Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton :: Mid 19th Century American History (non-Civil War) Reading Group

Archived Page :: Click Here For Current Website



A place for history teachers, students and enthusiasts

Mid 19th Century American History (non-Civil War) Reading Group

The history of the Mid Nineteenth Century / Civil War Era can easily be dominated by the war and slavery. The war and slavery effected all Americans, but war and slavery were not the only thing happening.

This reading group looks at the history of this era from a non-war non-slavery focus. The war and slavery will be discussed, but from the perspective of other issues (eg: Railroads, Native Americans, Farming and Cattle Frontiers), from c.1840-1890.

Please Read: Suggestions on how to Meaningfully and Constructively Participate in our History Reading Groups

Our Current Book

Resources and Information

Reading Table of Contents by Week

Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2

Reading Schedule by Week and Chapter

  1. Week 1 :: Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
    Introduction: Cattle Kingdom

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “In our country, which is even now getting crowded, it is merely a question of time as to when a winter will come that will understock the ranges by the summary process of killing off about half of all the cattle through-out the North-west.”
    - “Think of riding all day in a blinding snowstorm, the temperature fifty and sixty below zero, and no dinner. You’d get one bunch of cattle up a hill and another one would be coming down behind you, and it was all so slow, plunging after them through the deep snow that way; you’d have to fight every step of the road . . . It was the same all over Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado, western Nebraska, and western Kansas.”

    Through Questions
    - What does the author state their intentions are for the book?
    - Where is the geographic region known as the "badlands"?
    - What political and economic factors were impacting the cattle industry in the 1880s?
    - Describe the "Open Range" cattle system

    Primary Sources
    - Grover Cleveland - Proclamation 269—Prohibiting Grazing in the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indian Reservation - July 23, 1885

    Further Reading
    - Cattle Towns by Robert Dykstra
    - Cow Boys and Cattle Men: Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier, 1865-1900 by Jacqueline M. Moore

    Western American Literature
    - The Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L'Amour
    - Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
    - The Sea Of Grass by Conrad Richter
  2. Week 2 :: Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
    Chapter 1: The Demise of the Bison

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "Railroad management encouraged this type of recreational hunting, hoping to eliminate the herds that often blocked their lines and occasionally derailed a locomotive. A carnival-like atmosphere arose when a train encountered a bison herd. Passengers were directed to shoot at the beasts from the train windows. Animals that were shot were left behind to die, their carcasses rotting along the tracks. The telegraph companies too were eager to see the bison go because the animals took turns scratching themselves against the telegraph poles. Bison could rub a pole out of the ground in a matter of hours, disrupting a vital lifeline of communication."
    - “The buffalo are strange animals; sometimes they are so stupid and infatuated that a man may walk up to them in full sight on the open prairie, and even shoot several of their number before the rest will think it necessary to retreat.”
    - "In the second and far more exhilarating technique, known as “running,” hunters on horseback, riding at full gallop, charged the bison herd and singled out fleeing animals to shoot at close range."
    - "The last great contributor to the bison’s destruction was the unwritten policy of the frontier military to deprive the Plains Indians of their most critical foodstuff—bison beef—thus ensuring their eventual dependence on the U.S. government for food rations."
    - “All this slaughter was a put-up job on the part of the government, to control the Indians by getting rid of their food supply. And in a way it couldn’t be helped. But just the same it was a low-down dirty way of doing the business, and the cowpunchers as a rule had some sympathy with the Indians.”
    - "It arrived at the conclusion of the Civil War with the complete devastation of the Confederate economy. Chief among the impoverished states—the one with perhaps the worst economic prospects during postwar Reconstruction—was Texas. And it was here in the desperate southern ranch lands in the spring of 1866 that the era of the Cattle Kingdom was born."

    Thought Questions
    - Describe the visit of Grand Duke Nicolas (to become Tsar Nicolas II) to the great plains?
    - What was "the Great American Desert" and how did it evolve as a part of American History?
    - What was the relationship between the environment and the bison?
    - What was the relationship between Native Americans and the bison?
    - Describe the settler intentions and motivations in the destruction of the bison?
    - Explain and Expand: "The white man’s perception of the plains and prairie lands finally began to change with the rapid economic developments of the decades just prior to the Civil War: the collapse of the fur trade, the discovery of gold, the arrival of the railroad, and the westward flow of immigrants along the Oregon, Santa Fe, and Mormon trails."
    - Describe the changes that resulted when cattle replaced the bison?
    - What role did railroad extension play in the destruction of Native Americans in the Plains?
    - Who was Francis Parkman Jr and why are his writings significant?
    - Describe the process of "hunting" buffalo?
    - What were "Hunting syndicates" and Describe the division of labor in "hunting syndicates"
    - Who was “Buffalo Bill” Cody?
    - Why did the Plains Indians become "dependent" on the American military for survival?
    - Who was E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott?
    - What role did Phillip Sheridan and the United States Army play in the genocide of the Plains Indians?
    - Explain and Expand: "Hornaday blamed the near extinction of the bison on five causes: human greed, inexcusable government neglect, the hunters’ preference for hides of the female bison over that of the bulls, “the phenomenal stupidity of the animals themselves and their indifference to man,” and, perhaps most fatal, the arrival of breech-loading rifles together with other advances in firearms, such as fixed ammunition."
    - Compare and Contrast the environmental conditions on the plains in 1800 and 1900
    - What was the Lacey Act of 1894?
    - How did the Civil War and Reconstruction impact the Plains and the Plains Indians?

    Primary Sources
    - The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman Jr.
    - The Extermination of the American Bison by William Temple Hornaday
    - The Lacey Act of 1895
    - My Life Among the Indians (1909) by George Catlin
    - Nine Years Among the Indians, 1870-1879: The Story of the Captivity and Life of a Texan Among the Indians by Herman Lehmann

    Articles and References
    - Brief Biography: Sinte Gleska Spotted Tail Sicangu Oyate Lakota (ca. 1823-1881)
    - Brief Biography: Francis Parkman Jr (1823-1893)
    - Brief Biography: General Phillip Sheridan
    - Recollections of a Cowpuncher
    - Brief Biography: “Buffalo Bill” Cody
    - Brief Biography: E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott
    - “Buffalo Bill” Cody - Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave - Golden, Colorado

    Further Reading
    - Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan by Joseph Wheelan
    - Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne
    - The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains by John C. Ewers
    - Scalp Dance: Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879 by Thomas Goodrich

American Civil War Era - Other History Reading List

  1. Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
  2. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards
  3. Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter R. Borneman
  4. Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873 by Brendan C. Lindsay
  5. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens
  6. They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by JoAnn Levy
  7. Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry
  8. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 by Benjamin Madley
  9. Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw
  10. Comstock Women: The Making Of A Mining Community by Ronald M. James and C. Elizabeth Raymond (Editors)
  11. The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles
  12. The Mormon Rebellion: America's First Civil War, 1857-1858 by David L. Bigler and Will Bagley
  13. Cow Boys and Cattle Men: Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier, 1865-1900 by Jacqueline M. Moore
  14. The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode by Ronald M. James
  15. Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains by Tracy Potter
  16. Silver Kings by Oscar Lewis
  17. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman
  18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  19. Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States by Adam Arenson (Editor)
  20. The Civil War Years in Utah: The Kingdom of God and the Territory That Did Not Fight by John Gary Maxwell
  21. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
  22. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides
  23. Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers
  24. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T.J. Stiles
  25. Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner
  26. The Cattle Towns by Robert R. Dykstra
  27. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner