Americans. Beneficent climates, however, were also dangerous, because racial vigor thrived in competition with a harsh and unrelenting nature. Northern Europe, the racial homeland of whites, was considered harsh enough to test the mettle of the race. According to most racial theorists, racial superiority was in large part a response to environmental conditions; if those conditions were changed racial superiority might suffer. The Southwest and California, particularly, seemed to make the struggle between Humanity and Nature obsolete, but such luxurious living could ultimately doom the race. Americans saw proof of this, they believed, in the fragmentation and final collapse of the 15 Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968) discusses the aborted attempts at establishing colonies for freedmen in the West. See especially pages 546-569. On the creation of Indian Territory see James P. Ronda, '"We Have a Country:' Race, Geography, and the Invention of Indian Territory," in Michael A. Morrison and James Brewer Stewart, eds., Race and the Early Republic (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 159-176. 8

Spanish Empire in the Americas—a territorial collapse brought on by racial degeneration. If Anglo-Americans settled in such places they too would end up like the Hispanics of the tropics and Southwest. Savagery was also the product of the natural environment, thriving in landscapes where agriculture (and therefore civilization) could not make inroads. This was the problem with the Great Plains in the opinion of Washington Irving, who toured Indian Territory in the 1830s. The belief in a climatic influence on racial vigor changed with the new scientific theories of polygenesis, evolution, and finally eugenics, but always there lingered a certain amount of anxiety about the American imperial experiment, whether in the West or the Pacific, and it was this sense of anxiety that Western promoters and defenders sought to allay. As Western settlement advanced in the 1850s and afterward, Westerners began to argue that their region was neither a backward frontier prone to savagery nor an area where nice weather doomed the race to indolence, but instead Western settlement represented the rise of Anglo-Americans to world dominance. Painting the Western experience as the culmination of thousands of years of civilization, Westerners argued that their new towns and cities were the most civilized and racially-vigorous on the planet. The growth of California, with his genial climate, would lead the white race to levels of development unprecedented in human history, or at least that was the opinion of articulate and passionate defenders like Charles Fletcher Lummis. Drawing on a belief in the West's climate as beneficial (indeed capable of nursing the weak to strength) and ideas of human migration leading to evolutionary improvement, Western proponents and their allies began to argue that the peoples of the region were superior to all other Americans. Only the strong, they argued, could make the arduous journey to the West, and their descendants, therefore, were genetically superior to those who stayed in Europe or the East. The racial distribution of the West, however, was also the conscious creation of the railroads. As early as the 1850s, when the Illinois Central became the first line to 9

receive a grant of federal lands, railroad developers imagined the peopling of the lands along their lines with farmers. Although Asian immigrants and newly-freed African- Americans desired farms of their own, railroad colonization campaigns focused exclusively on Northern Europeans. Sending agents to Scandinavia, the German- speaking nations of Northern Europe, the British Isles, and even Russia, railroads like the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe and the Northern Pacific helped attract tens of thousands of settlers to farming areas of the Great Plains in the 1870s and beyond. States like Minnesota and North Dakota were composed of these desirable Northern European immigrants. Both in rhetoric and reality, therefore, the West was reshaped to reflect the increasing dominance of Anglo and Teutonic whites. Much of it, especially in the northern section of the region, really was overwhelming white. Yet, some Westerners were able to not only defend their region as being more advanced than the East because of their white population but also celebrate the romantic American Indian, Hispanic, and in some cases, Asian cultures that made the region so distinctively different. The California promoter and writer Charles Fletcher Lummis and Frank Bird Linderman, a Montana writer, embodied this seemingly contradictory impulse. Lummis, beginning in the 1890s, defended California as destined to play a great role in American affairs, in part because of its climate. He also argued that the West was a refuge from the problems of the Gilded Age. Corruption, vice, and non-Aryan immigration (the latter a large source of the former) were literally foreign to California. Instead, California's Anglo-Saxons lived in comfort and security, surrounded by quaint, romantic and largely powerless non- white groups like the Chinese, Mexicans, and Native Americans. Lummis became a staunch defender of Hispanic and Native American culture and an opponent of foreign immigration and imperialism. Similarly, Frank Bird Linderman, like Lummis an author and defender of Indian rights, argued that American Indian culture should be preserved and the menace of non-Anglo immigration should be prohibited. On the one hand, these 10

