The book's full title is Harper’s Book of Facts: A Classified History of the World Embracing Science, Literature, and Art. Adapted from a British fact book, it has a transatlantic bias. But it’s full of facts and data that say a lot about what was considered worth knowing at the end of the nineteenth century.
What’s there (and what’s not there) makes for hours of both reading and reading between the lines. Here are a few items picked at random as they relate to the American West.
|Map of Manhattan Island, with Hudson River, 1776; created 1878|
By comparison, Indians get five and a half pages of “facts.” A listing of tribes in the U.S. shows a total population of 249,273. Separate numbers are shown in Oklahoma for residents of Indian Territory, home of the five so-called civilized tribes (52,065), members of 17 other tribes, including Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (8,708), and “colored populations and claimants” (14,224).
|Chiricahua medicine man, c1885|
Engaged more or less in civilized pursuits (27,394)
Occupying houses (17,203)
Wearing civilized clothes (62,625)
Speaking English (26,223)
Numbers are also shown for horses and stock owned, acres cultivated, fence built, lumber milled, wood cut, butter made, crops raised, hay cut, horses and stock owned.
Under a separate heading “reservations,” we learn that a total of 150,231 square miles are occupied by Indian reservations. The entry notes that area reserved for Indians is rapidly diminishing. As recently as 1880, there were 241,000 square miles of reservations. Just the facts, of course. There’s no comment as to whether this development is good, bad, or indifferent.
|Pullman advertisement, 1894|
One of the most recent factoids in the history of the railroad in the U.S.: “Last spike in construction of the Great Northern’s extension to the Pacific, the 5th transcontinental line, driven, in the Cascade mountains. 6 Jan 1893.”
A certain Charles Francis Adams, Jr., writing in 1879, is quoted as having said that travel by train is sixty times safer than travel by the old-time stagecoach. There follows a lengthy listing of spectacular train wrecks. Most by far were in the eastern states. Listed are collisions, bridge collapses, derailments, and runaways, with numbers of casualties. Among those in western states:
1883 – Wreck near Tehichipa, California (15 killed)
1883 – Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana (18 Chinamen killed)
1890 – Train runs into open draw-bridge near Oakland, California (13 drowned)
1890 – Collision near Florence, Colorado (5 killed, 33 injured)
1891 – Wreck near Aspen Junction, Colorado (9 killed, 6 injured)
1892 – Wreck near Grand Island, Nebraska (7 killed)
|Train wreck, Chatsworth, Illinois, Harper's Weekly, 1887|
|Map of Arizona, 1895|
1869 – The 10-man Powell expedition on the Colorado River
1872 – Geologist Clarence King exposes the Arizona Diamond Swindle
1873-74 – General Crook’s war with the Apache and other hostile tribes
1885 – Law passed to prevent polygamists and bigamists from holding office or voting
1890 – Forty lives lost when a mining dam broke on the Hassayampa river
1891 – Labor Day declared as a holiday on the first Friday following February 1
1892 – Yuma nearly destroyed by flooding
During all this, about once every decade, the state capital was relocated. First in Tucson (1867), then Prescott (1877), then Phoenix (1890). Population of the territory in 1890 was 59,620. No mention of Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, however.
Politics and government. You get an idea of national demographics by looking at the descriptions of the political parties (Republican and Democratic) and the numbers of state representatives in Congress. First the two main parties in 1895:
Republican: Formed 1854, on the issue of opposition to slavery. Elected 5 presidents, including Lincoln and Grant. Advocated preservation of the Union, full payment of the national debt, free ballot, generous pension legislation, build up of navy and coastal defenses. Curious comment: “This party, while showing many able men, has never had a leader.” What was Lincoln?
Democratic: Formed 1828. Elected 6 presidents, including Jackson. Advocated state rights, free trade, annexation of Texas, Mexican war, Dred Scott decision, fugitive-slave law, acquisition of Cuba, frugal public expense. Opposed Chinese immigration, strong government, and improving conditions for freed “negroes.”
|Chamber, House of Representatives, late 19th century|
Harper’s Book of Facts is available online free at google books and at AbeBooks.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: The Man From Laramie (1955)
Saturday Book Group review, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness