Just before the American Revolution,
Philip Fithian, tutor to Robert Carter III’s tidewater household,
observed that being called a "Scotsman" ranked with being
called a "buckskin," "lubber," or
"thick-skull" and was legitimate grounds for a fight. But this
antagonism faded quickly during the early years of the American
republic. Over the course of the century, Scots entered without
difficulty into virtually every aspect of American life. They became
farmers, miners, cattle ranchers, housewives, missionaries, hermits,
prostitutes, vigilantes, artists, writers, labor organizers, teachers,
professional golfers, and Rough Riders, just to name a few occupations.
It would be no exaggeration to say that by c. 1920 the Scots had become
America’s favorite immigrant group.
By happenstance American prejudices and social ideals fit nicely with
their Scottish counterparts. Both cultures denounced the English system
of social hierarchy. For example, when John Howison visited upper Canada
in 1822, he discovered that the ultimate English term for social
impudence was "Scotch Yankey." All through the
nineteenth century, Americans utilized the Fourth of July as a chance to
twist the English lion’s tail. Scots who celebrated a romantic
homeland (but not a nation) could sometimes be coaxed to join in.
Americans’ fears of Roman Catholicism generally slid off the backs of
Scottish Catholic immigrants (most of whom went to Canada anyway) to
rest with the numerous Irish. In 1841, for example, the British consul
at Boston wrote to the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick to try to
discourage out-migration: "The strong prejudice which exists in
this part of the Union against the labouring Irish tends much to make
them discontented." Episcopal or Presbyterian Scots
immigrants met no such reaction.
Scots ideals of individual achievement, economic advance, opposition
to privilege, and abhorrence of caste happened to be American goals as
well. Scots values of self-restraint, hard work, and education were also
the norms toward which many reformers sought to push the new nation.
Thus, Scots met virtually no antagonism in Victorian America Even
when they were called "Jock," "Sandy," or
"Mac," the term carried no negative connotations, as "Deutscher,"
"Paddy," or "Mick" often did. The Know Nothing
movement of the 1850s produced no Scottish equivalent of "Damn the
Dutch" or ‘To Hell with the Irish." Even the Scots’
"faults"—their alleged dour nature, lack of a sense of the
beautiful, thriftiness bordering on parsimony, supreme self-confidence,
and tendency toward overindulgence—were treated with tolerance.
Often these "failings" were resolved via humor. Consider
the number of Scots jokes that burlesqued their meanness (that is to
say, stinginess). Who was the least disturbed mouse in Scotland? The one
living in the offertory box of the Aberdeen cathedral. How do you take a
census in Glasgow? Throw a penny in the street. From this it was but a
short jump to an American version:
How did the Grand Canyon come about? A Scot lost a dime (and dug
until he found it).
The same lightheartedness can be found in the stories that dealt with
Scots self-confidence. Historian James Bumsted has recently noted that
Canadian Scots have long considered themselves different from, and
superior to, their English, Welsh, and Irish cousins. This is
not a new concept. In the early eighteenth century, as traveler Edward
Burt heard the story, a Spanish ship wrecked on the small island of
Barra in the Outer Hebrides, home of the McNeal clan. After
deliberation, a council of clansmen decided to confiscate the Spanish
cargo. When someone suggested that this might anger the king of Spain,
the council observed: "We have nothing to do with that McNeal and
the King of Spain will adjust that matter between themselves."
The story continues. In 1847 a Falkirk drover claimed that his
accomplishments were more significant than those of the Duke of
Wellington at Waterloo. Wellington only had his men scattered here and
there around the battlefield, said the drover, "but let him try to
put down ten thousand sheep, forbye black cattle, at Falkirk Tryst and
it’s my opinion he’ll make a very confused business of it. "A
North American example of this trait emerged during the American
Revolution, after a Scottish lieutenant led a group of Loyalists to
Glengarry, Canada. Afterwards, the lieutenant compared his
accomplishment with that of Moses. As he noted, however, Moses had taken
forty years and had lost half his men in the Red Sea, whereas he had
taken everyone across the St. Lawrence River in only six weeks without a
single loss. Truly, the Scots shared "a guid conceit o’
Parallel with these stories came other versions that dealt with
excessive drinking and parsimony. But Scots humor seldom reflected the
same harsh edge as can be found in Irish orJewish stories that
burlesqued the same Traveling Scots encountered little or no prejudice
in nineteenth-century America. Visiting New Orleans after the Civil War,
Reverend David Macrae found that all prejudice against him vanished
(people first thought him a Yankee) when he revealed his country of
origin. During the 1890s Texas rancher Thomas Simpson Carson once heard
himself termed "that damned Scotsman," but that reaction was
an exception to the rule. An 1896 author could find no examples of overt
discrimination against Scots.
Because of this lack of prejudice, immigrants to early America
created few purely Scottish towns to parallel those established in
Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, or Prince Edward Island. Nevertheless, a
distinct Scottish travel network existed, and few Scottish visitors to
the States seemed unaware of its existence. The informal network worked
well. Traveling through Jacksonville, Illinois, during the 1820s, James
Stuart was told that prominent resident James Kerr would be hurt if a
fellow Scot passed by without calling. Fifty years later, David Macrae
boarded with fellow Scots during his stays in New Orleans and St. Louis.
When J. Cameron Lees visited San Francisco in 1888, he made certain to
book his passage across the continent through Scots-born travel agent
Thomas Mackay, who impressed Lees with his testimonials from the various
lords and ladies who had utilized his services. Lees noted that Mackay
was "as well known in San Francisco as Mr. [Thomas] Cook is to the
British Travellers." Scots Victorian women travelers, such as Mrs.
M. A. Pringle of Whytbank and Elizabeth Stirling, followed similar
Robert Louis Stevenson carefully noted all the Scots he met during
his stay in California: a piper who fled from Sacramento with a borrowed
dollar; an Aberdonian who took up highway robbery; and a woman who drove
him all through the Napa Valley. Stevenson also confessed that when he
chanced upon a Greenock resident and exchanged a word or two in Scots,
it "pleased me more than you would fancy."
In "The Silverado Squatters" Stevenson elaborated on this
emotion: The happiest lot on earth is to be born a Scotchman. You must
pay for it in many ways, as for all other advantages on earth. You have
to learn the paraphrases and the shorter catechism; you generally take
to drink; your youth, as far as I can find out, is a time of louder war
against society, of more outcry and tears and turmoil, than if you had
been born, for instance, in England. But somehow life is warmer and
closer; the hearth burns more redly; the lights of home shine softer on
the rainy street the very names endeared in verse and music, cling
nearer around our hearts. An Englishman may meet an Englishman tomorrow,
upon Chimborazo, and neither of them care; but when the Scotch
wine-grower told me of Mons Meg, it was like magic.
From the dim shieling on the misty Island
Mountains divide us, and a world of seas;
Yet still our hearts are true; our hearts are Highland,
And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides.
And, Highland and Lowland, all our hearts are Scotch.
