Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Life In Late 1800's America Was Tough

Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull, c.1885
A reader has written to tell me that my article Life In 1881 Tombstone Was Very Civilized cannot be true. From his language, I'd say he was pretty upset at how I described life in a big city like Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881 with a population of over 10,000 people living there.

Friends, I get all sorts of hate mail from people. Many seem to be under the impression that I'm writing for the Library of Congress or some prestigious historical society. Folks need to understand that this is just my blog. What I mean by that is this, while I don't list sources for my research, I've written about things that I've learned during my travels, information that I've picked up here and there, or among other things history and information that I've researched after being requested to do so.

Some angry individuals write to tell me that I'm full of beans when it comes to a number of subjects. And while that's a little discouraging, I know that they're wrong.

To answer some of the dumber accusations: No, I do not have some sort of personal vendetta against Wyatt Earp. No, I do not have some personal problem with Wild Bill. No, I'm am not related to Ike Clanton or Frank Stilwell. No, my family did not own black slaves in the South before or during the Civil War. And no, I would never ever belong to a Left wing group like PETA!

The reader that took the time to write me was pretty angry. He used a number of short four letter words to tell me that I have no idea how tough life was in the late 1800's. He even asked me "what right" do I have writing at all since I'm not an "accredited University professor"? Imagine that.

He is one of the few people who I felt like writing back just to tell him to shove it, but I didn't. Instead, I re-read the article that pissed him off so bad. After re-reading my post, I realized what his problems with the article are all about.

Just as with those who write me to tell me how Wyatt Earp could never have been arrested as a pimp, or that he was never involved with fixing a Heavyweight Championship Boxing Match, or that he couldn't have been wanted in Arizona on murder charges stemming from the murder of Frank Stilwell, my post Life In 1881 Tombstone Was Very Civilized simply didn't fit his notion of the way life was in Tombstone before the silver boom there went bust.

I realized that his notion of life in 1881 Tombstone is most likely based on what Hollywood has depicted in films. I realized that what I've found after a lifetime of learning about history in one way or another, and my now trying to put what I've found in writing in my blog, doesn't match his idea of what Hollywood has told him.

I also realized that he doesn't understand that one doesn't have to teach some University class to put out factually accurate information. In fact, I'd say it's a safe bet that he has never sat in on one of those classes and listened to some "accredited University professor" who doesn't know his or her ass from a hole in the ground. Too bad he'll never understand that many of the people teaching classes in our Universities need to get out and research history for themselves instead of simply regurgitating what others say happened.

I find it interesting that the folks who lived through the Great Depression knew times were tough because they were able to compare their plight to earlier times just prior to the economy crashing. For us, we can compare life today to the hard times during the late 1800's because we have things a lot easier today. But since the people living during the late 1800's and early 1900's didn't have anything else to compare to, it makes me wonder if the people living at the time actually saw life as being tough? I can't help but wonder if they thought so since they had nothing to compare it to? I'm thinking, probably not.
As for my knowing how tough life really was in the late 1800's, I know very well how tough it was. For example, by 1900 the average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years of age. Today, Americans have an average life expectancy of 74 years for men and 79 years for women.

As for births, more than 95 percent of all births in America took place at home at that time. As for infant mortality, the rate of child deaths during the late 1800's and into the early 1900's was extremely high. Yes, out of every 1000 babies born, 180 would die in their very first year of life. Compare that to these days when fewer than 10 in 1000 die in their first year.

As for making it to the ripe old age of 5? It is said that a mother with 4 children had a 50 percent chance that one of her children would die before the age of 5 years old. At the same time, 50 percent of all children lost a parent before they themselves reached the age of 21.

Knowing this, it is no wonder that by 1900, the total United States population was only 76 million people. Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, and Tennessee were a lot more heavily populated than California at the time. Fact is California ranked 21st among the most populated states in 1900 with only 1.4 million residents in the whole state. And yes, there were only 45 states at the time as Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii had not become states until after 1900.

St. Louis, Missouri ranked as the fourth largest city in the nation with a population of 575,238. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30 at the same time, and they were ranchers and their families.

In the United States as a whole, only 14 percent of the homes at the time had a bathtub. Indoor plumbing was seen in most big cities, but was rare in small towns. All in all, only a third of American homes had running water. Only 15 percent had flush toilets. And believe it or not, half of the farms in America at the time didn't even have an outhouse. Instead, families used ditches and trenches.

Most men took baths only 6 to 8 times a year. Women only washed their hair once a month. They were known to used borax soap or egg yolks for shampoo.

As for electricity and the telephone? Only 3 percent of American homes were lit by electricity, and only 8 percent of American homes had a telephone by the late 1800's. And yes, a short three minute call from New York City to New Orleans reportedly cost about $12. 

Since there were only 144 miles of paved roads in our entire nation, it didn't matter that there were only 8,000 cars in the entire United States. It probably also didn't matter that the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph. Since a horse can travel at about 40 miles at a gallop, imagine that cars were slower than horses. As for their basic travel needs, since most Americans lived within a mile of where they worked, that meant that they walked to get around. And yes, statistics show that only 1 urban household in 5 actually owned a horse. Believe it or not, more people own horses today than they ever did in the Old West or the beginning of the 20th century.

