What would the prototypical pioneer who moved from the east coast to the west coast look like? My pioneer is a former plantation owner who becomes a cattle rancher in the Nebraska territory following the Civil War. What are the political beliefs of cattle ranchers during that time? What is his likely opinion of Easterners, especially politicians and financiers, now that he lives in the west? Are they working in your best interests?
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The prototypical plantation owner was from the American South, and relatively prosperous. The loss of slave labor resulting from the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect at the beginning of 1863, would have deprived him of an important source of cheap labor, thereby radically altering the economics of the South. While now-free former slaves were still relatively abundant and forced to work for minimal wages, there is no question that the cost of labor rose for plantation owners after the Civil War and during the era of Reconstruction. The physical and cultural devastation the South witnessed during the war and the period of Reconstruction that followed impoverished many formerly prosperous Southerners, so the financial situation for a particular former plantation owner would be dependent upon his ability to have secured wealth before the end of the war, perhaps by investing in gold and silver.
The cattle industry, which saw a major expansion following the Civil War, was far different from the plantation life, which generally involved agriculture, for example, cotton and produce. Making the transition from one to the other would entail massive lifestyle changes, especially with respect to the responsibilities involved in purchasing and transporting cattle across vast expanses of territory. Cattle drives were extremely time-intensive endeavors, with the cattle strung along mile or more lengths and plantation owners accustomed to overseeing fields from their front porches were now required to ensure delivery of hundreds of cattle from one destination to another. Both cotton and cattle were prone to price fluctuations that could negatively impact the owner’s revenue, and while cotton is a water-intensive crop, the economics of cattle were less certain, especially if disease struck the herd.
Plantation owners, of course, were politically conservative inasmuch as the liberal changes associated with the Emancipation Proclamation were antithetical to both their views of racial superiority and to the economics on which they had built their businesses. Additionally, the indignities associated with Reconstruction would compound the feelings of resentment most now-former-plantation owners would feel towards the North, especially towards the Northeast. As such, they would be extremely resentful of politicians and financiers in the East. That resentment would extend to the control of Eastern financiers over the ability of newly-established cattle ranchers to secure loans and to influence cattle prices.
Once established in Nebraska, and assuming the threat from renegade Plains Indians had been diminished, the main challenge, other than the care and feeding of hundreds of cattle and the wages of those hired to help run the ranch, would involve turf wars between the cattle ranchers and the farmers, the latter intent on tilling and farming the land and the ranchers intent on fencing off large quantities of acreage for grazing. Former plantation owners who had managed to hold onto their money post-Civil War would be in the position of legally purchasing and controlling their land. Homesteading, which enticed thousands of poorer migrants to move west to areas like Nebraska, would pose a constant challenge to ranchers who hadn’t succeeded in securing their land, but, again, former plantation owners who still retained wealth would be able to deter homesteaders.
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