Full document contains 216 pages
Abstract: More than any other region of the country, the American West has been associated in the popular mind with the white race. The West had long been considered a land of opportunity, of cheap land and seemingly limitless natural resources. Millions of people went West, transforming the region from a supposed wilderness to the newest, most modern region of the country. American Indians, Whites, African-Americans, and Asians met in the West, making the region the most racially diverse in the nation. Yet increasingly the region was considered a stronghold for "real" whites, the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic whites of Northern European ancestry. The region was thus a stark contrast to the sprawling, overcrowded, and dirty cities of the East. These Gilded Age cities of steel and industry were teeming with irredeemably foreign immigrants who had been attracted by the promise of a better life. Hailing from Eastern and Southern Europe, these new immigrants were reshaping American cities and siphoning away the hereditary claim to power of Anglo-Americans by the irresistible force of their numbers. Indeed, one key difference between the minority groups of the West and the new immigrants was of the East was that the latter had larger numbers and the power of the ballot. In the American West no other racial group was in a position to challenge whites. American Indians were relegated to reservations and denied the right to vote, African-Americans were so numerically small that they wielded little power, and Asian Americans were ineligible for citizenship and barred from entering the country in large numbers after 1882. That left Hispanics as the only ethnic or racial group with any political power, but only in New Mexico did they achieve any semblance of control. In marked contrast to the East, the West was said to be populated by the best native-born Anglo-Americans and a select few foreign immigrants who had been culled from the rest of the immigrant population by the rigors of the Westward movement. Westerners, therefore, looked askance at Eastern cities and their non-Anglo population and came to consider the West a refuge, a white man's country. This had not always been the case, and, indeed, antebellum Americans, several generations earlier, wondered about the efficacy of adding the West to the nation. The reluctance and trepidation of some Americans toward the West was the result of commonly held beliefs about the effect of environmental conditions on race. Americans believed that the American Indians of the West were unquestionably savage, and the Hispanics of the Southwest, a region acquired by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, were considered a degenerate and lazy race of mongrels. Both supposedly inferior groups had fallen into their current states in part because of the environment of the West. The Great Plains, Washington Irving declared in the 1830s, were devoid of agriculture and therefore of civilization. Richard Henry Dana and other Americans felt that the benevolent climate of the Southwest drained away racial vigor. Dana, in fact, predicted that Americans who settled in California would soon be as lazy as the native Hispanic population. Despite the rapid settlement of Anglo-Americans in the West following the 1848 discovery of gold in California, these negative interpretations of the West proved remarkably resilient. To counter these early nineteenth-century views, Western promoters and intellectuals invented the myth of the West as a white man's country. Promoting the continued settlement of the region by desirable whites, whether native born or foreign, became the work of the largest landowners in the region, the railroads. Railroads, with millions of acres at their disposal, desperately wanted to attract settlers to their lands--especially farmers. Settlement would be beneficial to the lines because settlers would pay for the land and then, in turn, create a market for the railroad to ship goods over the rail lines. Beginning in the 1870s, the various transcontinental and trunk railroads began an active campaign to attract settlers. Celebrating the West as a white man's country set up clear racial and ethnic lines. The West, Westerners claimed, was free of the machine politics, crime, and corruption that was supposedly characteristic of Eastern immigrant communities. There was room, however, to embrace other cultures in the region. The dominance of Americans of Northern European extraction was no accident. It was a concerted effort to ensure the West was attractive to desirable peoples. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)