Although the American Scots never established ethnic towns as did the
Canadians, they did participate in the various "British
Colonies" that arose during the mid-nineteenth century. During this
era, Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa created at least six "British
Colonies," ranging in philosophical orientation from atheist to
Owenite to utopian. All contained a few Scots. These colonies soon
boasted yacht clubs, fox hunts, formal dinners, and elaborate banquets.
Various visionaries continued to promote similar colonies for years.
Immediately after the Civil War, a Scottish laird devised a scheme to
send over Highland crofters to the South to replace the former slaves,
but that plan failed to materialize. In 1867, however, a Houston firm
actually imported eighteen Highlanders to serve as plowmen for farms in
The "British Colony" that involved the largest number of
Scots was Victoria, located southeast of Hays City, Ellis County, in
western Kansas. Victoria was founded by George Grant, a Scottish crofter’s
son who had made his fortune in the cloth business. His ethics and
business acumen may be seen in the following tale. Reading of the
illness of Prince Albert in the London Times, Grant quickly bought up
all the nation’s mourning crepe, reaping a fortune when Albert died
Enticed by American advertisements, Grant toured North America
seeking a site for a colony and a country estate. Rejecting Canada
because of its climate, he fell in love with the grasslands of western
Kansas. In 1871—72 he purchased more than thirty-one thousand acres of
railroad lands at the bargain price of eighty-eight cents an acre. Some
credited him as the largest landowner in the nation.
Grant was both potential baron and potential philanthropist. Part of
his Victoria scheme was to invite poor Scottish crofters to his colony,
and he launched a considerable publicity campaign to that effect. The
promotional literature spoke of "the champagne air" of western
Kansas. ‘The climate is salubrious," one pamphlet said; "the
winters are quite as mild as in Morayshire, snow seldom lying on the
ground for more than a few hours." Although a number of
Scots, both aristocrats and artisans, responded, mounting criticism at
home—especially from the Scottish agricultural press—kept
overwhelming numbers from ever emigrating.
A businessman as well as a philanthropist, Grant hoped to make money
from his investment He arranged visits by leading Scots agriculturalists
who had skills in steam engineering. His ultimate dream was to introduce
high-quality sheep to the region and, especially, to turn his
holdings into a model showcase for cattle.
Unfortunately, Grant died prematurely in 1878, well before his dreams
had been given a fair chance. This loss of leadership, plus the Kansas
droughts of 1873—74 and a subsequent grasshopper invasion, sealed the
colony’s fate. A few "English lords of Victoria Manor"
remained, and a stone Episcopal church that Grant had erected continued
to hold services until 1913, but the colony never recovered. A band of
Russian Germans who arrived in 1876 proved far better suited to the
region and eventually absorbed the remnants of Victoria.
But Grant’s Victoria colony did post one success—the introduction
of Aberdeen Angus cattle to the state. The Aberdeen Angus Society
officially credits Grant with this accomplishment, and in 1943 erected a
stone pyramid over his grave in the little churchyard. Ironically, Grant’s
Aberdeen Angus cattle thrived in western Kansas, but his Scots settlers
all eventually moved elsewhere.
The saga of Victoria was writ small in other regions of the Great
Plains. So many Scots arrived in the region of Miles City, Montana, that
the First Presbyterian Church was virtually a Scottish club for years.
Ranchers introduced polo games to the area, and rumor persists that once
they even staged a steeplechase. A number of British farmers also tried
their hand in Nebraska. In 1872 a land agent termed Nebraska "The
English state of the Union," a designation that always included a
few Scots. One North Dakota émigré actually "rode the
hounds" with wolves rather than foxes as his quarry.
Most of the Scots settlements on the plains were individual rather
than communal efforts, as can be seen in the story of Aberdeenshire
farmer James Alexander. A veteran of twenty-five years of farming in
northeast Scotland, Alexander moved to eastern Nebraska in the early
1870s. He began with confidence that his agricultural training could
easily be transferred to the Great Plains, but he found after only one
season that this was only half true. Few of his British garden seeds
grew well. The swede, oats, barley, and rye never caught on, although he
successfully introduced green kale and fall turnips to the region around
Crete. But Alexander found real difficulties in breaking virgin prairie
for grain crops, and he soon switched almost exclusively to Indian corn.
Although earlier British immigrants had generally scorned cornbread, by
the 1870s corn had become so popular that Alexander could send samples
back to northeast Scotland. Cornmeal, Alexander noted, had become
"the staff of life in the shapes or conditions of much cornbread
and pancakes." Farming in America, he discovered, took a good deal
In addition to plowmen and farmers, the West also attracted a number
of skilled Scottish craftsmen. Generally, these craftsmen did well in
America. Historian it H. Campbell attributes this to the fact that the
least skilled Scots migrated chiefly to Australia, whereas the better
skilled ended up in the States. But as the major demand for skilled
craftsmen lay in the factories east of the Mississippi, immigrant
craftsmen did not play as important a role in the post—Civil War West
as they had earlier.
Still, pre—Gold Rush California saw Scots working as loggers,
carpenters, and trappers. The discovery of precious metals that began at
Sutter’s Mill and spread to Colorado and Nevada enticed hundreds of
Scots into American mining ventures. One of the most colorful was Eilley
Orrum, a Scottish Mormon convert who rejected polygamy and moved on to
Nevada. There she allegedly used a crystal ball to locate silver and
became known as the "Queen of the Comstocklode." A 1912 survey
of the Rock Springs, Wyoming, Union Pacific Mines discovered that 3
percent of the work force (eighty-five men) hailed from Scotland.
Glasgow-born John Calderwood emerged as the most prominent labor leader
during the 1894 Cripple Creek, Colorado, miners’ strike. His lengthy
essay ‘The Strike of 1894" is still the chief historical source
for this labor dispute. Fellow Glaswegian John Stewart MacArthur
probably had more impact on American mining history than any other
immigrant. A chemist, MacArthur discovered the cyanide process, a means
of extracting gold from discarded mine tailings, and brought the science
to Colorado’s Crestone Mine, in Saguache County, in 1889. Although it
took time to catch on, MacArthur’s cyanide process, which is still in
use today, literally doubled the world’s annual production of gold.
The craft of gardening, more highly developed in Scotland than the
States, also had considerable appeal. The city of St. Louis hired a
number of Scots gardeners during the late nineteenth century. Famed poet
Robert Service once kept body and soul together by gardening for a
southern California bordello. The El Camino Real Park and the Golden
Gate Park in San Francisco are both credited to the skills of
Bannockburn immigrant John McLaren. When McLaren became superintendent
of parks for San Francisco in 1887, he faced scrub brush and sand dunes.
Through his efforts he transformed this barren region into what is today
the marvelous botanical wonder of Golden Gate Park. Recalling his own
youth, with its numerous public-garden restrictions, McLaren allowed all
types of ball playing and frowned on erecting any statues. His motto:
"Trees and more trees." Occasionally, the gardeners
took on even wider roles. Yakima, Washington, apple rancher John L.
Garret-son recalled that their Scots gardener first introduced him to
the poetry of Robert Burns.
