| American Old West
|The American Old West (often referred to as the Far West,
Old West or Wild West) comprises the history, geography, people, lore,
and cultural expression of life in the Western United States, most often
referring to the period of the later half of the 19th century, between
the American Civil War and the end of the century. After the 18th century
and the push beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the term is generally applied
to anywhere west of the Mississippi River in earlier periods and westward
from the frontier strip toward the later part of the 19th century. More
broadly, the period stretches from the early 19th century to the end of
the Mexican Revolution in 1920.
Through treaties with foreign nations and native peoples,
political compromise, technological innovation, military conquest, establishment
of law and order, and the great migrations of foreigners, the United States
expanded from coast to coast (Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean), fulfilling
advocates' belief in Manifest Destiny. In securing and managing the West,
the U.S. federal government greatly expanded its powers, as the nation
evolved from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. First promoting
settlement and exploitation of the land, by the end of the 19th century
the federal government became a steward of the remaining open spaces. As
the American Old West passed into history, the myths of the West took firm
hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike.
The term "Old West"
the quintessential symbol of
the American Old West, circa 1888.
The American frontier moved gradually
westward decades after the settlement of the first immigrants on the Eastern
seaboard in the 17th century. The "West" was always the area beyond that
boundary. Scholars, however, sometimes refer to the Old West as the region
of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys during the 18th century, when the frontier
was being contested by Britain, France, and the American colonies. Most
often, however, the "American Old West", the "Old West" or "the Great West"
is used to describe the area west of the Mississippi River during the 19th
Acquiring the Frontier
Advancing frontier and the Louisiana
During European settlement of North
America in the 17th century, the western frontier was the crest of the
Appalachian Mountains, the initial geographical impediment to expansion.
While the eastern seaboard was being tamed, the area west of these mountains
received little concern and speculation. After the Revolutionary War, the
conflict among European powers over the vast American continent and its
riches gave way to the new nation of the United States. With peace came
an impetus for westward expansion, as veterans returned to areas seen during
the war, and land hungry settlers traveled to newly available lands in
New York and across the Appalachians.
At the beginning of the 19th century,
the American frontier was approximately along the Mississippi River, which
bisects the continental United States north-to-south from just west of
the Great Lakes to the delta near New Orleans. St. Louis, Missouri was
the largest town on the frontier, the gateway for travel westward, and
a principal trading center for Mississippi River traffic and inland commerce.
The new nation began to exercise
some power in domestic and foreign affairs. The British had been driven
out of the East after the American Revolutionary War but remained in Canada
and threatened to expand into the Northwest. The French had left the Ohio
Valley but still owned the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River
west to the Rockies, including the strategic port of New Orleans. Spain's
dominion (New Spain) included Florida and the territories from present-day
Texas to California along the southern tier and up to what later would
be Utah and Colorado.
Colorado or any other river may offer
the most direct and practicable communication across the continent for
the purposes of commerce". Jefferson also instructed the expedition to
study the region's native tribes (including their morals, language, and
culture), weather, soil, rivers, commercial trading, animal and plant life.
|With a stroke of the pen, Thomas
Jefferson, the third president of the United States (elected in 1800),
more than doubled the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase
of 1803 which acquired land France had acquired from Spain just three years
earlier. Napoleon Bonaparte had begun to consider it a liability, since
the slave rebellion in Haiti and tropical disease undermined his Caribbean
adventures. Robert R. Livingston, American ambassador to France, negotiated
the sale with French foreign minister Talleyrand, who stated, "You have
made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most
The price was $15 million (about
$0.04 per acre), including the cost of settling all claims against France
by American citizens. The purchase was controversial. Many of the Federalist
Party, the dominant political party in New England, thought that the territory
was "a vast wilderness world which will... prove worse than useless to
us" and spread the population across an ungovernable land, weakening federal
power to the detriment of New England and the Northeast. But the Jeffersonians
thought the territory would help maintain their vision of the ideal republican
society, based on agricultural commerce, governed lightly and promoting
self-reliance and virtue.
Jefferson quickly ordered exploration
and documentation of the vast territory. He charged Lewis and Clark to
lead an expedition, starting in 1804, to "explore the Missouri River, and
such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the
waters of the Pacific Ocean; whether the Columbia, Oregon,
Third President of the United States
The principal commercial goal was
to find an efficient route to connect American goods and natural resources
with Asian markets, and perhaps to find a means of blocking the growth
of British fur trading companies into the Oregon Country. Asian merchants
were already buying sea otter pelts from Pacific coast traders for Chinese
customers. An expansion of inland fur trading was also anticipated. With
news spreading of the expedition's findings, entrepreneurs like John Jacob
Astor immediately seized the opportunity and expanded fur trading operations
into the Pacific Northwest. Astor's "Fort Astoria" (later Fort George),
at the mouth of the Columbia River, became the first permanent white settlement
in that area. However, during the War of 1812, the rival North West Company
(a British-Canadian company) bought the camp from Astor's agents as they
feared the British would destroy an American camp. For a while, Astor's
fur business suffered. But he rebounded by 1820, took over independent
traders to create a powerful monopoly, and left the business as a multi-millionaire
in 1834, reinvesting his money in Manhattan real estate.
The quest for furs was the primary
commercial reason for the exploration and colonizing of North America by
the Dutch, French, and English. The Hudson's Bay Company, promoting British
interests, often competed with French traders who had arrived earlier and
had been already trading with indigenous tribes in the northern border
region of the colonies. This competition was one of the contributing factors
to the French and Indian War in 1763. British victory in the war led to
the expulsion of the French from the American colonies. French trading
continued, however, based in Montreal. Astor's move into the Northwest
was a major American attempt to compete with the established French and
As the frontier moved westward,
trappers and hunters moved ahead of settlers, searching out new supplies
of beaver and other skins for shipment to Europe. The hunters proceeded
and followed Lewis and Clark to the Upper Missouri and the Oregon territory;
they formed the first working relationships with the Native Americans in
the West. They also added extensive knowledge of the Northwest terrain,
including the important South Pass through the central Rocky Mountains.
Discovered about 1812, it later became a major route for settlers to Oregon
The War of 1812 did little to change
the boundaries of the United States and British territories, but its conclusion
led to the nations' agreement to make the Great Lakes neutral waters to
both navies. Furthermore, competing commercial claims by England and the
U.S. led to the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. This resulted in their
sharing the Oregon territory until a decades later resolution. By 1820,
with the fur trade depressed, distances to supply increasing, and conflicts
with native tribes rising, the trading system was overhauled by Donald
Mackenzie of the North West Company and by William H. Ashley. Previously,
Indians caught the animals, skinned them, and brought the furs to trading
posts such as Fort Lisa and Fontenelle's Post, where trappers sent the
goods down river to St. Louis. In exchange for the furs, Indians typically
received calico cloth, knives, tomahawks, awls, beads, rifles, ammunition,
animal traps, rum, whiskey, and salt pork.
The new "brigade-rendezvous" system,
however, sent company men in "brigades" cross-country on long expeditions,
bypassing many tribes. It also encouraged "free trappers" to explore new
regions on their own. At the end of the gathering season, the trappers
would "rendezvous" and turn in their goods for pay at river ports along
the Green River, the Upper Missouri, and the Upper Mississippi. St. Louis
was the largest of the rendezvous towns. An early chronicle described the
gathering as "one continued scene of drunkenness, gambling, and brawling
and fighting, as long as the money and the credit of the trappers last."
Trappers competed in wrestling and shooting matches. When they would gamble
away all their furs, horses, and their equipment, they would lament, "There
goes hos and beaver." By 1830, however, fashions changed in Europe and
beaver hats were replaced by silk hats, sharply reducing the need for American
furs. Thus ended the era of the "Mountain men", trappers and scouts such
as Jedediah Smith (who had traveled through more unexplored western land
than any non-Indian and was the first American to reach California overland).
The trade in beaver fur virtually ceased by 1845.
Settling the West
Federal government and the West
While the profit motive dominated
the movement westward, the Federal government played a vital role in securing
land and maintaining law and order, which allowed the expansion to proceed.
Despite the Jeffersonian aversion and mistrust of federal power, it bore
more heavily in the West than any other region, and made possible the fulfillment
of Manifest Destiny. Since local governments were often absent or weak,
Westerners, though they grumbled about it, depended on the federal government
to protect them and their rights, and displayed little of the outright
antipathy of some Easterners to Federalism.
The federal government established
a sequence of actions related to control over western lands. First, it
acquired western territory from other nations or native tribes by treaty,
then it sent surveyors and explorers to map and document the land, next
it ordered federal troops to clear out and subdue the resisting natives,
and finally, it had bureaucracies manage the land, such as the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, the Land Office, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Forest
Service. The process was not a smooth one. Indian resistance, sectionalism,
and racism forced some pauses in the process of westward settlement. Nonetheless,
by the end of the 19th century, in the process of conquering and managing
the West, the federal government amassed great size, power, and influence
in national affairs.
