The Year Was 1881

The year was 1881 and the assassination of Tsar Aleksandr II and rumors of Jewish involvement set off waves of violence against Russian Jews that went on for four years. In addition the the pogroms, the “May Laws” restricted Jewish employment and education, and prohibiting them from living in towns with populations less than 10,000.  It’s estimated that more than 2 million Jews fled Russia as a result of the violence and the May Laws.

More than six hundred people were killed in a fire at the Ring Theatre in Vienna, Austria. The fire started when a stagehand accidentally set some hanging stage props on fire. The fire quickly caught the curtains and spread. To make matters worse, management cut off the gas to the theatre, which extinguished the lights and crowds quickly filled the stairwells. Those caught in the upper decks were trapped and many began jumping from the balconies, killing not only themselves, but those below.

Fire also claimed more than two hundred lives in the “Thumb” of Michigan. (The Thumb refers to the part of Michigan just above Detroit that resembles the thumb of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula.)

The Thumb wildfires were the result of a drought that affected much of the United States in 1881. Extending from New England through the Midwest and into Western states, it severely impacted the corn growing states and drove up prices on many types of produce.

A hurricane struck Georgia and the Carolinas in 1881 left more than seven hundred people dead and completely submerged several of the barrier islands.

On July 2, the President James A. Garfield was shot by a lawyer who had worked on his campaign and had been rebuffed in his attempts to land an ambassadorship to Paris. Although Garfield survived the initial shooting, doctors probing the wound with unwashed hands trying to locate the bullet brought on an infection that killed him two and a half months later.

The “Wild West” of America was living up to its name in 1881. A gunfight in an El Paso saloon, sometimes called the “Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight” was brought on over the investigation of cattle rustlers and the murders of two Mexican farmhands.

Cattle rustling along the U.S./Mexican border had become a growing problem in recent years and the Mexican government was fighting back. As it became harder for rustlers to steal cattle from across the border, crimes on the northern side increased. In Tombstone, Arizona, tensions over recent crimes between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, and the Clantons and McLaurys erupted in one of the most famous gun battles–the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

6 thoughts on “The Year Was 1881

  1. Thank you for the insight. In June of that year my twenty-five year old great grand mother, Helena Rundqvist, immigrated from Denmark -alone. I will place a copy of this information in her folder. Someday I hope to get to that branch of the family tree. This article will undoubtedly help me understand other parts of her rather brief life in the US. She died from breast cancer in 1902. Della

  2. Again, it would be helpful to be able to print the article itself, without having to waste several pieces of paper on comments, plus….

  3. John, do a print preview. To do this: click on “File”, drop down box appears. Click on “Print Preview”. When the page appears, click on “Print”. Another box should appear…… you can “assign” only the page/pages you want to print. Hope this info is helpful.

  4. My mother 1904-1994, told me of these fires. Her father was born in Vicksburg, Kalamazoo County Michigan in 1881. His parents had to cover his face with cloths as they headed west to South Haven, Van Buren County Michigan.

  5. The tidbits for the year 1881 is wonderful, however, you failed to mention that Tuskegee University, was founded as an institution to educate former slaves in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *