The Year Was 1860

Pony Express stables at Fort Bridger, Wyoming (from the LOC Photo Collection at Ancestry.com)The year was 1860 and Giuseppe Garibaldi was leading troops in a quest for a unified Italy, a quest he would complete the following year with the kingdom ruled by Victor Emmanuel. Only Venice and Rome were not included, but they eventually were added as well in 1866 and 1870, respectively. 

Born in Florence, Italy, to a wealthy British family, Florence Nightingale had proven the value of nurses to the military during the Crimean War. Her efforts elevated the profession of nursing and in 1860 she opened the Nightingale Training School for nurses. Her work forever changed the face of health care.

Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.  Lincoln defeated his opponents, Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell and was elected the sixteenth President of the United States in November. More than 81 percent of the eligible voters in the country turned out to cast their vote. Lincoln carried nearly 40 percent of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes to the combined other candidates electoral votes of 123. 

Kansas had been a key player in the country’s slavery conflict since the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, by allowing “popular sovereignty” (the right of white male voters to decide the issue of whether slavery was to be allowed in new territories), which in effect overturned parts of the 1850 Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery in territories north of latitude 36°30´. Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, violence ensued as pro- and anti-slavery supporters rushed to Kansas to try to sway the vote of the first election to their perspective, but as horrible as this period was, in 1860, it was drought and famine that drove settlers from the territory. According to William G. Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas,

“From the 19th of that month, until November, 1860–over sixteen months–not a shower of rain fell, to wet the earth at any one time, two inches in depth. Before the close of the summer the ground was so parched that it broke open in huge cracks, the winds blew from the south like a blast from a furnace, vegetation was destroyed, crops were a total failure, and wells and springs were dry.”

The country had been moving westward and with the expansion came a better vehicle for communication. In 1860 the Pony Express began its short-lived run between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Riders between the ages of eleven and the mid-forties relayed mail and news on the 1,966-mile-trip that typically took ten days. According to the Pony Express Museum, the fastest trip took seven days and seventeen hours. (The image accompanying this article is of the Pony Expres stables at Fort Bridger, Wyoming from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry.com. Click on the image to enlarge it.)

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