Early scientific exploration
A major role of the federal government
was sending out surveyors, naturalists, and artists into the West to discover
its potential. Following the Lewis and Clark expeditions, Zebulon Pike
led a party in 1805-6, under the orders of General James Wilkinson, commander
of the western American army. Their mission was to find the head waters
of the Mississippi (which turned out to be Lake Itasca, and not Leech Lake
as Pike concluded). Later, on other journeys, Pike explored the Red and
Arkansas Rivers in Spanish territory, eventually reaching the Rio Grande.
On his return, Pike sighted the peak named after him, was captured by the
Spanish and released after a long overland journey. Unfortunately, his
documents were confiscated to protect territorial secrets and his later
recollections were rambling and not of high quality. Major Stephen H. Long
led the Yellowstone and Missouri expeditions of 1819-1820, but his categorizing
of the Great Plains as arid and useless led to the region getting a bad
reputation as the "Great American Desert", which discouraged settlement
in that area for several decades.
In 1811, naturalists Thomas Nuttall
and John Bradbury traveled up the Missouri River with the Astoria expedition,
documenting and drawing plant and animal life. Later, Nuthall explored
the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), the Oregon Trail, and even Hawaii. His
book A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory was an important
account of frontier life. Although Nuthall was the most traveled Western
naturalist before 1840, unfortunately most of his documentation and specimens
were lost. Artist George Catlin traveled up the Missouri as far as present-day
North Dakota, producing accurate paintings of Native American culture.
He was supplemented by Karl Bodmer, who accompanied the Prince Maximilian
expedition, and made compelling landscapes and portraits. In 1820, John
James Audubon traveled about the Mississippi Basin collecting specimens
and making sketches for his monumental books Birds of America and The Viviparous
Quadrupeds of North America, classic works of naturalist art. By 1840,
the discoveries of explorers, naturalists, and mountain men had produced
maps showing the rough outlines of the entire West to the Pacific Ocean.
Mexican rule and Texas independence
Criollo and mestizo settlers of
New Spain declared their independence in 1810 (finally obtaining it in
1821) from Spain's crumbling American colonial empire in the Americas (which
were not yet thought of as being divided in North, Central and South America),
forming the new nation of Mexico which included the New Mexico territory
at its north. A hoped for result of Mexico's independence was more open
trade and better relations with the United States where previously Spain
had enforced its border strictly and had arrested American traders who
ventured into the region. After Mexico's independence, large caravans began
delivering goods to Santa Fe along the Santa Fe Trail, over the 870-mile
(1,400 km) journey which took 48 days from Kansas City, Missouri (then
known as Westport). Santa Fe was also the trailhead for the "El Camino
Real" (the King's Highway), a major trade route which carried American
manufactured goods southward deep into Mexico and returned silver, furs,
and mules northward (not to be confused with another "Camino Real" which
connected the missions in California). A branch also ran eastward near
the Gulf (also called the Old San Antonio Road). Santa Fe also connected
to California via the Old Spanish Trail.
The Mexican government began to
attract Americans to the Texas area with generous terms. Stephen F. Austin
became an "empresario," receiving contracts from the Mexican officials
to bring in immigrants. In doing so, he also became the de facto political
and military commander of the area. Tensions rose, however, after an abortive
attempt to establish the independent nation of Fredonia in 1826. William
Travis, leading the "war party," advocated for independence from Mexico,
while the "peace party" led by Austin attempted to get more autonomy within
the current relationship. When Mexican president Santa Anna shifted alliances
and joined the conservative Centralist party, he declared himself dictator
and ordered soldiers into Texas to curtail new immigration and unrest.
However, immigration continued and 30,000 Americans with 3,000 slaves arrived
in 1835. A series of battles, including at the Alamo, at Goliad, and at
the San Jacinto River, led to independence and the establishment of the
Republic of Texas in 1836. The U.S. Congress, however, refused to annex
Texas, stalemated by contentious arguments over slavery and regional power.
Texas remained an independent country, led by Sam Houston, until it became
the 28th state in 1845. Mexico, however, viewed the establishment of the
statehood of Texas as a hostile act, helping to precipitate the Mexican
The Trail of Tears
|The expansion of migration into
the Southeast in the 1820s and 1830s forced the federal government to deal
with the "Indian question." By 1837 the "Indian Removal policy" began,
to implement the act of Congress signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830. The
forced march of about twenty Native American tribes included the "Five
Civilized Tribes" (Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Seminole).
They were pushed beyond the frontier and into the "Indian Territory" (which
later became Oklahoma). Of the approximate 70,000 Indians removed, about
20% died from disease, starvation, and exposure on the route. This exodus
has become known as The Trail of Tears (in Cherokee "Nunna dual Tsuny,"
"The Trail Where they Cried"). The impact of the removals was severe. The
transplanted tribes had considerable difficulty adapting to their new surroundings
and sometimes clashed with the tribes native to the area. In addition,
the Smallpox Epidemic of 1837 decimated the tribes of the Upper Missouri,
weakening them, and allowing immigrants easier access to those lands.