Granite workers also found seasonal employment in the West Craftsmen
from Aberdeen, ‘The Granite City" had established an
international reputation in stonemasonry, and a number of quarrymen
migrated to California and elsewhere as the jobs required. From 1889 to
1892 granite quarries at Aberdeen, Colorado (near Gunnison), flourished.
Scots stonemasons also cut granite for the famed Mormon Temple in Salt
Lake City. In general the Aberdeen granite industry did not export its
dressed and polished stone to America; rather, it exported its quarrymen
The most notorious incident of this "granite migration"
occurred in 1886 when a group of Texas builders hired a large contingent
of Aberdeen masons to cut the stone for the new Texas state capitol in
Austin. Unbeknownst to the eighteen Aberdeen masons, they were being
used as strike breakers, and they soon found themselves blacklisted by
the American granite cutters’ union. As if that were not enough, the
Texas heat proved unbearable. After only a short while three died, and
the rest moved on to other regions.
The most extensive western Scottish-American economic links lay with
cattle and sheep ranching. During the middle years of the nineteenth
century, the Scottish bourgeoisie had reaped the rewards of capitalism.
The narrow belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh, rivaling the English
Midlands, became one of the most industrialized areas of the world. The
Lanarkshire region proved ideal for the flourishing textile industry,
and the broad estuary of the Clyde saw a steady stream of ships bearing
cotton bales from the American South. In the 1830s, for example, almost
one-third of Glasgow’s workers had some connection with the textile
The firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 severely damaged the Scots
textile industry. In spite of vigorous attempts to replace southern
cotton with Indian cotton, the mills began a gradual decline. But during
the conflict itself, the Clyde shipyards built scores of vessels for
both North and South. The majority of Confederate blockade runners
originated in the Clyde estuary. Dundee’s jute industry also
flourished during the American Civil War. By mid century, Edinburgh had
emerged as a major banking center of the Western world. "In the
course of the first half of the present century," W. R. Lawson
noted in Blackwood’s in 1884, "Scotland was changed from one of
the poorest to one of the most prosperous countries in Europe."
Consequently, by the 1870s, the Scottish middle classes had
accumulated a significant amount of surplus capital. Aided by the
Calvinistic ethic of thrift and the passage of effective
limited-liability laws, Scotland became headquarters for an
international "client capitalism." Blackwood observed that
three-quarters of the foreign and colonial investment companies were of
Scottish origin and that even those based in London were run by Scots on
Scottish models. Consequently, during the late nineteenth century
Scottish bankers and entrepreneurs had the capital to invest in various
enterprises in Latin America, tea plantations in India, and land
companies in Australia, as well as in the opening of the American West
The Scots seemed especially eager to lend to Americans.
The range of investment was prodigious. Scottish companies invested
in Iowa and Minnesota farmlands, Arizona copper mining, Pacific
Northwest lumber corporations, numerous railroad and petroleum ventures,
irrigation projects, and cattle companies. Mortgage and banking trusts
also drew a great deal of Scottish interest. The Scottish
Record Office has compiled a list of fifty companies that operated in
America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
These ventures were by no means all successful. Many of the mining
investments lost money. The City of Glasgow Bank went into receivership
in 1881, largely because it sank an inordinate amount of capital into
American railroads. The Scottish judge overseeing the case commented
that "a Scotch Bank buying and working a railroad in America is
about as startling a thing as one can conceive." But so
long as profits remained high— as they basically did until the Panic
of 1893—the lure of borrowing at 5 percent and investing at 10 percent
proved irresistible. Historian Paul M. Edwards has estimated that the
total capital Scots invested in the American West approached almost 6.5
When American cattle entrepreneurs began shipping dressed beef via
refrigeration to Britain in the mid-1870s, a number of Scots cattle
raisers suddenly became alarmed. In 1877 the Scotsman sent agriculture
writer James Macdonald to the States to investigate the situation
regarding western livestock. In a series of articles later published as
a book Macdonald carefully assessed the American cattle industry. While
he scorned the quality of contemporary American beef, he predicted a
great future for American stock raising, depicting the Trans-Mississippi
West as a land where one could perhaps reap profits as high as 25
percent on an annual basis.
Within a few years, Scots capital began to flow steadily toward
various ranch investments. Perhaps no area received as much Scottish
capital as New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The first large-scale British
joint-stock venture in Texas cattle ranching came with the Prairie
Cattle Company, Limited, founded in Edinburgh in 1880. In 1882 it
reported a dividend of 19.5 percent, and the next year it paid
shareholders almost 28 percent. These high profits set off the infamous
"Scottish-American cattle craze."
It was not long before promoters with ranches in their pockets,"
began to flood the east of Scotland, especially the Edinburgh, Dundee,
and Aberdeen regions. Corporations such as the Texas Land and Cattle
Co., Ltd., the Swan Land and Cattle Company, and the most famous, the
Matador Land and Cattle Co., Ltd., began seriously advertising their
wares. Many a conservative businessman plunged into western American
ranching. Investors in Aberdeenshire were confident that their knowledge
of animal husbandry would serve them well on America’s Great Plains.
These investors had a point Ever since the earliest days, the raising
of cattle had been crucial to the economic life of North Britain. Even
in legend, "the Cattle Raid of Cooley" was a pivotal event in
Celtic agrarian life. This reliance upon cattle (and, later, sheep) was
largely dictated by geography. The glens of the Western Islands and the
west of Scotland all fostered early spring grasses and were largely
unsuitable for the cultivation of wheat Similarly, much of the region
between the Highland boundary fault and the English border was best
suited to pastoral life. Traditional wealth had usually been
measured in cattle, and Highland black cattle served as the economic
base for the Scottish laird and his tenants.
The rise of the eighteenth-century urban centers in southeast Britain
transformed the Scottish cattle industry. From c. 1750 to c. 1850
legitimate cattle droving replaced cattle thieving as a Borden way of
life. London and the larger urban centers simply could not get enough
beef. Drovers swam their herds over sea lochs, or drove them down
well-established roads to the great fain at Smithfield in London or
Falkirk in Scotland. As late as 1880 fifteen thousand cattle and twenty
thousand sheep were sold at Falkirk. In the eyes of many
people Scotland had become a vast grazing area that supplied the English
with their beef.
Simultaneously, cattle droving began to emerge as a legitimate
profession. As with the fur trade a century earlier, the qualities of
ruggedness, adventurousness, and familiarity with the land allowed Scots
to excel in this demanding profession. While on the road, armed Scots
drovers (and their dogs) lived on oatmeal, onions, ewe’s milk, cheese,
bannock, and a ram’s horn filled with whiskey. When night fell, the
drover simply wrapped his plaid around him and slept by his charges.
This life demanded considerable skill. Tradition has it that one man
and his dogs could drive from one hundred to four hundred cattle. For
fifty-five years, John Cameron of Corriechoille drove herds to Falkirk
Tryst to acquire the reputation as "the most famous drover of
Lochabee." He also earned a small fortune along the way. When
herding cattle from the Highlands and Islands, a drover often had to
swim the beasts across rivers or sea lochs. Drovers moved the herds
across the treacherous Kyle of Rhea—the narrow strait separating the
Isle of Skye from the mainland—by tying the tail of one beast to the
horns of another. The alternative, loading the cattle onto narrow boats,
proved equally demanding. These challenges faded only with the 1840s and
1850s when railroads and larger boats gradually replaced the cattle
drive. The last cattle swam the Kyle of Rhea in 1906.