As for living situations, it's said that half of all people lived in homes where they had more than one person per room. In fact Americans taking in lodgers was extremely common.

How tough was it on working folks at the end of the 1800's? Well, for example, a Veterinarian could make from $1,500 to $4,000 a year if he was good and in demand. Dentists at the time were known to make $2,500 a year. Mechanical Engineers were pulling in about $5000 a year.

Men had 60 hour work weeks spread over six days. Worker pensions were extremely rare. The fact is that most Americans at the time generally worked until they were too feeble to go on. The average American worker made between $200 and $400 per year. Yes, that's right. And frankly, it makes sense since the average wage at the time for laborers was 22 cents an hour. This at a time when stables such as sugar cost 4 cents a pound, eggs cost 14 cents a dozen, and coffee cost 15 cents a pound.

Were Americans paid less than the average? Yes, for example, a Black male laborer was known to make about $150 a year while a Black female laundress was making $180 a year. Women in general suffered more than anyone as it's a fact that an unskilled female, white or black, would only make $120 a year.

Women were 18 percent of work force. And yes, they were mainly used to work in the manufacturing of textiles, clothing, shoes, and canned foods where you were paid according to how much you produced. At home, women worked more than 40 hours a week on meal preparation, cleaning, doing laundry by hand, and other chores that needed her attention. The average American housewife baked a half a ton of bread a year. Yes, that's around 1400 loaves a year.

As for child labor, it was rampant at the time. Most of the children used in factories and the mines were treated as property. In manufacturing they were known to have been shackled to machines, beaten and starved. In the mines, they were used for some of the worse and most dangerous jobs. All while being paid, if they were, a tenth of what an adult made an hour. About half of all American children lived in poverty at the time.

As for who was being educated in America at the time? Most children did not attend school but instead worked in factories, mines, or in the fields. In reality, by 1900, only 50 percent of all children between the ages of 5 and 18 year old were enrolled in school. Only 1 in 10 American adults could read or write. And yes, only 6 percent of all Americans are said to have graduated from High School.

What you may find interesting is that only 10 percent of all American doctors had any sort of College education. Yes, that means 90 percent of all of the American doctors in the United States at the time did not have College education.

Of the five leading causes of death in the United States, Pneumonia and Influenza was number one. They were followed by Tuberculosis at number two, Diarrhea was number three, Heart Disease was four, and death by Stroke was number five. Of course, neither insulin and antibiotics had been discovered yet.

As for booze? It is said that half of the American population drank alcohol at the time. They actually averaged two hard drinks and two beers a day. As for wine, I was surprised to find out that wine consumption was minimal in the United States until later when it gained popularity with the arrival of new immigrants from Europe who averaged more than four glasses of wine a day.

As for over the counter wonder drugs? Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all very available without restrictions right over the counter at almost all corner drugstores. Those thing were seen as cure-alls. Yes, sort of like what we hear today about the supposed wonders of medical marijuana.

So now, let's talk about gun violence in the late 1800's and 1900 specifically.

I read where the New York City did not require their police officers to carry guns on duty until 1887. Prior to that, the officers carried nightsticks. Just belly clubs.

In 1900, 14 percent of all Americans were foreign-born. Twice as it is today. As we talked about before, children didn't finish school. There was overcrowding in the cities, and poverty was widespread. There was the rich and there was the poor. The advent of the "middle class" had not come along yet. With this, there was racial problems as well as resentment for Irish Catholics who were arriving from Europe.

At the dawn of the 20th century, guns of all types could were readily accessible to anyone who had the money to buy one. Guns could be bought the same day at gun stores, or they could be ordered from a catalog by mail, or they could be bought from a private person. All without paperwork of any sort. Americans throughout our nation had easy access to guns.

Yet despite all of the problems that I've listed, along with the fact that there were no welfare programs, and the ease of accessibility to guns of all types, the homicide rate in 1900 was less than one-eight of what we have today. One statistic states that there were less than 230 reported murders in the United States for the entire year in 1900. Imagine that?

So now, maybe this will help my angry reader understand that Hollywood is a poor source for history? Maybe he will be able to see that with all of their problems and hardships of the times, they were indeed more civilized than we can understand? Or what Hollywood depicts?

Tom Correa


  1. At 70 years I've figured out what's factual and bs I've cut cnn msnbc out,I now enjoy true conservative articles like yours please don't stop.

  2. You make some good points. I don't know who it was that critiqued you in the first place. But yes research is key. I did teach college courses - and research for that was a must. You had to be accurate in your teaching! So don't just disparage college professors in a rant like that either. I can tell by your post, you've done research - and movies are not research. Documentaries can be - if they also give you their resources. I might recommend you quote yours. That is just the start for the "critical thinking" method for doing that. Best wishes to you.

  3. As a descendant of the irish, i find your articles interesting. Im still trying to find out where and when all this white privledge was at!

  4. As a decendent of the irish, mainly, i find your articles interesting and factually correct with most other articles of the past that i have read.
    Im just looking for all the white privledge we hear about all the time...


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