Twists to History:
The World of the Covert Cogs
One of the things that really appeals to me about Steampunk or Dieselpunk (which I'm dabbling in but haven't finished anything yet) is that you can keep 95% of history as it was, maybe even 90%, and then tinker with things beyond that.
Here's the tinkering that was done for the Covert Cogs' tales.
#1 After the Mexican War in which the US gained the territory that would bring a lot of mining wealth with it, Congress voted in an Act that allowed settlers to work the land but any minerals or similar sources (from gold, silver, copper, etc., to oil and natural gas) discovered in the Territories belong not to the person who owns the land but to the government. To keep the stranglehold on this wealth, Congress agreed to admit no new States to the Union.
The government does issue bonds that people can purchase to help finance the digging and processing of the find, but they don't own stock. Those who buy bonds profit from their investment depending on the percentage of growth Washington decides to issue on the bond
for a specific mine or pump.
Not everyone is happy about Uncle Sam being the big winner in this game though and thus there are, not surprisingly, illegal mining operations in the Cog world.
#2 In 1873 a second Civil War broke out. While shorter, it was just as bloody as the historically correct Civil War was. The reason for the second war was the South fed up with Reconstruction restrictions topped off by the Panic of 1873, when the financial world fell to its knees. This didn't hurt the rich-with-wealth-from-the-mines government, but it did put a crimp in private business
and thus the pockets of the common man.
This second Civil War was fought nearly entirely in Texas, with the worst disaster occurring in 1875. With half the armies on both sides dead or grievously wounded, politicians on both sides decided to call it a draw and fighting ceased.
The difference between this war and the first one is that technology has made great leaps in the years between 1865 and 1875. They can now repair the human body with mechanical parts.
This is done to those who have lost limbs or organs without requesting their permission. Men who fell on the battlefield woke in the hospital to find they were no longer whole men. They have become Washington's answer to policing the territories -- they are a part of the military known as the Irregulars.
A man who becomes an Irregular no longer can have a life outside of the army. He is now government property. If he deserts, he is hunted and when found, court martialed. For an Irregular this means all mechanical parts he has been fitted with are removed. If not jailed, these former soldiers are reduced to begging on the streets. The best an Irregular can hope for
is to be killed while on duty, which makes the Irregular troops daredevils who don't fear death,
but practically court it.
#3 At the close of the second war, the nation turned its eyes once more to what was deemed the Indian problem. The suggestion was made in Congress that an agreement be brokered with Canada to take all the aboriginal tribes off their hands. With more than enough currency from mining in the Treasury to buy Canadian compliance, the deal was brokered. One of the first things the newly created Irregulars were ordered to do was "herd" every member of every tribe within the United States north, turning them over to the Mounties for escort further north to where other tribes are already settled. Anyone of native aboriginal blood was now considered a foreign citizen though they were not extended the right to cross the Canadian/US border for any reason. If they do so, it is a criminal offense.
Not everyone agrees with this policy but there is nothing the Irregulars can do about it other than round up any native peoples who steal back across the border for any reason.
#4 Because technology is always more advanced in Steampunk fiction than it was in reality, while Chicago was historically the first city to have buildings called "skyscrapers", those in Cog Chicago predate reality by a few years and are taller by several stories.
Airships, of course, are common and many of the skyscrapers have dirigible landing bays on the roof. Transportation is a combination of gasoline powered vehicles, steam conveyances, and horse drawn ones. Electric lighting has not totally replaced gas lamps yet in the cities but out on the Dakota prairie in a small town on the rail line they do have electric street lamps and power in the homes as well as hot running water thanks to all the windmills on the roofs of every building in town. It is to this town that trouble arrives in the Covert Cogs trilogy (which is still in the progess of being written).
The Cogs are armed with weapons similar to stun guns except a Tesla-like arc of electricity is fired. (Admittedly, I was picturing the Warehouse 13 weapons. Nikola Tesla himself didn't come to the States until 1884, and the Allegory Society is arming their agents with these from the mid-1870s on through the close of the trilogy, which is 1882.)
This, then, is the world of the Covert Cogs.