Over time, the drovers produced a subculture uniquely their own.
Often illiterate, they devised their own means of counting their beasts—and
their attitude towards authority was decidedly irreverent. A Scottish
visitor to the Mississippi Valley in 1855 once met a ten-year-old
drover. "Where are you going, my son?" he asked. "To
Minnesota; and I ain’t your son; or if I am, I never knew it" was
the reply. Drover irreverence, it seems, was international.
Scots farmers also had behind them centuries of familiarity with
breeding practices. Highland cattle, or kyloes, probably carried
characteristics from neolithic days. Rugged, agile, and alert, the
cattle had heavy, shaggy coats that allowed them to withstand the rain,
winds, and cold of the north. They are still preferred by some Scottish
By the middle of the nineteenth century each region of Scotland had
specialized in its distinctive type of cattle, easily recognized by
professionals. Scottish breeders came up with several well-known
varieties: the kyloes, or Highland cattle; the Galloway, or polled
(i.e., hornless); the Ayrshire, which were chiefly raised for milk; the
Fifeshire, which were known for both milk and meat; the Shetland and
Orkney cattle, which tended to be small. Breeder William McCombie of the
Tillyfourie region, Aberdeenshire, helped produce the Aberdeen Angus,
perhaps the most widely recognized of all the Scottish breeds. Only the
Scottish shorthorn rivaled the Aberdeen Angus in popularity. Thus, the
Scots’ history of cattle raising prepared them to feel comfortable
with investment in cattle ranches in the American Great Plains. This
confidence stemmed in part from the fact that while Anerican cattle
feeding might be haphazard, Scottish cattle feeding had developed into a
A number of Scots crossed the Atlantic to help manage these western
cattle operations. For instance, Archie Marjoribanks supervised the
family investments in the Texas Panhandle, whereas Thomas Simpson
Carson, head of the Scottish Loan Company, managed ranches in New Mexico
and Arizona. Coutts Marjoribanks, Archie’s brother, ran a ranch in
McHenry County, North Dakota. Cohn Cameron managed ranches in
southeastern Arizona, and John Clay managed the powerful Swan Land and
Cattle Company in Wyoming. Clay later became one of the most respected
stockman in the entire West.
From a base in Trinidad, Colorado, Murdo Mackenzie oversaw operations
of the famed Matador Land and Cattle Company, Ltd., "the mother of
British cattle companies in the United States," and later became
head of the American National Livestock Association. One observer who
saw Mackenzie in action at the Denver Stockyards marveled at his
"Caledonian eye for animal" and his "native
shrewdness." In spite of all his years in America, Mackenzie would
have looked perfectly in place in a Scots cattle byre. Theodore
Roosevelt was a good friend of Mackenzie and held him in high esteem.
Over the course of his long, successful career, Mackenzie traveled
widely in Europe, built homes in Trinidad and Denver, Colorado, sent his
children to college, and lived a life not unlike that of a Scottish
Virtually all of these Scottish-American cattle managers placed a
priority on improved breeding techniques, but they could do this only
when the open-range era ended and fences became common. All the Scots
ranch managers prided themselves on their ability to improve bloodlines.
One 1875 visitor to a prosperous Scots-run ranch near Portland, Oregon,
observed that "pure blood is the rule at Reedville, and it is
applied to all animals kept there—to Leicester, Cotswold, and
Southdown sheep; and extends to pigs and poultry; possibly (for I did
not inquire) to rats and mice."
Not all these enterprises succeeded, of course. The Marjoribanks
brothers went broke. But perhaps it is no coincidence that the cattle
ranches that Carson, Clay, and Mackenzie managed were among the few to
remain profitable in what turned out to be a very risky profession. The
remains of the old Swan headquarters in Chugwater, Wyoming, still bear
the distinct Scottish architectural motifs that marked the heyday of
In spite of initial high profits, the cattle-ranching investment boom
proved short-lived. The terrible winters of 1886-87 began what the
depression of 1893—97 completed. In the words of John Clay, "As
the South Sea bubble burst, as the Dutch tulip craze dissolved, this
cattle gold brick withstood not the snow of winter." By
the turn of the century most Scots investors had turned to the various
British Colonies. Still, in 1919, a number of western
ranchers reported that they had doubled their capital during the past
forty years. The Matador Land and Cattle Company operated until 1951.
Estimates of British investment in western cattle vary, but they are
usually put at from six to nine million pounds. Historians also disagree
in their overall assessment of this enterprise. W. Turrentine Jackson
has suggested that the Scots investors earned enough dividends from the
Arizona Copper Companies to overcome considerable losses from ranch
investments. Paul M. Edwards thinks otherwise. He argues that
in the long run, the losses in mining and railroads just about cancelled
out the profits in land mortgages and cattle. W. G. Kerr has suggested
that the chief long-term benefits lay less with Scottish profits than
with the ultimate rationalization of the cattle industry and the
providing of low-priced beef to the entire world. But
unquestionably, Scottish investment proved substantial in funding the
western cattle industry.
One of the unforeseen consequences of the Scottish interest in
American cattle can be seen in the Letters of a Woman Homesteader
written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart in 1913. Young Elinore Pruitt arrived
as a "grass" widow in southwestern Wyoming in 1909. Eventually
she married Clyde Stewart, her Scottish-born employer, filed her own
homestead claim, bore four children, and generally helped with all jobs
on the ranch. Her published letters recall her husband’s love for
playing the bagpipes, especially ‘The Campbells Are Coming."
("Sometimes I wish they would make haste and get here," she
wrote.) She also recorded how they gave their cattle names from British
history: Duke of Monmouth, John Fox, Bloody Mary, Pope of Rome, and so
on. Her letters offer fascinating glimpses of Scottish-American life in
One should also note that this British involvement with western
ranching was not always appreciated by American farmers. Adverse
reaction to foreign land owners proved much a part of the agrarian
protest movements of the latter part of the nineteenth century. Populist
agitators denounced British absentee owners in the Dakotas and Nebraska,
comparing the situation to the evils of "Irish landlordism."
Reformer William "Coin" Harvey claimed that half of Nebraska
and South Dakota and one-eighth of North Dakota were owned by tided
foreigners. One fictional account, Sara M. Brigham’s Waverland (1886),
stated that the British owned 20 million acres of America. Her
character, the Duke of Melvorne, declared: ‘We are gaining the lands
our fathers lost without fighting any bloody battles for them.’
Second to cattle, the Scots most affected western agricultural life
in the realm of sheep. Sheep ranching also had long been part of
Scottish history. Consequently, Scots sheepherding skills were several
levels above those of American ranchers.
Although caring for their "four footed clansmen" was an
integral part of Scottish agrarian life, sheep raising had never
dominated the economy as had the raising of cattle. As late as the
mid-eighteenth century, English visitors described Scottish sheep as
"dog like" in appearance, with finely textured but thin wool
on small wiry frames. Their lack of size could probably be traced to
centuries of inbreeding, while the thin wool was largely due to the
tradition of keeping sheep indoors during the winter months.