The Indian removals were justified
by two prevailing philosophies. The "superior race" theory contended that
"inferior" peoples (i.e., natives) held land in trust until a "superior
race" came along which would be a more productive steward of the land.
Humanitarians espoused a second theory stating that the removal of natives
would take them away from the contaminating influences of the frontier
and help preserve their culture. Neither theory showed any understanding
of the natives' intimate connection with their land nor the deadly effect
of social and physical uprooting. For example, tribes were dependent on
local animals and plants for their food and their medicinal and cultural
purposes, which were often unavailable after moving.
President Andrew Jackson
In 1827, the Cherokee, on the basis
of earlier treaties, declared themselves a sovereign nation within the
boundaries of Georgia. When the Georgia state government ignored the declaration
and annexed the land, the Cherokee took their case to the U.S. Supreme
Court. The court ruled Georgia's laws null and void in the Cherokee nation,
but the state ignored the ruling. The court also ruled that the tribes
were "domestic dependent nations" and could not make treaties with other
nations. Furthermore, it was up to the federal government to protect those
rights, making the tribes, in effect, wards of the federal government.
President Jackson, having just signed the Indian Removal Act, failed to
enforce the court ruling, illegally abdicating to the states the right
to make policy regarding the tribes. In effect, Jackson refused to honor
the federal government's commitment to protect the southern tribes and
to act in its proper role in dealing with the tribes as sovereign, though
dependent, nations. Jackson justified his actions by stating that Indians
had "neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the
desire of improvements."
The only way for a Native American
to avoid removal was to accept the federal offer of 640 acres (2.6 km2)
or more of land (depending on family size) in exchange for leaving the
tribe and becoming a U.S. citizen subject to state law and federal law.
However, many natives who took the offer were defrauded by "ravenous speculators"
who stole their claims and sold their land to whites. In Mississippi alone,
fraudulent claims reached 3,800,000 acres (15,400 km2). Some of those who
refused to move or take the offer found sanctuary for a while in remote
areas. To motivate natives reluctant to move, the federal government also
promised rifles, blankets, tobacco, and cash. Of the five tribes, the Seminole
offered the most resistance, hiding out in the Florida swamps and waging
a war which cost the U.S. Army 1,500 lives and $20 million. Through war,
abandonment, and the removal policy, the federal government acquired about
442,800,000 acres (1,792,000 km2) of native land in the East from 1776
The Antebellum West
Indian policy and attitudes
No sooner had the federal government
created the "Indian Territory", the whites began to encroach upon the boundaries,
traders began to sell prohibited liquor and settlers took shortcuts across
Indian land on their way to Oregon and California. As the migrants moved
across the Great Plains, their livestock trampled Indian land and ate crops.
Some tribes struck back by raiding livestock and by demanding payment from
settlers crossing their land. The federal government attempted to reduce
tensions and create new tribal boundaries in the Great Plains with two
new treaties in the early 1850s. The Treaty of Fort Laramie established
tribal zones for the Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Crows, and others, and
allowed for the building of roads and posts across the tribal lands. A
second treaty secured safe passage along the Santa Fe Trail for wagon trains.
In return, the tribes would receive, for ten years, annual compensation
for damages caused by whites.
The Kansas and Nebraska territories
also became contentious areas as the federal government sought those lands
for the future transcontinental railroad. In the Far West settlers began
to occupy land in Oregon and California before the federal government secured
title from the native tribes, causing considerable friction. In Utah, the
Mormons also moved in before federal ownership was obtained. During their
flight West, the Mormons established an outpost called Winter Quarters
with permission from Big Elk of the Omaha tribe. This set a precedent for
such agreements; however, when the Mormons exhausted local timber supplies
they were asked to move from the land. Their occupancy in the area that
soon became the Nebraska Territory lasted from 1846 to 1848.
western land). Dealing with nomadic
tribes complicated the reservation strategy and decentralized tribal power
made treaty making difficult among the Plains Indians. Conflicts erupted
in the 1850s, resulting in the Indian Wars.
Native American chiefs, 1865
|A new policy of establishing reservations
came gradually into shape after the boundaries of the "Indian Territory"
began to be ignored. In providing for Indian reservations, Congress and
the Office of Indian Affairs hoped to detribalize native Americans and
prepare them for integration with the rest of American society, the "ultimate
incorporation into the great body of our citizen population." This allowed
for the development of dozens of riverfront towns along the Missouri River
in the new Nebraska Territory, which was carved from the remainder of the
Louisiana Purchase after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Influential pioneer towns
included Omaha, Nebraska City and St. Joseph.
