Showing posts with label Gilded Age. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gilded Age. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Tale of the Red River Raft


I love the story of the Red River Raft for several reasons. 

First the name...you might see in your mind's eye images of pioneers racing down a river with all of their earthly possessions stacked on a hastily fashioned wooden log raft, but that's not what this story is all about.  

In fact, the story involves the INABILITY to move on a river.

Yes...this story is not what you expect, and if you spend any time around here then you know I like the unexpected change-up in content.

This story also embraces a bit of historical myth... which again....if you spend any time around here reading my meager little offerings you know I like to bust those myths as much as possible, but in this case....it might be okay to include the myth with the lesson content as a hook to draw students in. 

This story also has geological and geographical implications  and a bit of science. It spans several historical eras including Native Americans, pioneers, and the transportation age...and some interesting characters as well. 

Known as the great raft, it was actually a gigantic log jam. It was a huge "raft" that clogged the Red River and ran for 160 miles.

Now at this point I'm sure you are asking yourself.....What in the heck could cause this thing?  I was asking that very thing myself.

It seems the flood rivers of the Mississippi River engulfed the smaller Red River forcing large amounts of driftwood upstream....over thousands of years a log jam formed comprised of cedar, cypress and petrified wood.

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson assigned Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis to explore the southern Louisiana Territory. President Jefferson ranked their trip second only to the more well known Lewis and Clark Expedition. Freeman and Custis discovered the log jam north of present day Natchitoches, Louisiana and described it as "so tightly bound a man could walk over it in any direction." It covered the width of the river and went to the bottom. 

You can find out more information regarding the expedition here and here.     

See the map of the expedition below:


The first effort to clear the river came in 1833 when Captain Henry M. Shreve of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used a new invention Shreve had contrived called the "snag steamboat" to pull the logs out and send them floating downstream. The boats had and interesting nickname..."Uncle Sam's Tooth Pullers". These boats were not just used to clear the Red River Raft. They were also used to clear snags along the Mississippi and other major waterways.

It took three years to clear approximately 70 miles of the river, but by 1839, the raft had reclaimed much of what had been cleared.



One scheme after another followed for the next 32 years trying to free the Red River Raft. Some resources report the government spent over half a million dollars to remove the log jam.

By 1872, Lieutenant E.A. Woodruff, an Army engneer tried his hand at attacking the log jam. He used Shreve's snag boats, but added other boats as well including boats outfitted with saws and boats with cranes to eat away at the edges of the raft. 

This link tells a bit more regarding Lieutenant Woodruff's work, and how he met his death. 

Eventually, another tool was utilized as well when the boats couldn't untangle the logs... nitroglycerin.

Yes, what they couldn't untangled.....they just blew up.

To keep the log jam from reforming the crews dug reservoirs, dredged the main channel and constructed dams.




By 1900, the Red River was permanently opened for trade from the Indian Territory to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Now the story takes a little turn of the bend to the former port city of Jefferson, Texas....a town along the Red River described as the westernmost outpost on the river. The town actually spread out along the banks of Big Cypress Creek.

The log jam existed when the town formed, and in their case the log jam actually helped them. The logs made the water level rise in the Big Cypress Bayou at Jefferson and permitted commercial riverboat travel, and of course....Jefferson became a very important port in Texas between 1845 and 1872.

The town reached its peak right after the Civil War when the population rose to 7,297 people. The town's history page states....The years after the Civil War became Jefferson's heyday with people coming from the devastated southern states seeking a new life. In 1872, there were exports in the thousands of dry hides, green hides, tons of wool, pelts, bushels of seed, several thousand cattle and sheep and over a hundred thousand feet of lumber. For the same period, there were 226 arrivals of steamboats with a carrying capacity averaging 425 tons each....Hotel registers from the early days indicate some very important folks moved through Jefferson including Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Today...the population is a paltry 2,024 per the 2000 census.

So, you might be asking why the decline?

At this point of the story we need to bring in Jay Gould, the railroad magnate. Mr. Gould came to town wanting to bring the Texas and Pacific Railroad through Jefferson. One version of the story goes that Jefferson's town leaders would have nothing to do with the newfangled railroad because they were happy with the river traffic. They turned down Gould's offer to purchase the right-of-way, and the Texas and Pacific line did NOT go through Jefferson.

Gould is said to have not been happy when the folks in Jefferson turned him down, and there is a popular story...JUST a story some say....that Jay Gould announced the grass would grow in the streets of Jefferson since they turned their backs on his offer. It is said he wrote in the register of the Excelsior Hotel that the refusal to accept his offer would mean "the end of Jefferson." There is also a story concerning the fact he gave assistance to those removing the log jam which eventually caused Jefferson's decline as a port city.

There are those who say Mr. Gould never did such a thing mainly because he didn't own the railroad until the late 1880s, and he wasn't in Jefferson until later either, but it does make for a good story.

Many  people also point to the fact that the town attempted to build its own railroad from Shreveport to Marshall in 1860, but only 45 miles was completed before the outbreak of the Civil War. Folks argue the town couldn't have been against the railroad since this attempt was made.

Most amazingly considering how they protest the story isn't true, the city of Jefferson capitalizes on the story.   It seems they have Jay Gould's personal rail car.....The Atalanta....on display and own it outright.


No matter which version of the story you go with it cannot be denied that the destruction of the Red River Raft, and the rise of the railroad caused the city of Jefferson to decline,

...and what we are left with is a great story to craft lessons in order to share this information with students!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Copper King and the 17th Amendment

Last week I posted my first wordless puzzler here in quite some time.


The following post provides the rest of the story:

The vernacular of history can at times be quite confusing to students, so I’m always in search of ways to help them connect to vocabulary. Sometimes I can make the best connections using simple, inexpensive objects like picture frames.

Yes, picture frames.

I have this one frame that contains a picture of my children. The frame looks as if it is gilt……a very expensive looking gold frame. However, if you turn the frame over you see it is really brown plastic resin covered with gold paint.

Scratch the gold surface a little bit and you see there are some real issues with the frame. It simply isn’t what it appears to be.

The frame illustration helps me explain the Gilded Age – that time period from 1865 to 1901 - that at first glance seemed to be a wonderful period in the United States when many people were making money hand over fist, but scratch the surface a little bit and the time period had major problems.

The Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in the book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The modern industrial economy was born during the Gilded Age, cities grew, corporations were born, and transportation routes improved. During this time period technology grew in leaps and bounds, however, the average American worker and the American farmer had problems. Immigration was on the rise and cities were having problems due to the influx of people. You just can’t have growth like American was experiencing and not have some major growing pains.

…..and certain men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were making enormous amounts of money, and sometimes these men weren’t always using honest tactics. It was the age of the robber barons.

William Andrew Clark was one of them.

One thing that be said of William Andrew Clark was he recognized an opportunity when it was in front of him, and he never hesitated to change his actions in midstream especially if it would make him a buck.

Clark was originally from Pennsylvania, but at the outbreak of the Civil War he decided to fight for the Confederacy. This only happened for a year before Clark deserted his post and hightailed it to Montana when gold was found there in 1862.

Instead of finding his fortune in the gold fields of Montana, Clark saw opportunities to make money working in the industry surrounding the gold miners. He drove wagons carrying supplies back and forth between Salt Lake City and Montana. These supply wagons were basically rolling stores…..some of the first of their kind.

Clark went on into banking and became involved in the railroad business. As a banker he often repossessed miners who were down on their luck.

Other businesses Clark had a finger in included smelters, electric power companies, and newpapers.

He tried his hand with the mining business for a second time when he got involved with the copper mining industry and is remembered as one of the Copper Kings of Montana along with F. Augustus Heinz.

The city of Las Vegas has Clark to thank for its early history. The town was created as way station along the rail line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Clark’s brother controlled the railroad and suggested it would help his business. Clark promoted the area so a town could be built around it.

He also utilized his newspaper, the Butte Miner to leverage his career into politics, and once elected as Montana’s senator it appeared he was well on the way to Washington D.C., but he was refused entry by the Senate when it came to light Clark had paid Montana state legislators for their votes. In fact, the Clark scandal is just one of the reasons why Congress eventually passed the 17th Amendment giving citizen’s a direct vote for U.S. Senators instead of depending on state legislators to appoint Senators.

Clark did serve in the US Senate from 1901 to 1907 during a subsequent term where he was elected by the people, but even then he used the office to line his pockets. When the Panama Canal was being discussed Clark argued for a site in Nicaragua because it was actually a better location for his business concerns and would improve his bottom line.

Getting back to Mark Twain…. he wrote an essay in 1907 titled, Senator Clark of Montana where he said:

"He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time.”

A more detailed article regarding Clark can be found here.

Recently Clark’s daughter, Huguette, has been in the news since she hasn’t been seen in several years…..hasn’t visited many of her properties in years….and there are suggestions her lawyer and other employees are taking advantage of her.

See the links here and here.

I’d call her a poor little rich girl, but she’s currently 104 years old so…..calling her a girl doesn’t seem appropriate. :)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

13: Gargoyles, Grotesques, and Chimeras.....Oh My!

