Post by Chuck Rhode
"One of the most haunting images to come out of the dark days of the
dust bowl and great depression is this photograph
Thanks for the link, Chuck...
I'm not saying this to brag, but I'm a 10th generation American. That's
just for historical perspective. This is the tale of how we Americans
were screwed out of our land...
Seeing my last name on historical people and understanding how I'm
related to various presidents made history a lot less boring to me, and
stimulated me to learn What Happened and Why...
My ancestors came over here and lived with the Pilgrims and started
looking for free land. They began out by asking some Indians if they
could build a house on some land as far away from Salem as they could
walk in a day. That land became Boston. The Puritans were just too
much, so they moved over to Rhode Island and started a farm. That
Some of the family started a very successful textile empire in Rhode
Island. They had whole towns of textile workers that they ran like
feudal estates. They were nobility without patent. Two of them were
governors of Rhode island...
The most notorious of that line of the family was governor of Rhode
Island, a general in the Civil War and a US senator who was impeached
for his dealings with Confederate cotton growers in Texas. His
inability to pay off his creditors during The Panic of 1873 led to the
largest bankruptcy in US history to that date. His total debts were
only about $20 million, but a dollar was worth maybe $100 in today's
dollars, so he wrote off about $2 billion in debt. Or would it be $2
trillion? I guess that really contributed to The Panic of 1873...
Around the beginning of the Civil War, he was considered to be the
richest man in North America. That was before the Rockefellers came
along, and way before the Kennedys arrived on the scent of New Money...
My great great great grandfather Abraham apparently had the misfortune
not to be a direct heir to the family's already Old Money. It seems
that somebody in Rhode Island who didn't own land couldn't vote either.
Something drove a wild hair up Abraham's ass and he moved over to the
northeastern corner of Ohio, which was reserved for veterans of the
Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There were various Homestead
acts that made free land available to citizens and escpecially
Abraham applied for a Revolutionary War pension and tried to get the
free land, but he couldn't find his papers. He'd only been 13 went he
ran off to fight in the war...
Abraham moved on and homesteaded (or speculated) in land in Illinois,
where he was one of the first pioneers in Edgar county, and then built
one of the first cabins in Decatur, Illinois. For some reason, his son
Harrison couldn't hold still, he was one of the first pioneers in
Some of Harrison's kids went off to homestead Nebraska. I can't tell
which Missouri land claim Harrison homesteaded but he had several 40
and 80 acre sections of land. Maybe he was speculating in land. I dunno
for sure. Apparently it was all sold, except the piece that my great
grandfather Augustus owned in northen Missouri.
When Augustus died, he had 80 acres in southeastern Kansas and that was
all split up when the will was probated years after his death. My dad
got 2 acres, which he sold immediately. So much for free land in
I could go on and on and on about how my people kept looking for land
and moving west and homesteading or buying land from the government
land office. Another branch did the Dakota Territory, Montana, and
The problem was that the further they moved west, the less rainfall
there was, so a single family couldn't subsist on only 80 acres of
land. Maybe they could run cattle on it, but one family couldn't make
it on 80 un-irrigated acres...
The homesteaders who did try to "make a go of it" on their free land
borrowed money from banks to improve the land and buy seed and
agricultural machinery. But, when they couldn't make a crop, the banks
foreclosed and took the land. Banks aren't in the business of owning
land, they are in the business of lending money. So they sold the land
to Land and Cattle Companies, and it eventually wound up being owned by
In his book "Beyond the 100th Meridian", Wallace Stegner described the
plight of the homesteader west of Iowa where it was just too dry to
Stegner believed that the Spanish and Mexican land grant system would
work better. He figured that a homseteader needed about 1725 acres to
My great great grandfather's cousin Henry was the most successful in
Nebraska, he had 1200 improved acres and he bred and sold horses and
shipped them east...
In California and New Mexico, rich Yankee businessmen and lawyers
screwed the Mexican pouplation out of their land after the War with
Mexico. The king of Spain had given about 80 land grants in California
to loyal citizens of Spain. After Mexico became independant, 1000 more
land grants were distributed to loyal Mexican citizens. The Mexican
holders of land grants thought that the land was theirs in perpetuity,
but tricky Yankee lawyers wanted to screw them out of the land. They
filed suit in San Francisco and notices were posted in English language
newspapers. The Mexican land grant holders didn't know anything was
going on until they were evicted. Same thing happened in New Mexico.
Land grantees that had be living around Taos and Santa Fe for centuries
were kicked off their lands, and people like Jane Fonda and her husband
are the biggest land owners in the area...
And, circling back to the Okies, many of them had been homesteaders,
they'd owned their land, but their crops failed during the dustbowl,
they had to sell their land and became sharecroppers on land where
their families had lived for generations...
When they migrated to California looking for work, they found
themselves in an established Republican matrix where the poor just
didn't fit at all...
My great grandfather who first came to California wasn't an Okie
He'd been born in Illinois, tried homesteading in Iowa and the Dakota
Territory, and Kansas, but he wound up in California working as a
janitor for an oil drilling company at nearly 80 years old. That's why
the family is here now...
For about 150 years, rich Republican farmers have been exploiting the
great central valley where I live now. There was a great 400 square
mile forest here and a huge lake and salmon ran in the rivers and the
rivers ran all year. But most of the oak trees were chopped down and
the rivers re-routed to irrigate crops and the grasslands bulldozed
flat to make room for orange groves...
And times change. As the population grows, cattle ranches and
agricultural land become more valuable for real estate than for what
can be produced on the land, so the orange groves are being bulldozed
to make room for tract houses on land that's worth $100K per acre. If
you put four $1 million custom houses on that acre, some bank is
eventually going to make about $11.9 million off that land where
nothing but orange trees had stood...
Post by Chuck Rhode
Some say it took a World War (and the exploitation of the vast pool of
underemployed labor in California to support the Pacific Fleet) to
level American society, but I think the US political elite were scared
shitless by Huey Long in Louisiana (and Adolph Hitler in Europe). They
could see what class warfare would look like on a large scale and took
steps to avert it in this country by minimizing distinctions of
opportunity *and outcome* between the hoity-toity and the hoi polloi.
There was a historic meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini
about 1934. Adolf took the train to meet benny and Adolf wore his
civvies. Benny was all togged out in his spiffy uniform that would have
inspired Hermann Goering. Adolf is said to have been pissed when he
whispered to his aide, "Why didn't you warn me that *he'd* be in
I should have worn my uniform!"
Hitler was very impressed by what Mussolini had done to organize Italy.
He decided that Fascism was the Way To Go for Germany, which had only
recently begun to resume some stability after the post WWI civil war...
Hitler wasn't the only politician impressed by Mussolini. A Time Life
book I recently read said that Franklin D. Roosvelt and his cabinet
were studying books on Fascism and discussing that as a possible
solution to the economic problems of the Great Depression...
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. posed an interesting question about the Great
Depression's dearth of money in the purses of Americans. He asked where
all the money came from after Pearl Harbor, if there was no money in
1941. Vonnegut suggested that a vast Ponzi Scheme had produced the
change in the money supply...
Of course we know now that Roosevelt had been convinced of the
"validity" of Keynesian Deficit Spending, so he'd borrowed and borrowed
and borrowed to finance WWII...
But the War Bonds drived continued up through 1945 in order to raise
money to defeat Japan. As I recall, the author of "Flags of Our
Fathers" said the last War Bond Drive raised something like $14 billion
to finally defeat the "Empire of the Sun"...
Where did this $14 billion come from? Did Republican farmers have it
buried in their back yards since 1929?