Acquiring Geological Purity through Impure and Unnatural Means

For any nation or empire to have a gold standard invariably means the nation or empire has a monetary system based off the widespread multi-cultural perception that gold has, in fact, intrinsic value. In The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado, Elliot West notes how the two long-standing majority religions of Buddhism and Christianity revered gold, since it was “heavenly light and an earthly reminder of a call to spiritual perfection.” (West, 1998: 97) In the Americas, the Aztecs also appropriated gold for religious ceremony, religious leaders and therefore authors calling it teocuitatl, or “excrement of the sun.” (West, 1998: 97). A multicultural groundwork that rallied around the common obsession with a non-utilitarian metal had been laid, and too many people fighting for the same resources eventually entered into protracted odds with one another. What continued as a post-1492 Western European search for and acquisition of gold in the New World is why the nineteenth-century proved so formidable for the shaping of the Great Plains. In this regard West redirects historiography to examine the area that individuals passed over in order to acquire the resource that cultures, religions, nations and empires compelled their subjects to seek.

Impure and unnatural behavior ensured that the pure and natural metal of gold would be acquired. In the dialectic that West establishes, he says “Two peoples cannot pull on the same limited energy for contrary uses, just as the same dollar cannot be legally spent at the same time for both bread and cheese.” (West, 1998: xxiv) By the mid nineteenth-century, the young American nation attempted to battle its way onto a scene of international prominence.

Cheyenne Migration to the Great Plains from 1680 to 1830s

Domestically the Civil War threatened to divide the Union, and any peoples not on board with the dominant cultural standard would be sacrificed on its alter — never-mind that the dominant cultural standard depended on who ascended to political office and exerted the most tactful, audible and protracted verbiage. In West’s book, the Cheyenne Indians among others were sacrificed on that alter.

With gun and horse, and open grasslands, cultures living on this area were transformed the deepest, whether in Spain, the Mongolian steppe, or the Great Plains of North America. By 1848, the American military established the outpost of Fort Kearny on the Platte near Grand Island. Fort Atkinson also rose out of the plains (built of sod and nicknamed Fort Sodom), and by 1853 Fort Riley was established. These forts remained meaningless until the confluence of long-term geology and short-term cultural inertia crossed paths. Since the Great Plains are the eastern watershed of the Rockies, it is natural that traces of gold within the mountains would eventually be washed down through the rivers and catch the human eye. On August 26, 1858, the Kansas City Journal of Commerce (West, 1998:107) reported the following:





Routes Gold-seekers/-Fanatics Took to Denver in the 19th Century

A dominant technology of the time — printing presses — helped make this information viral, thus democratizing the idea that anyone and everyone could strike it rich on the Great Plains. This cultural desire for gold eventually required a military presence, and a more standardized ideological program that brought “white” against “red”. Colonial John M. Chivington secured the title as one of the most effective Total Warriors in the history of the American West, discriminately ensuring that no Indian child, woman or man was beyond the sights and slaughter of his Colorado volunteer’s sabre blade or rifle. Chivington was so effective that he even offended Washington, D.C. politicians, enough so that he had to quickly resign from his military command to evade a proper military tribunal — perhaps this is a historical anecdote that CEOs of Blackwater Academy may want to study (West, 1998:306).

This study by West easily demonstrates how the American nation attempted to shape the Great Plains in its image from the 1830s to the 1860s. This played out for ideological, individual, national, religious and cultural reasons. As West says, when “energy is captured and set to a purpose, it becomes power.” (West, 1998:xxi). Taking this to another logical extension, setting that power to a purpose is the substance of politics. The extension of this politic is reflected in the realities of military campaigns that, in the case of the Great Plains, contributed to the eradication and displacement of indigenous populations. As is the case with history, though, the conquerors “who celebrated the final crushing of a rival vision were already suffering from the hubris of their own.” (West, 1998:337). This is summarized in the phrase of, “You break it, you buy it.” Ownership is difficult that way, often an inconvenient fact when swooning romance compels a culture to fallaciously pursue the idea of spiritual perfection and material benefit at any human cost, especially in mineral form.

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