Tuesday, March 30, 2010

American History: Gold and Land Drive Settlers West. From VOA.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

Soon after the Civil War ended in eighteen sixty-five, thousands of Americans began to move west to settle the land. The great movement of settlers continued for almost forty years. The great empty West, in time, became fully settled. The discovery of gold had already started a great movement to California.

This week in our series, Robert Bostic and Leo Scully tell about the gold rush and the important part cowboys played in settling the West.

ROBERT BOSTIC: Men had rushed to the gold fields with hopes of becoming rich. A few found gold. The others found only hard work and high prices.

When their money was gone, they gave up the search for gold. But they stayed in California to become farmers or businessmen or laborers.

Some never gave up the search for riches. They moved back toward the east, searching for gold and silver in the wild country between California and the Mississippi river. Men found gold and silver in Nevada, and then in the Idaho and Montana territories. Other gold strikes were made in the Arizona territory, in Colorado and in the Dakota territory.

LEO SCULLY: Each new gold rush brought more people from the east. Mining camps quickly grew into towns with stores, hotels, even newspapers. Most of these towns, however, lived only as long as gold was easy to find. Then they began to die.

In some of the gold centers, big mining companies bought up all the land from those who first claimed it. These companies brought in mining machines that could dig out the gold from deep underground and separate it from the rock that held it.

These companies needed equipment and other supplies. Transportation companies were formed. They carried supplies to the mining camps in huge wagon trains pulled by slow-moving oxen. Roads were built, and in some places, railroads.

ROBERT BOSTIC: The great wealth taken from the gold and silver mines was usually invested in other businesses: shipping, railroads, factories, stores, land companies. More jobs were created in the West. And living conditions got better. More and more people decided to leave the crowded East for a new life in the West.

But the big eastern cities continued to grow. New factories and industrial centers were built. People moved from the farms to find work in the cities.

LEO SCULLY: The growth of these industrial centers created a big demand for food, especially meat. Chicago quickly became the heart of the meat industry. Railroads brought animals to Chicago, where packing companies killed them and prepared the meat for eastern markets.

Special railroad cars kept the meat cold, so it would remain fresh until sold. As the meat industry grew, the demand for fresh meat increased. More and more cattle were needed.

ROBERT BOSTIC: There were millions of cattle in Texas, but no way to get them to the eastern markets. The closest point on the railroad was Sedalia, Missouri, more than one thousand kilometers away. Some cattlemen believed it might be possible to walk cattle to the railroad, letting them feed on the open grassland along the way.

Early in eighteen sixty-six, a group of Texas cattlemen decided to try this. They put together a huge herd of more than two hundred sixty-thousand cattle and set out for Sedalia.

LEO SCULLY: There were many problems on that first cattle drive. The country was rough; grass and water sometimes hard to find. Bandits and Indians followed the herd trying to steal cattle. Farmers had put up fences in some areas, blocking the way.

Most of the great herd was lost along the way. But the cattlemen believed they had proved that cattle could be walked long distances to the railroad. They believed a better way to the railroad could be found, with plenty of grass and water.

ROBERT BOSTIC: The cattlemen got the Kansas Pacific Railroad to extend its line west to Abilene, Kansas. There was a good trail from Texas to Abilene. Cattlemen began moving their herds up this trail across the Oklahoma territory and into Kansas. At Abilene, the cattle were put on trains and carried to Chicago.

In the next four years, more than one-and-a-half-million cattle were moved north over the Chisholm trail to Kansas. Other trails were found as the railroad moved farther west.

LEO SCULLY: Trail drives usually began with the spring "round-up."Cattlemen would send out cowboys to search the open grasslands for their animals.

As the cattle were brought in, the young animals were branded -- marked to show who owned them. Then they were released with their mothers to spend another year in the open country.

The other cattle were put together for the long drive to Kansas. Usually, they were moved in groups of twenty-five hundred to five thousand animals. Twelve to twenty cowboys took them up the trail.

