The year was 1889 and in a tiny port in Samoa, seven warships were gathered on the verge of conflict. The USS Trenton, the Vandalia, and Nipsic of the U.S., and the Olga, Adler, and Eber, representing Germany were in a standoff as both countries saw each other as a threat to their respective interests in the South Pacific. As tensions grew, the weather turned violent and both sides lost the battle with Mother Nature. A British ship, the HMS Calliope, escaped the harbor by sailing full speed into the storm. All but two ships were damaged beyond repair. The U.S. lost more than fifty servicemen, and the Germans lost around ninety.
Flooding was fatal in a small Pennsylvania town that year. As the residents of Johnstown gathered their belongings and moved to the upper floors of their houses in response to seasonal flooding that plagued the valley, danger lurked high above the town where the South Fork dam held back Lake Conemaugh. Attempts were being made to relieve the pressure, but at about three oâ€™clock on 31 May 1889, the dam was washed a way. An hour later, forty-foot high floodwaters–with fourteen miles of accumulated debris–swept through the town. 2,209 people from Johnstown and other communities in the path perished in the Johnstown Flood.
Fire was the culprit in Seattle, Washington. A blaze that began in a woodworking shop spread because of dry conditions and a lack of water and eventually claimed much of the city. Although the loss of life was minimal, the fire burned twenty-five city blocks and displaced thousands of people. It did, however lead to improvements as the town rebuilt with brick buildings and a more reliable municipal water supply.
While Washington saw one city largely destroyed in 1889, in Oklahoma Territory, two cities were born in less than a day. On 22 April 1889, the government opened tracts of land that had formerly been ceded to Indians, and at noon, the land grab was on. While settlers waited along the perimeter of the designated area, some had already sneaked in and waited in the woods to stake their claims. 2 million acres were claimed that day and the cities of Guthrie and Oklahoma City sprung up in a matter of hours. An interesting first person account that ran in “Harper’s Weekly” can be found online at a Cornell University website.
In early November, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington were granted statehood becoming the 39th through 42nd states admitted to the Union.
In London, England, dissatisfaction over pay and lousy working conditions would lead to “The Great Dock Strike of 1889.” At the time, laborers would crowd the docks looking for work, while employers would herd them and pick out only those workers necessary from the crowd in what was known as a “call on.” The strike began on 14 August. The dock workers received the support of the stevedores’ union, and they appealed to other trade unions to take action as well. Support from other unions crippled the port and with as many as 130,000 men on strike. Aid came from as far away as Australia in the form of donations to help support the strikers. After five weeks, the strikers won and on 16 September the docks were once again in business.
Image: The image is of the Oklahoma Land Rush and is from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry.