the most disruptive technologies of all -- 12/05/16

Today's selection -- from Shadows at Dawn by Carolus Jacoby. Business literature is filled with discussion of the disruptive impact of new technology. The greatest disruptors of them all may have been the railroads and accompanying telegraphs that began to crisscross the United States in the 1800s. In the frontier town of Tucson, Arizona, William Oury had been the leading citizen; Hughes, Stevens, and DeLong had been the leading business -- freighting in goods produced in neighboring towns -- and Anglo-American pioneer women were few, so marriages between local Anglo-America men and Hispanic or Hispanic-American women was commonplace. In 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived and all that was ruthlessly altered:

"The event the booster literature all pointed to with breathless enthusiasm was the imminent arrival of the transcontinental railroad. In 1880, the South­ern Pacific Railroad completed construction of a rail line from California to Tucson, connecting the town to 'the fiery annihilator of time and space' that had already transformed so much of American life. To mark the railroad's arrival, Tucson held a daylong celebration, complete with firing of cannons and music courtesy of the Sixth Cavalry Band. The centerpiece of the festivities was a speech by none other than William Oury, who had been selected to give the town's official 'address of welcome' to the Southern Pacific's visiting digni­taries. For what was supposed to be a celebratory event, Oury struck a somber note, his words anticipating the melancholy triumphalism that would suffuse the historian Frederick Jackson Turner's 'frontier thesis' a decade later:

The pioneers of Arizona have spent the best years of their life in prepar­ing the way for that progress which we now see consummated .... Here, then, arises the question: What are you to do with us? The enterprise of such men as now surround me has penetrated every nook and corner of our broad land, and we have no frontier to which the pioneer may flea [sic] to avoid the tramp of civilized progress .... [O]ur last request is that you kindly avoid trampling in the dust the few remaining monu­ments of the first American settlements of Arizona.

September 1877 the building of the railway bridge over the
Colorado River in Yuma for the first locomotive to reach
Arizona Territory -- Southern Pacific, Enonch Conklin 

"Oury's allusion to the potential displacements that the railroad would bring to his generation of seeders proved all too accurate. Within a year, Tuc­son, which had been a village of 3,500 in 1872, would boom to more than 9,000 residents. This rapid growth upended long-standing patterns of defer­ence in the town, for many of these newcomers had little idea who [Oury] was or of the central role that he and his compatriots had played in Tuc­son affairs. Moreover, the railroad's arrival imperiled [their] economic standing. ... With the railroad now the main form of transportation, there was little need to freight goods from Sonora as Hughes, Stevens, and DeLong had done, to buy the specialized wagons that Etchells built for this specialized trade, or to grind flour at Lee's mill rather than importing it from elsewhere. On the demographic level, the growth in population that followed the railroad's arrival stabilized the gender ratio in the American community. Intermarriage between Anglo men and Mexican or Mexican-American women tapered off, casting a slightly disreputable light upon the leaders of an earlier generation, almost all of whom, having married women of Mexican descent, now found themselves fretting as to the place their children would occupy in Tucson's new social order.

"It was under these circumstances that Charles Poston convened a meeting in Tucson on January 31, 1884, to create a 'Pioneer Association.' The stared goal of the proposed organization was to bring the earliest seeders in Ari­zona together in 'a Moral, Benevolent, Literary, Scientific Association.' But the organization's implicit purpose -- to shore up its members' waning social and political influence -- -was revealed in a passage in its certificate of incorporation: 'to advance the interests and perpetuate the memory of those whose sagacity, energy and enterprise induced them to settle in the wilderness and become the founders of a new state.' "

Shadows at Dawn is a Notable Book of the year. Discover our other Notable Books of 2016 by clicking here:

NOTABLE BOOKS WE READ IN 2016 -- 11/28/16


Karl Jacoby


Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History


Penguin Books


Copyright Karl Jacoby, 2008


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