The sheep of the northern Orkney Islands were even more unique. Kept
from the land by six-foot-high dry-stone walls on islands such as North
Ronaldsay, the sheep lived almost exclusively on seaweed as they
followed short-line paths (called clowjungs) that may trace back five
thousand years. Some of the most ancient ovine stock of Scotland, these
black, brown, and white sheep were roughly as tall as a man’s thigh,
with lambs the size of a small dog.
Social and economic pressures resulting from the onset of enclosures,
the end of runrig, and forced emigration from the Highlands eventually
caused the Scots to concentrate on sheep raising. From the 1760s forward
sheep raising began to fill the abandoned farms of the Highlands; within
a few years, it had expanded to encompass perhaps one-third of the
Scottish countryside. The process proved slow but relentless. By 1803
the whole of Glengarry had been turned over to sheep raising. Within a
few years, sheep had entered the valley of Glencoe. The sheep-farming
system of Glencoe, wrote one author in 1818, "had done the work of
extirpation of the inhabitants more effectively than the massacre of
As the sheep advanced north, however, they also improved in quality.
Although one could find about forty different varieties by the end of
the eighteenth century, two varieties dominated this expansion: the
black-faced and the Cheviot. The introduction of the turnip provided an
easy-to-grow sheep food, and the Scots discovered simultaneously that
the black-faced sheep could winter outside with no ill effects. Improver
Sir John Sinclair introduced the white-faced Cheviot, also from the
south. For almost three-quarters of a century, these two breeds vied
with one another as to which was more suitable to the Scottish climate.
By general consensus the Cheviot proved superior in wool, meat, and
fecundity. But the black-faced retained its popularity with northern
farmers because of its better ability to withstand the winters.
By the mid-nineteenth century the herds had come to a rough
equilibrium. The coarse, heavy-wooled black-face dominated the central
Highlands and Islands, for they could live without difficulty on heather
swards. The soft, finer-wooled Cheviot ruled the southern hillsides and
the lower grounds near the sea farther north. Their domain was more
restricted, because they needed grassy swards on which to graze. Each
breed could summer on the hills at the head of the glens and winter in
the glens themselves. But if the sheep wintered in the glens, the only
area where the land could be tilled, that meant the Scottish tenants had
to be replaced. As with every major economic shift, the emergence of
Scottish sheep ranching had its costs.
No account of Scottish sheep life would be complete without some
discussion of the dogs. The few old-timers who remembered the last years
of Scottish sheep droving recalled that when the drovers arrived at
their inns for the night, their first concern was food for their dogs.
On the road they often shared their oatmeal porridge with the animals.
Miss Stewart Mackenzie of Brahan, Ross-shire, recalled that a generation
earlier she would often ride by solitary collies making their way north.
These animals belonged to Scottish drovers who had elected to remain in
England for the harvest and had sent the animals home by themselves. The
dogs simply reversed the route by which they came, feeding at the inns
or farmhouses they had stopped by on the trip south. When the drover
returned, he made sure to pay the innkeepers for the food that the dogs
had eaten the previous year.
The border collies and Highland sheep dogs soon achieved
international fame. Modern sheep growers unanimously agree that sheep
dogs are as vital as any human worker to their operations. Medieval
documents suggest that the Borders region probably developed the idea
that a dog could learn to work at a distance at the sound of a voice or
a whistle. Although the sheep dog arrived late in the Highlands—some
eighteenth century accounts recall that shepherds rounded up the sheep
by themselves-they came to dominate this part of Scotland as well.
Raising sheep has never been an easy task. The animals are
notoriously dull witted, and shepherds wrestled with a variety of their
ailments. Sheep pox (variola ovina), caused by a virus, devastated the
English flocks in the mid-nineteenth century and remained a problem in
Scotland for years afterward. Other parasitic diseases, such as sheep
scab, mange mite, and the infamous liver fluke appeared with regularity.
The ever-present danger of a May "lambing storm" added yet
another dilemma to life outdoors.
But raising sheep had advantages as well. The animals’ natural
fecundity allowed owners to pay shepherds and other workers in stock
rather than in cash. Since they had a much shorter life cycle, sheep
could be sold far earlier than cattle. Shepherds could lamb in April,
wean in sixteen to eighteen weeks, and then sell at Michaelmas in time
for Christmas-season lamb. Although sheep did not present the
same potential for improvement as did cattle, selective breeding did
move the meat to the best joints and shorten marketing time to about two
The Scottish sheep industry peaked in about 1870. From that time to
the early twentieth century, stability, or even gradual decline, set in.
In Argyll, Ross, and Inverness shires, sheep population declined from
2,187,000 in 1874 to 1,608,000 in 1914. The wet summers and cold winters
of 1879—80 probably played a role in the decline, especially because
they were accompanied by an epidemic of liver fluke. Overgrazing, which
had allowed an onset of bracken in the hills that the tramping of the
cattle had somewhat controlled in earlier years, may also have been a
significant factor in the decline. In any case many farmers lost their
breeding flocks and never replaced them? But the decline of Scottish
herding meant that a large number of Scots sheep men were available to
transfer to the American West.
During the last two thousand years the craft of the sheepherder has
changed little. As historian Judith Keys Kenny once observed, by
mid-Victorian times sheepherding had evolved into a genuine art form.
There were no books from which one could learn sheepherding. Nor were
cattle-ranching skills trans. ferable to sheepherding, for a person
could not tend sheep from the back of a horse. Few American farmers
possessed the necessary skills or the motivation to become shepherds.
Thus, the Scots had a real advantage. Brigham Young, for example, always
chose Scots shepherds to manage the Mormon communal herds.
The sheep industry in the western United States proved
extraordinarily multinational, involving Navajo, Mexican, His. panic,
Norwegian, German, Canadian, and Irish herders, just to name a few. In
every region of the West, however, the Scots sheepmen became prominent
beyond their numbers. In some regions, such as Wyoming and Idaho, they
virtually ruled the enterprise.
Several Scots émigrés established genuine sheep empires. By the
1860s Robert Burnett, who later inherited the title to Crathes Castle in
Aberdeenshire, oversaw one of the largest sheep herds in southern
California on his twenty-five-thousand-acre ranch. (The land, which he
later sold for a tidy profit, now comprises much of downtown Los
Angeles.) In 1880 Patrick Healy, who was born in County Kerry, Ireland,
teamed with Scotsman Alan Patterson to run sheep in the Buffalo,
Wyoming, region; by 1897 they owned one hundred thousand animals. They,
too, ranked among the largest sheepmen in the West. Interestingly, Healy
and Patterson never kept any type of financial records, dividing the
flock as evenly as possible and then playing cards to determine who
received which bunch.
Their contemporary, Robert Taylor, a native of Hartwick, Scotland,
also owned a flock of one hundred thousand sheep in Wyoming and
Nebraska. Most of the Scots sheep men in central Wyoming began herding
with Taylor, either as a partner or on a share basis. A savvy rancher—he
had once worked as a foreign correspondent for a Scottish newspaper—Taylor
spent much effort in crossbreeding his flocks to produce a fine-fleeced,
hardy lamb that could withstand Wyoming range life. A frequent fair goer
in both Britain and America, Taylor greatly improved Wyoming’s wool
and mutton production.
If the Estancia Valley of central New Mexico is representative, Scots
herders played significant roles in smaller areas as well. William
Dunbar from Inverness arrived penniless in the 1890s but owned a
twelve-hundred-acre sheep ranch when he died in 1937. During the same
era the McGillvary brothers arrived there as herders, each, according to
family legend, marrying a local woman from a different ethnic group
(Hispanic, Anglo, Indian). The McGillvarys likened New Mexico to
Scotland because of the wide-open spaces. Similarly, McIntosh, New
Mexico, is named for the McIntosh brothers, William, Donald, and John,
who came to herd sheep in the late 1880s. Utilizing the partidad system,
they also brought in a number of Scots employees who all later became
independent flockmasters. William achieved local fame for his Scots
managers, his wool barns, his elegant shearing parties (with dancing,
pianola, and splended foods), plus a distinct fondness for the bottle.
Rumor had it that he would ride into nearby Estancia and get drunk,
whereupon the bartender would load him in his buggy and have the horses
take him home. Estancia Valley Scots herders occasionally sported kilts
while watching over their sheep. Familiarity with sheep raising also
offered an entry into local New Mexico Hispanic society. Consequently,
there were a number of Scots-Hispanic marriages in the Estancia region,
descendants of whom live there to this day.
Scots proved prominent in the Pacific Northwest sheep world as well.
HBC physician W. F. Tolmie introduced Scottish sheep into Oregon, as did
William McLoughlin. But the real influx of Scottish sheep men in the
region did not occur until the 1870s. At first this experiment was not a
success, for Scots shepherds strongly disliked the vast herds and open
ranges of eastern Oregon and Washington. They had been used to herding
flocks in the hundreds, but they suddenly found themselves with herds
approaching one thousand. Scots herders also protested the isolation and
the fact that they often never saw the owner for a season—sometimes
not for an entire year. Consequently, Australian herders replaced the
Scots for about a decade.
During the 1880s, however, the Scots returned. The vast public domain
provided acres of free fodder, and the eastern Oregon success of British
rancher Graham Hewison showed how much profit could be made from sheep.
But life on the scattered sheep ranches of the Northwest contained
dangers as well. Feuds between ranchers and sheepherders often escalated
into open violence, and when Indian resistance broke out, the isolated
shepherds were easy targets. Washington cattle ranchers boasted of
breeding coyotes and wolves to destroy the sheep. The Klickatat Valley
bars carried signs that read: "No sheep allowed. Sheepmen take
notice." As early Oregon sheepman John Minto noted, "Indeed,
it is safe to say that during the years of expansion of sheep industry
over the portion of Oregon west of the Blue Mountains, more lives have
been taken and more property destroyed over range feuds, provided by a
marauding spirit, than by the racial wars with the natives."
Perhaps the most famous sheep operation of the region was begun by
the three McGregor brothers, Archie, Peter, and John. whose parents had
moved from the Isle of Mull to eastern Canada in the 1850s, and who,
along with approximately one million other Canadians, crossed to the
United States between 1881 and 1891. The brothers began sheep raising on
Washington’s open range in 1882 and continued for a decade. Astute
businessmen, they established credit by being hardworking and fair in
their dealings. They also realized that the end of Washington’s open
range demanded major adjustments in the industry. The company still
If the McGregor Corporation proved the most successful of
northwestern Scots sheepherding efforts, the saga of Andrew Little is
the most dramatic. Indeed, Little’s career is an "Andrew
Carnegie" saga writ small. According to legend, young Andrew Little
and two sheep dogs arrived from near Moffat, Scotland, to settle in
Caldwell, Idaho, in 1894. There he began working for Robert "Scotch
Bob" Aikman’s sheep ranch. Aikman and fellow Scot Charlie Doane
had maintained strong links with their homeland and had aided several
Scots in finding work in Idaho.
like so many other herders, Little took his salary in stock and soon
had a small herd of his own. In 1901 he felt sufficiently established to
return to Scotland, where he successfully courted a young woman with
tales of the Idaho countryside. In addition, seven of his eight brothers
followed him to the Boise Basin to join the Scots families of McLeod,
Laidlaw, Sproat, Campbell, and McMillan who already lived there.
Little’s fortunes grew with those of the fertile Boise Valley. At
one time he owned 165,000 sheep, which he ran from the Boise Valley to
the Salmon River area. In 1918 Idaho ranked as the world’s second
largest sheep center, and in Little’s peak production year, 1929, his
flocks produced a million pounds of wool. When he died, the press termed
him the "Sheep King of Idaho, and possibly of the United
States." What Andrew Carnegie was to steel, Andrew Little was to
western sheep ranching—the ultimate success story.
It was not long before a regional folklore developed around Andy
Little. When he arrived in 1894, the story went, he walked twenty miles
to the Aikman ranch to save carfare. On the way he sold one of his two
border collies to establish a nest egg. Legend has it that Andy Little
never sold a sheep to anyone in the Boise Valley; he would sell only to
those outside the region. This he did so that if he ever found an animal
without a mark or brand, he knew it belonged to him. One admirer from
Scotland allegedly wrote him a letter addressed "Andy Little,
As the Andrew Little story shows, Scotland’s famed sheep dogs
almost always accompanied the immigrants, especially the Border
black-and-white collies. This breed, which originated around 1600, was
crossed with several others, and one offspring— the kelpie (Gaelic for
water sprite)—began to rival it in popularity in the States. Most
western sheep dogs, however, were descended from the black-and-white
collies. Usually trained from puppies by older dogs, some pups were even
suckled by ewes, literally becoming part of the flock. The test of a
born leader, it was said, lay with its ability to keep a band of
With the dogs came American dog stories, tales often tinged with
romance. They begin with accounts of sheep dogs driving wild turkeys
into San Francisco in 1879. William Patterson of northern Idaho claimed
to own a dog who would bring the sheep to the shearer one by one and,
when they were penned for the night, would run to the hills to look for
strays. One Oregon herder died of natural causes in the field, but when
his Mends found him weeks later, his collie had dutifully rounded up the
entire herd. Jerry, a border collie in the Umatilla Forest, remained
with the flock when Indian clashes caused all the herders to flee. When
the men returned, they found that Jerry had increased his flock by
rounding up a number of strays from neighboring bands. One Montana sheep
man owned a dog, Old Ruddy, who would never take orders and always cut
right through the herd. Once, when a potential buyer was watching, the
herder cried, "around them now," and just when Old Ruddy was
about halfway, "now divide them." One Pacific Northwest herder
claimed that he owned a chess-playing collie who usually beat him two
out of three. "Ten thousand white ones and sixty black ones. Go
round ‘em, Shep," a Montana herder allegedly said to his favorite
The man-animal relationship that emerged from this cooperation was
deep and meaningful. Dogs would sicken and even die when their masters
passed on. One McGregor company herder shot himself when his favorite
dog failed to return to camp. Andrew Little discouraged
making the dogs into pets— he considered them "hired hands"—but
the affection between dog and herder could never be contained by any
Perhaps no one has expressed the canine-human link better than Robert
Burns in his ‘Twa Dogs." The collie Luath is speaking:
The luntin’ pipe, n’ sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi’ richt guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin crouse,
The Young anes ranting thro’ the house—
My heart has been
sae fain to see them,
That I forjoy hae
The legacy of sheep dogs and dog tales is as much a part of the Scots’
impact on western life as that of the immigrants themselves.
Since they came from such different regions, usually settled
individually, and worked in such a wide variety of occupations, how did
the nineteenth-century American Scots create a common identity? The
answer is complex. From the onset American Scots suffered an identity
problem as to exactly what constituted "Scottish culture." The
answer emerged partly as literature (Porter, Scott, Burns); partly as
religion (some Catholics, some Episcopalians, some Freethinkers, but
mostly Presbyterians); partly as costume (the kilt and other aspects of
"the garb of Old Gaul"); partly as music (ballads and
bagpipes); partly as language (some Gaelic but mostly Lowland Scots);
partly as special foods (haggis, oatcakes); and, of course, "a wee
dram," especially significant for a culture that elevated social
drinking virtually to an art form.
These items did not, by themselves, an identity make. Consequently,
one of the major aspects of nineteenth-century American Scottish culture
was the creation of a new self-image. Since Scoto-Americans lacked any
real community through which to disseminate these ideas, they had to
create one. Thus, the celebration of St Andrew’s Day (November 30) and
Robert Burns’s Day (January 25) took on a special set of functions in
the New World.
As historian Kathleen Neils Conzen and others have noted,
nineteenth-century ethnic groups in America found themselves involved in
a continual process of "ethnic invention." The process went
through several stages. First, the groups had to merge the various Old
World regional differences—e.g., the distinctions between
Aberdeenshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Orkney, Shetland, and so forth and
between Highlands and Lowlands—into a single Scots identity. Regional
distinctions in accent, dress, and behavior that loomed large in
Scotland were completely lost on Americans.
But the blending of the Scots regions into a national identity in
America was only the beginning. American Scots also had to demark the
chief characteristics of this new Scoto-American identity. The process
proved ever fluid. Scots immigrants continually interacted with the host
(mainstream American) culture, and the process was never complete.
Initially, one of the chief means by which Scots forged this new
identity came with the celebration of St. Andrew’s Day. Creating an
identity through a saint’s day was commonplace all through the
century. Each European group had a special day of commemoration. For
example, the Hungarians celebrated St Stephen’s Day (August 20), the
Welsh, St David’s Day (March 1), the English, St George’s Day (April
23), and the Irish, St Patrick’s Day (March 17). In 1819 Glasgow
native John M. Duncan attended the celebration of an early St Andrew’s
Day in New York City. His account provides an insight into the way
Americans and Scots interacted. Expecting to dine on "barley kale,
smoking sheep’s head and trotters, sonsy haggis," he ended up
consuming a largely American meal that lacked even oatcakes. When he
mildly protested, his host insisted that American life had changed their
eating habits. When he had served haggis in previous years, he said, the
customers shouted to the waiter to remove it. Even an American chefs
attempt to improve the taste by adding raisins had come to naught Duncan
complained about the "diluted nationality" and concluded that
the whole dinner was a spoiled mixture of "Yankeeism and Land-of-cakeism."
He left early.
The disgruntled Duncan missed a good many means by which American
Scots kept their identity alive. The New York hotel was draped with
Scots flags and medallions, inside and out, and all the "brither
Scots" wore broad blue-and-white collars. Bagpipes provided the
musical background, in this case backed by a full American orchestra.
The entertainment for the evening came largely from the reading of
Scottish poems, chiefly by Burns, in a wide variety of first, second,
and third generation accents. Then came the obligatory round of toasts:
"The day and all that honour it"; "The King of Great
Britain and all friendly powers." The pipes, whiskey, poems, songs,
accent, and foods all helped create the feeling of auld lang syne.
Over the course of the century the nature of the St Andrew’s Day
celebration changed but little. Often hosted by a local Presbyterian
church, it might call forth a special sermon as well as a banquet.
"You do not have much to do with St. Andrew in Scotland," a
Wisconsin Scot reminded his Aberdeen readers in 1864, but it was
different with Scotsmen abroad. The day was necessary here, he noted, to
nourish "that noble pride which every Scotchman feels in his
ancestral glory and living fame." The St Andrew’s Society also
did a good bit of charitable work.
Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation of a national day of
Thanksgiving in late November eventually crowded out St. Andrew’s Day.
It was not long before Robert Burns’s Day replaced it. Perhaps the
celebration of a saint’s thy rang foreign to American ears; or perhaps
January 25 provided a better time to stage a gala celebration. At any
rate, by the last decades of the century the celebration of Robert Bums’s
Day had emerged as the major disseminator of Scottish culture and
"the garb of old Gaul" throughout the region. Numerous
reminiscences recall the childhood agony of sitting through yet-another
lecture on Robert Burns.
The "Burns ethos," however, harmonized especially well with
the American western ethos. The mock heroics of his ballads meshed
nicely with western cynicism, and Burns’s skepticism about religion
(as in "Holy Willie’s Prayer") made him free of sectarian
bias. Almost Jacobin in outlook, his great poems celebrating democracy
("a man’s a man for a’ that") and denouncing hypocrisy
("O wad some Power the giftie gie us / to see ourselves as ithers
see us") made Burns universally acceptable in America.
Abraham Lincoln, one of Burns’s greatest admirers, could quote him
by the hour. On January 25, 1865, Lincoln wrote to a Burns committee in
praise of the poet’s "generous heart and transcendent
genius." This respect was shared by a great many others.
"I have hope for the human race so long as they celebrate the
birthday of Robert Bums," said radical Denver Congregationalist
minister Myron W. Reed c. 1893. "I hate to be cruel but think of
celebrating the birthday of [railroad magnate George] Pullman."
By 1906 more than sixty American cities celebrated January 25,
including San Francisco, Denver, Albuquerque, Seattle, and Lander,
Wyoming. A number of Burns’s verses were also parodied anonymously
("John Alcohol, my foe, John"), the highest form of flattery.
It was not long before the Burns festivities assumed a more or
less standard form. The day demanded a wide variety of special foods:
shortbread, haggis (Bums’s "great chieftain O’ the puddin’
race"); "howtowdies wi’ drappit egge"; "thairums,
pies and porter"; and "parritch and milk." The men donned
kilts, while the women joined in reels and Highland flings. Bagpipes
proved essential and occasionally hornpipes were heard, as singing and
music dominated the affair. The songs included: ‘The I.and of
Burns," "Flow Gently Sweet Afton," "March of the
Cameron Men," "Warrior Bold," "When the Swallows
Homeward fly," ‘Within a Mile o’ Edinburgh," and
"Farewell My Home." ‘Tam O’Shanter" or ‘The Cotter’s
Saturthy Night" often rounded out the festivities.9°
Writing in 1896, Peter Ross described the Burns Day celebrations as
"generally the most thoroughgoing Scotch affairs in the
world." In 1901 the Scottish American offered advice on "How
to Organize a Scottish Society," with a Burns Day at the coreY2
"It was a real important thing for the Scots," recalled
one Idaho pioneer. When Burns Day celebrations first began in her area
in 1903, few non-Scots attended.