ROBERT BOSTIC: The cowboys worked hard on a trail drive. They had to keep the herd together day and night and protect it from bad men and Indians. They had to keep the cattle from moving too fast or running away. If they moved too fast, they would lose weight, and their owner would not get as much money for them.

The cowboys would walk the cattle only twenty to thirty kilometers a day. The cattle could feed all night and part of the morning before starting each day. If the grass was good, and the herd moved slowly, the cattle would get heavier and bring more money.

LEO SCULLY: In the early eighteen eighties, the price of cattle rose to fifty dollars each, and many cattlemen became rich. Business was so good that a five thousand dollar investment in the cattle industry could make forty-five thousand dollars in four years.

More and more people began raising cattle. And early cattlemen greatly increased the size of their herds. Within a few years, there was not enough grass for all the cattle, especially along the trails. There was so much meat that the price began to fall.

ROBERT BOSTIC: There were two severe winters that killed hundreds of thousands of cattle. An extremely dry summer killed the grass, and thousands more died of hunger. The cattle industry itself almost died.

Cattlemen also had problems with farmers and sheepmen. Farmers coming west would claim grassland used by the cattle growers. They would put up fences and plow up the land to plant crops. Other settlers brought huge herds of sheep to compete with cattle for the grass, and the sheep always won. Cattle would not eat grass where sheep had eaten.

Violence broke out. Cattle growers fought the farmers and sheepmen for control of the land. The cattlemen finally had to settle land of their own, putting up fences and cutting the size of their herds. They no longer could let their cattle run free on public lands.

LEO SCULLY: By the late eighteen hundreds, the years of the cowboys were ending. But the story of the cowboy and his difficult life would not be forgotten. Even today, the cowboy lives in movies, on television, and in books.

When one thinks of the "Wild West" of America, he does not think of the miners who opened the way to the West. Nor does he think of the men who struggled to build the first railroads across the wild land. And one does not think of the farmers who pushed slowly westward to fence, plow, and plant the land.

ROBERT BOSTIC: The words "Wild West" bring to mind just one character: the cowboy. His difficult fight to protect his cattle on the long trail was an exciting story. It has been told by many writers. Perhaps the best-known was a young easterner, Owen Wister. He worked as a cattleman for several years, then wrote about the heroic life of the cowboy in a book called "The Virginian."

Another easterner who came west to learn about the cowboy was the artist Frederick Remington. Remington was a cowboy for only two years. But he spent the rest of his life painting pictures of the west and writing about it. His exciting works made the west and the cowboy come to life for millions who never saw a real cowboy.

LEO SCULLY: The cowboy has also lived in music. He had his own kind of songs that told of his problems, his hopes, and his feelings. That will be our story next week.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Robert Bostic and Leo Scully. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, along with historical images, are at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"The Science of Plate Tectonics" from VOA.


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Scientists who study the Earth tell us that the continents and ocean floors are always moving. Sometimes, this movement is violent and might result in great destruction. Today, we examine the process that causes earthquakes.



The first pictures of Earth taken from space showed a solid ball covered by brown and green landmasses and blue-green oceans. It appeared as if the Earth had always looked that way -- and always would.

Scientists now know, however, that the surface of the Earth is not as permanent as had been thought. Scientists explain that the surface of our planet is always in motion. Continents move about the Earth like huge ships at sea. They float on pieces of the Earth's outer skin, or crust. New crust is created as melted rock pushes up from inside the planet. Old crust is destroyed as it rolls down into the hot area and melts again.


Only since the nineteen-sixties have scientists begun to understand that the Earth is a great, living structure. Some experts say this new understanding is one of the most important revolutions in scientific thought. The revolution is based on the work of scientists who study the movement of the continents -- a process called plate tectonics.

Earthquakes are a result of that process. Plate tectonics is the area of science that explains why the surface of the Earth changes and how those changes cause earthquakes.


Scientists say the surface of the Earth is cracked like a giant eggshell. They call the pieces tectonic plates. As many as twenty of them cover the Earth. The plates float about slowly, sometimes crashing into each other, and sometimes moving away from each other.