1. While I was roaming around Biltmore over New Years I became enthralled with the ornamentation found everywhere along the 780-foot façade. I love to take close-up pictures of architectural details, and Biltmore provides me with all sorts of delights.

2. One of the things that Mr. Elementaryhistoryteacher and I focused on were the many gargoyles on the house. The word ‘gargoyles’ is derived from an old French word gargouille, meaning throat. The English words gargle, gurgle, and gargoyle are derived from gargouille.

3. Some believe that gargoyles – sometimes called grotesques – are inspired by the skeletal remains of prehistoric dinosaurs and other fossils. Originally a gargoyle was considered a waterspout, directing water away from a building.
Yes, I agree.....the figure below seems rather proud of his ummmm.....attributes.

4. Technically an architect calls a waterspout on a building a gargoyle. It a stone carving does not carry water and has a face that resembles a creature, it is technically called a grotesque.

5. Many people believe that gargoyles were created by medieval architects and stone carvers to ward off evil in an imperfect world.

6. The creatures - gargoyles, grotesques, and chimeras - that decorate the façade of Biltmore House are fantastic, frightful, and fanciful. They lurk in virtually every nook and cranny from parapets, upper balconies and slither from the groins of the ornately arched windows.

7. Why are they there? Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of Biltmore, took cues from the French renaissance and Gothic styles….The influence is evident in the proliferation of curious creatures that embellish it; gargoyles have been fixtures on the cathedrals, public buildings and grand homes of Europe for centuries.

8. The masons of the Middle Ages expanded on this theme by introducing non-functional decorative elements depicting animals and humans in a grotesque (and often humorous) style, or letting their imaginations run wild with chimeras: mythical beasts that combined elements from various creatures. The gryphon, which has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, is a well-known example.

9. The monsters that adorn Biltmore House were actually dreamed up by Mr. Hunt’s architectural team.

10. Plaster prototypes of each individual statue were provided to the project’s master stone carvers, who had been imported from major cities such as New York and Chicago.

11. Working in a tent city set up for the construction crew on the estate’s esplanade, the carvers defined the basic contours of the Indian limestone sculptures on the ground, and they finessed the detail in place on the façade.

12. The home’s minor grotesques give us a glimpse of the individual style of the anonymous makers.

13. Major works, such as the two fearsome sentinels that overlook the main entrance, were executed to the architect’s specifications…..

The text for this post was taken from this article and this article.

Other bloggers participate in Thursday Thirteen as well…..you can locate them here

Thursday, December 11, 2008

13 Things Concerning Isaias Hellman

I recently finished reading Towers of Gold: How One Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California by Frances Dinkelspiel, and I have to say I’m a bit jealous. Isaias Hellman is the great-great grandfather of Ms. Dinkelspiel. It’s not just anyone who can claim ancestory to a man who almost single-handedly birthed the state of California. While I’ll admit that it took many, many people to birth the great state of California….Isaias Hellman’s contributions cannot be denied.

The book is well written. It kept my interest with stagecoach robberies, an assassination attempt, bank runs, the 1906 earthquake, and is the final product of eight years of research during which Ms. Dinkelspiel poured over more than 50,000 archival documents.

Isaias Hellman isn’t just an American who should be taught about in a course including California history, but he should be included in courses that include early immigration, growth of the west, growth of early cities and towns, Jewish contributions to the making of America, and 19th century financial American History.

So, just who was Isaias Hellman? Well, you really need to read the book for a clear picture, but here are a few facts:

1. Isaias Hellman was a Jewish immigrant from Reckendorf, Bavaria. He immigrated to Los Angeles in 1859, a few years after California being admitted to the Union.

2. In fact, at the time Hellman reached California the U.S. territory was still heavily entrenched in Mexican culture…..Pueblo type buildings and the rules of Spanish society were the norm.

3. Today, Hellman is thought to be one of the greatest Pacific Coast financiers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Library Journal advises [Hellman] is attributed with stabilizing the financial panic of 1893 in Los Angeles by stacking $500,000 worth of gold coins on the counter of the Farmers and Merchants Bank in plain public view, hence the title of [Ms. Dinkelspiel’s] book.

4. He founded one of the territory’s first banks which later became the Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank. Ms. Dinkelspiel advises at the height of his power in the early 20th century, he controlled more than $100 million in capital and served as president of 14 other banks.
5. Because of his financial backing Hellman was instrumental in developing at least seven other industries that shaped California: transportation, oil, electricity, land development, water, wine, and education.
6. He controlled the California wine industry for almost twenty years, and helped develop the famous Pacific Electric red cars that crisscrossed the Los Angeles region. Hellman was also involved in agriculture raising oranges, walnuts, and lemons at Rosemeade…the Hellman Ranch.