The ceremonial reading of Burns’s verse in Scots illustrates the
importance of language in the celebration of American "Scottishness,"
but the Scots immigrants had a problem that most other immigrant groups
did not have. Historians generally agree that language is the most
important single element in maintaining a separate ethnic identity.
Yet Lowland Scots, unlike—say—Gaelic, Spanish, or Dutch, was
not exactly a separate language. In general the Lowland dialect was
close enough to English so that one could follow the line of argument A
second-generation Scoto-American would not formally learn to speak
Scots, for example, as a second-generation German-American or
French-American might learn German or French. These young people might
speak French or German with an American accent, but they would still
master their ancestors’ native tongue. But Scoto-Americans could not
really do so. One could learn Lowland Scots only by growing up within
Consequently, one crucial aspect of "Scottishness" did not
survive: that of dialect and pronunciation. In 1819 John Duncan
complained bitterly that second-generation Scots butchered the dialect;
he helped silence a third-generation Scot’s reading of Burns by loud
applause. But a half-century later, Aberdeen immigrant to Nebraska John
Alexander felt otherwise. He criticized his Aberdeenshire fellow
travelers for making no effort to modify their talk so that the average
Nebraskan could comprehend them. Since the English spoken in Exeter,
Fillmore County, Nebraska, served perfectly well, Alexander saw no real
advantage in sustaining a North British mode of speech. "Go where
we may," he observed, "our dear mother Scotch dialect must go
to the wall." At most it might survive as a floating
burr that, like a kilt, could be donned for ceremonial occasions. In the
American West the accent, which served as the key badge of "Scottishness"
in Britain, largely disappeared.
If dialect and pronunciation faded over time, however, Scottish
aphorisms, proverbs, and anecdotes remained. Americans loved to quote
the aphorisms, even though they did not always seem to understand them
fully. The apocryphal story of Robert Bruce watching the spider spin its
web seven times became a staple of inspirational lecturers. Many a
phrase retained its currency, although not always to the pleasure of
grammarians: "Should have went," "et" as the past
tense of "eat," and "that" as a substitute for
those. The Highland phrase "a far cry" became widely accepted,
as did "hey, Mac." Unfortunately, one of George Washington’s
favorite Scottish maxims, "Many a mickle makes a muckle" did
not survive the eighteenth century.
The popularity of these Burns Day celebrations with their dramatic
readings varied with the flow of Scots immigrants. Shortly after 1900,
the various groups had to incorporate a second generation into the
festivities. The Burns Day celebration in Miles City, Montana, for
example, slowly shifted from a celebration of Scottishness to a chance
for all to become Scots for a day. The ceremonies in Buffalo, Wyoming,
died out in the 1920s because Basque immigrants had largely replaced the
Scots as the region’s sheepherders. Lander, Wyoming, drew six hundred
to its 1952 Burns Day celebration, but the next year the day was
commemorated only by a "Burns Day sale" at the local
supermarket. As Glasgow native Mary Gilchrist of Cheyenne wanted to
insure that Scottishness remained prominent in the state, in 1927 she
donated twenty thousand dollars to erect a statue of Robert Burns in
Gilchrist Park in downtown Cheyenne. Robert Burns still stands there as
mute testimony to the importance of Scottish culture in the American
If the celebration of Burns Day proved the focal point for creating
an American Scottish identity, a number of other organizations played
strong supporting roles. The order of the Scottish Clans was formed in
St. Louis in 1882, and a number of Wyoming cities boasted Caledonian
societies. Over time these groups began to stage Highland games all
across the nation.
Like cattle and sheep raising, sporting contests such as the Highland
games had long been a staple of Scots culture. When the gaines
transferred to America, they took on a dual function. First, they
reinforced Scottishness, and second, they became the origin of American
track and field.
In 1800 a charitable organization that later took the name Braemar
Highland Society began in Braemar, Scotland. In 1832 the group staged
one of the first contests to preserve the music, games, and clothing of
the Highlands. After Queen Victoria began attending regularly, the event
received enormous popularity Filled with contests such as "putting
the stone," wrestling, tugs of war, tossing the caber, and
footracing, the events combined drama and excitement The women were
included with exhibitions of Highland dancing. Of course the bagpipes
were ever present.
The first American Highland games appeared in 1836, but they did not
become widespread until the Gilded Age. Events included throwing the
hammer or the stone and tossing the caber; the pole vault, high jump,
long jump, hop-step-and-leap, and hurdles; the tug-of-war; and numerous
footraces. Pipers and Highland dancers enlivened the athletics.
During much of the nineteenth century, the games were staged on July
4. The San Francisco Thistle Club, for example, drew five thousand
people to Shell Mound Park for their 1889 games. But this tradition
faded over time as July 4 became reserved for more solemn observances.
"The Fourth of July is an American and not a Scotch holiday,"
warned the editor of the Scottish American, "and a growing
sentiment prevails that it should be reserved for Americans." By
c.1890 the games had not only lost their ethnic flavor, they had
gradually evolved into American track and field. What began as a
Scottish sport had become Americanized.
The game of golf followed along similar lines. This uniquely Scottish
import arrived in the East in the early 1880s, but soon reached the
West. As the game spread, so, too, did Scots golf professionals. During
the fin-de-siècle years, approximately three hundred "Men of
Carnoustie" began to dominate the American professional golf world.
Not until 1914, for example, did a native-born American win the U.S.
Representatives of this "Carnoustie exodus" were the
brothers Smith. Their father, John, served as greenkeeper at a number of
Scottish courses, including Carnoustie, and all five of his surviving
sons became American golf professionals. The two most famous were
probably Alexander and Macdonald. Alexander Smith played in the first
organized professional tour in 1899 and won three California Opens prior
to 1907. His classic Lessons in Golf (1907) reminded readers that
"Golf is a science and not a bag of tricks," and he became
recognized as America’s most prominent golf instructor. His younger
brother Macdonald achieved an equal reputation, eventually settling in
California, where he worked for several clubs and in 1921 opened a
popular golf school. Known for his smooth swing and
dour manner, "Old Carnoustie," as he was termed, finished
his career as manager of the private range of a Glendale, California,
local magnate, from which position he taught a number of professionals.
By the turn of the century virtually every American golf course or
country club clamored for a Scots professional. As historian Howard N.
Rabinowitz has observed, by World War I the Scots golf pro had become as
prominent a part of American life as the Irish policeman, the Chinese
laundryman, or the Swedish masseur.
From cattle to sheep, from track and field to golf, from St. Andrew’s
Day to Robert Burns Day, the nineteenth-century American Scots slowly
created a new Scoto-American identity. And, as the next chapter will
show, much of this new identity resounded with romance.