When the plates move, the continents move with them. Sometimes the continents are above two plates. The continents split as the plates move.



Tectonic plates can cause earthquakes as they move. Modern instruments show that about ninety percent of all earthquakes take place along a few lines in several places around the Earth.

These lines follow underwater mountains, where hot liquid rock flows up from deep inside the planet. Sometimes, the melted rock comes out with a great burst of pressure. This forces apart pieces of the Earth's surface in a violent earthquake.

Other earthquakes take place at the edges of continents. Pressure increases as two plates move against each other. When this happens, one plate moves past the other,suddenly causing the Earth's surface to split.


One example of this is found in California, on the West Coast of the United States. One part of California is on what is known as the Pacific plate. The other part of the state is on what is known as the North American plate.

Scientists say the Pacific plate is moving toward the northwest,while the North American plate is moving more to the southeast. Where these two huge plates come together is called a fault line.

The name of this line between the plates in California is the San Andreas Fault. It is along or near this line that most of California's earthquakes take place, as the two tectonic plates move in different directions.

The city of Los Angeles in Southern California is about fifty kilometers from the San Andreas Fault. Many smaller fault lines can be found throughout the area around Los Angeles. A major earthquake in nineteen ninety-four was centered along one of these smaller fault lines.



The story of plate tectonics begins with the German scientist Alfred Wegener in the early part of the twentieth century. He first proposed that the continents had moved and were still moving.

He said the idea came to him when he observed that the coasts of South America and Africa could fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. He proposed that the two continents might have been one, then split apart.

Later, Alfred Wegener said the continents had once been part of a huge area of land he called Pangaea. He said the huge continent had split more than two hundred million years ago. He said the pieces were still floating apart.


Wegener investigated the idea that continents move. He pointed out a line of mountains that appears from east to west in South Africa. Then he pointed out another line of mountains that looks almost exactly the same in Argentina, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. He found fossil remains of the same kind of an early plant in areas of Africa, South America, India, Australia and even Antarctica.

Alfred Wegener said the mountains and fossils were evidence that all the land on Earth was united at some time in the distant past.


Wegener also noted differences between the continents and the ocean floor. He said the oceans were more than just low places that had filled with water. Even if the water was removed, he said, a person would still see differences between the continents and the ocean floor.

Also, the continents and the ocean floor are not made of the same kind of rock. The continents are made of a granite-like rock, a mixture of silicon and aluminum. The ocean floor is basalt rock, a mixture of silicon and magnesium. Mister Wegener said the lighter continental rock floated up through the heavier basalt rock of the ocean floor.


Support for Alfred Wegener's ideas did not come until the early nineteen-fifties. American scientists Harry Hess and Robert Dietz said the continents moved as new sea floor was created under the Atlantic Ocean.

They said a thin valley in the Atlantic Ocean was a place where the ocean floor splits. They said hot melted material flows up from deep inside the Earth through the split. As the hot material reaches the ocean floor, it spreads out, cools and hardens. It becomes new ocean floor.

The two scientists proposed that the floor of the Atlantic Ocean is moving away from each side of the split. The movement is very slow -- a few centimeters a year.

In time, they said, the moving ocean floor is blocked when it comes up against the edge of a continent. Then it is forced down under the continent, deep into the Earth, where it is melted again.

Harry Hess and Robert Dietz said this spreading does not make the Earth bigger. As new ocean floor is created, an equal amount is destroyed.


The two scientists also said Alfred Wegener was correct. The continents move as new material from the center of the Earth rises, hardens and pushes older pieces of the Earth away from each other. The continents are moving all the time, although we cannot feel it.

They called their theory "sea floor spreading." The theory explains that as the sea floor spreads, the tectonic plates are pushed and pulled in different directions.



The idea of plate tectonics explains volcanoes as well as earthquakes. Many of the world's volcanoes are found at the edges of plates, where geologic activity is intense. The large number of volcanoes around the Pacific plate has earned the name "Ring of Fire."