7. Hellman was the president of the first synogogue in Los Angeles.

8. He was very involved in the founding of the University of Southern California by donating land the college sits on today, and he served as Regent for many years for the University of California.

9. Following a move to San Francisco, Hellman opened Union Trust Company, the first trust company in California. He also was involved with the Nevada Bank which later became Wells Fargo Bank.

10. During tough times it was Hellman that kept Californians moving ahead. Following the 1906 earthquake Hellman ran the Wells Fargo Bank out of home when the building that housed the bank was damaged.

11. Sugar Pine Point State Park at Lake Tahoe was originally a Hellman home before it was donated to the state.

12. San Francisco Magazine states visionary financier Isaias Hellman was the Warren Buffet and Alan Greenspan of early California rolled into one. He arrived in Los Angeles as a practically penniless, 16-year-old German Jew when there were only 300 other Europeans in town. Three decades later, he controlled much of the booming city’s capital, land, and public works….Hellman starred in so many aspects of the state’s phoenixlike rise between the Civil War and the Depression that he became our Zelig, only with a really thick portfolio.
13. The San Francisco Gate states the book is a carefully researched and superbly written memoir…Dinkelspiel’s biography not only brings to life the transformation of California into the state with the strongest economy in the nation, and the outside personalities that forged it, but rescues from the proverbial dustbin of history the remarkable life and achievements of a man whose energy, creativity, resourcefulness and love for his adopted country had been all but forgotten.
If you are looking for a great biography to read then I suggest you give Towers of Gold a try.

Other bloggers are posting their 13 lists today as well. You can locate them here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carnegie Libraries: 13 Things

1. Andrew Carnegie was a originally from Scotland, but made millions in America from the steel industry during the late 1800s.

2. He used his millions for philanthropy and education funding institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and many other worthwhile endeavors.

3. Last year Forbes estimated his fortune at $298.3 BILLION dollars based on 2007 dollars. Carnegie's best known quote regarding his wealth was something along the lines that he spent the first half of his life making his fortune, and the second half giving it all away.

4. Like any historical figure there are some aspects of his life that bear scrutiny. Carnegie has been classified as a robber baron and rightly so, but his philanthropic efforts should be recognized as well.

5. More than 2,500 libraries were built with Carnegie’s money from locations in the United States, Europe, and even Fiji.

6. U.S. towns that were lucky enough to snag the funds for a Carnegie library were given the gift of great architecture and access to great books. Generally, each library was unique to its local with regard to design. Many styles include the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Classical Revivial, and Spanish Colonial.

7. Each community was able to choose their own style and had contol over the building, however, there are many features to each and every library that became commonplace. Most of the Carnegie libraries were entered via a main entrance with a staircase symbolizing the person’s choice to elevate by learning. A lampost could also be found outside most libraries symbolizing enlightenment.

8. Why libraries? Carnegie could have given his money for many worthwhile causes, and he did, but libraries and the love of reading remained at the top of the philanthropist’s list. This is mainly due to his own experiences as an immigrant. He credited books and his self-education as one of the ingredients to his success in business.

9. Carnegie’s name rarely appeared on the libraries, but there were usually other mottos and sayings carved into the buildings. Most of the doorways were topped with the saying, “Let there be light.”


10. “The Carnegie Forumla” was the foundation most of the libraries were built upon. The formula applied for each library grant stated each community had to demonstrate their need for a public library, they had to provide the building site, and the town had to anually provide ten percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation (at the time this was generally $2.00 per person residing in the community).

11. There were some U.S. communities that actually refused to ask Carnegie for a library grant even though they were rarely refused. This was due to the many questionable business practices and his status as a Robber Baron.

12. Don’t you just love wandering around a library? It didn’t used to be that way. The stacks were closed and you had to have a topic in mind in order to get your hands on a book since the librarian was the one who removed books from the shelves. Carnegie libraries stopped this practice. The stacks were open and patrons were free to explore.

13. Today many Carnegie libraries are gone forever to the wrecking ball, but many other locations are still operating libraries or have been converted to museums, community centers, office buildings, and some are even residences.

Over at Georgia on My Mind I’ve posted references to two of Atlanta’s Carnegie libraries. One is gone forever, yet a part of it will remain part of the landscape for some time to come. Another location is no longer a library…..Today, its unique use fits into the Atlanta neighborhood that passionately claims it.

The above pictures are all various Carnegie libraries.

Great resources to learn more about Carnegie libraries can be found here, here, and here.
You can find more bloggers participating in Thursday Thirteen here