Volcanoes also are found in the middle of plates, where there is a well of melted rock. Scientists call these wells "hot spots." A hot spot does not move. However, as the plate moves over it,a line of volcanoes is formed.

The Hawaiian Islands were created in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as the plate moved slowly over a hot spot. This process is continuing, as the plate continues to move.


Volcanoes and earthquakes are among the most frightening events that nature can produce. The major earthquake in China's Sichuan Province in May, two thousand eight, killed almost seventy thousand people. Many more were injured or left without homes because of the earthquake. At times like these, we remember that the ground is not as solid and unchanging as people might like to think.



This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. We would like to hear from you. Write to us at Special English, Voice of America, Washington, D-C, two-zero-two-three-seven, U-S-A. Or send your e-mails to special@voanews.com. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Just Who Was 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'? Voice of America.

Margaret Brown lived an interesting social and political life, but not all of the stories about the Titanic survivor are true.

MARIO RITTER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Mario Ritter.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I'm Shirley Griffith. Margaret Brown was a social and political activist in the formative years of the modern American West. Her biggest claim to fame was surviving the Titanic. This week on our program, we tell the story of the woman remembered as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."


MARIO RITTER: Margaret Brown lived an interesting life, but not all the stories about her are true. For example, a Denver newspaper reporter named Gene Fowler wrote that she survived a tornado as a baby, refused to attend school and chewed tobacco.

Fowler wrote about Brown and others in his book "Timber Line," published after her death in nineteen thirty-two.

Kristen Iversen is an English professor and author of "Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth." She says the stories did contain some truth, though, which is that Brown went West to follow a dream and that dream came true.

In the nineteen sixty-four movie "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" she was played by Debbie Reynolds.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The nickname "Molly" was largely a Hollywood invention, says her biographer. Kristen Iversen says Brown did not like it. The name "Molly" was often used as an insult for an Irish girl, and nobody in her own life called her that.

She was known as Maggie in her hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. She was born Margaret Tobin in eighteen sixty-seven, two years after the Civil War ended. Her Irish-born parents had socially progressive beliefs.

At that time, American women could not own property or vote. They did not get much education. And they rarely traveled far by themselves. But during her lifetime much of that changed.

MARIO RITTER: In eighteen eighty-six, Maggie Tobin left home for the town of Leadville, Colorado, to join a sister and brother who already lived there. Leadville had gold, silver and copper mines. At that time it was one of the fastest growing places in the country.

She sewed carpets and curtains for a local dry goods company.

She is shown singing in a barroom in both the movie and nineteen sixty Broadway musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."


Here is biographer Kristen Iversen.

KRISTEN IVERSEN: "She did have a great sense of humor. She enjoyed being around people. But she was very serious, very motivated, very hard working type of person and really a kind of good Catholic girl her entire life. And that barroom saloon girl image is pretty different from the kind of person she really was. So one thing the myth does is it really diminishes that aspect of her life."

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The story of her life became linked to romantic ideas about gold mining in the American West and the dream of getting rich quick.

In eighteen eighty-six Maggie Tobin married James Joseph Brown, J.J. for short. He was thirty-one years old; she was nineteen. He was a mine manager in Leadville who developed a way to safely mine for gold deeper than before.

The popular story is that J.J. got rich soon after they married. Kristen Iversen says he did become rich, but not until they had been married for seven years and had two children.

In eighteen ninety-four the Browns bought a house in Denver, Colorado. The popular story is that rich families in Denver society did not accept them because they had been poor and lacked education.

MARIO RITTER: Kristen Iversen says Denver's most conservative social club did exclude them for a time. But she says the Browns were a big part of Denver society. Margaret became involved in social and political events, hosting dinners to raise money for charities.

She traveled around the world and sent her children to school in France. She learned foreign languages and took college classes. She also began to speak out for progressive causes.

She worked toward social change through the women’s reform movement. She raised money for schools and the poor. And she worked with a judge in Denver to establish the first court in the country to deal only with young people.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In nineteen twelve Margaret Brown was a passenger on the Titanic on its first and only trip. The huge ship hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic. More than one thousand five hundred people died, while just over seven hundred survived.

Brown was played by Kathy Bates in James Cameron's "Titanic." In this scene, she tries to get the other women in her lifeboat to go back and rescue people from the water.

MOLLY BROWN: "C'mon girls, grab an oar, let's go!"

CREWMAN: "Are you out of your mind? We're in the middle of the North Atlantic. Now do you people want to live, or do you want to die?"

MOLLY BROWN: "I don't understand a one of ya. What's the matter with ya? It's your men out there. There’s plenty of room for more."

CREWMAN: "And there'll be one less on this boat if you don't shut that hole in your face."

In real life, Brown is credited with keeping people's spirits up in the lifeboat until they were rescued by another ship, the Carpathia.

Later, she raised money to help poor immigrant women who had been passengers on the lower levels of the Titanic. She also raised money for the crew of the Carpathia. She became president of the Titanic Survivors Club and helped build a memorial in Washington.

MARIO RITTER: So who started calling her "unsinkable"? Some say she described herself that way after the disaster. Kristen Iversen says that is not true. She says a Denver newspaper reporter first called her the unsinkable Mrs. Brown in a story. The New York Times called her the heroine of the Titanic.

KRISTEN IVERSEN: ”The thing about the Titanic experience, what happened with the Titanic experience and the recognition she got from the New York Times in particular was that it gave her a platform from which to talk about some of the political and social issues --miners’ rights, women’s rights, the development of the juvenile court system, that sort of thing. It gave her an international platform to talk about some of those things.”

She actively worked for the right of women to vote in federal elections. Colorado gave women the right to vote in eighteen ninety-three, but that did not happen nationally until nineteen twenty. Brown ran for Congress twice in the early nineteen hundreds but lost both times.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The popular story of Molly Brown is that she was on the Titanic returning home to a happy life with her husband. In reality, their marriage had already failed.

Kristen Iversen says one of their major problems was that Brown was socially progressive and her husband was not.

KRISTEN IVERSEN: "He felt that a woman’s name -- and she wrote about his -- that a woman’s name should appear in the newspaper when she married and when she died. And Margaret Tobin Brown liked to see her name in the newspaper for a lot of reasons."

The couple never legally divorced because of their Catholic faith, but they did sign a separation agreement. J.J. Brown died in nineteen twenty-two.

MARIO RITTER: During World War One, Margaret Brown went to France to help with the American medical ambulance system. She earned the French Legion of Honor for her work with the American Committee of Devastated France.

In the last years of her life, she traveled and performed on the stage. She also studied and taught acting. In nineteen twenty-nine she received the Palm of the Academy, a French honor, in recognition of her work in dramatic arts.

Margaret Brown died in nineteen thirty-two while staying at the famous Barbizon Hotel in New York City. She was sixty-five years old. The discovery of a brain cancer after her death explained the severe headaches in the final years of her life.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In nineteen seventy, the city of Denver bought the house where she had lived. Each year about fifty thousand people visit the Molly Brown House. They learn how a wealthy American family lived at the start of the twentieth century. And they learn about the real Molly Brown.

To biographer Kristen Iversen, Brown represents other women who also worked for social progress but whose lives "are invisible to history." So what lesson is there to learn from the myth of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown?"

KRISTEN IVERSEN: "I think the story in some ways tells us what we want to think of ourselves as an American. That is, this kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, that with enough determination and hard work that you can transcend limitations of money or class or gender. And that’s part of the myth and I think that’s also part of the reality of her story.

"So it’s a very inspirational story. There are so many aspects of the myth that are not true. Yet I think the myth story itself speaks to her spirit and speaks to some of the ways we like to think of ourselves as Americans.”


MARIO RITTER: Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I'm Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at voaspecialenglish.com, where you can also post comments. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.