White attitudes towards Indians
during this period ranged from extreme malevolence ("the only good Indian
is a dead Indian") to misdirected humanitarianism (Indians live in "inferior"
societies and by assimilation into white society they can be redeemed)
to somewhat realistic (Native Americans and settlers could co-exist in
separate but equal societies, dividing up the remaining
John Charles Frémont, son-in-law
of powerful Missouri senator and expansionist Thomas Hart Benton, led a
series of expeditions in the mid 1840's which answered many of the outstanding
geographic questions about the West. He crossed through the Rocky Mountains
by five different routes, reached deep into the Oregon territory, traveled
the length of California, and into Mexico below Tucson. With the help of
legendary scouts Christopher "Kit" Carson and Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick,
and German cartographer Charles Preuss, Frémont produced detailed
maps, filled in gaps of knowledge, and provided route information that
fostered the "Great Migrations" to Oregon, California, and the Great Basin.
He also disproved the existence of the mythical Rio San Buenaventura, featured
on old maps, which was a large river believed to drain all of the West
and which exited at San Francisco into the Pacific.
Manifest Destiny and the early
Manifest Destiny was the belief
that the United States was pre-ordained by God to expand from the Atlantic
coast to the Pacific coast. The concept was expressed during Colonial times,
but the term was coined by newspaperman John O'Sullivan, and became a rallying
cry for expansionists in the 1840s. It was a moral/religious as well as
political/economic justification for growth, regardless of the social and
legal consequences for Native Americans. Implicit is the position that
the American claim supersedes?by God's favor?that of foreign nations or
the native peoples. O'Sullivan wrote, "Away, away with all these cobweb
tissues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, continuity, etc....
The American claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread
and to possess the whole continent which Providence has given us for the
development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government
entrusted to us".
The Polk and Tyler administrations
successfully promoted this nationalistic doctrine over sectionalists and
others who objected for moral reasons or over concerns about the spread
of slavery. Starting with the annexation of Texas, the expansionists got
the upper hand. To gain the acceptance of Northerners, Texas was even promoted
by expansionists as a place where slavery could be concentrated, and from
where blacks and slavery would eventually leave the U.S. entirely, solving
the problem forever.
Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, among
others, did not vote for conquest and expansion, and preferred co-existence
with friendly foreign powers sharing the continent. John Quincy Adams believed
the Texas annexation to be "the heaviest calamity that ever befell myself
and my country". However, Manifest Destiny's popularity in the Midwest
states and the addition of federal encouragement overcame the opposition
and created a climate which helped start the "Great Migrations" to Oregon,
California, and the Great Basin.
Also spurring settlers westward
were the emigrant "guide books" of the 1840s featuring route information
supplied by the fur traders and the Frémont expeditions, and promising
fertile farm land beyond the Rockies. Independence, Missouri became the
starting point for caravans of "Chicago" and "Prairie Schooner" wagons
which traveled the Oregon and California trails. Starting in late 1848
over 250,000 settlers passed over the California trail to California. The
trip was slow and arduous, but unlike the depiction in films, generally
absent of Indian attacks. One Oregon pioneer wrote, "Our journey is ended.
Our toils are over. But... no tongue can tell, nor pen describe the heart
rending scenes through which we passed". On the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) journey,
settlers had to overcome extreme climate, lack of food and clean water,
disease, broken down wagons, and exhausted draft animals. The Oregon territory,
filling up with Americans, was ceded to the U.S. in 1846 by Great Britain,
which was anxious to fix the northern boundary at the 49th parallel. Oregon
gained statehood in 1859.
Brigham Young, also influenced by
Frémont's discoveries and seeking to escape persecution, led his
followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the "Mormons")
to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, bypassed by other immigrants headed
to Oregon, because of its aridity. Eventually, nearly one hundred Mormon
settlements sprang up in what Young called "Deseret", which later became
Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Nebraska. The Salt Lake City settlement
served as the hub of their network, and was proclaimed "Zion, the seat
of God's kingdom on earth". The communalism and advanced farming practices
of the Mormons enabled them to succeed in a region other settlers rejected
as too harsh but which Frémont believed to have great potential.
During the gold rushes of the 1850s, Salt Lake City became an important
supply point, adding to its economic strength.
In California, the twenty-one mission
settlements established by the Catholic Church had failed to attract sufficient
Mexican settlers who had viewed the region as too remote. The Spanish aristocracy
(the "californios") controlled the territory through vast land grants on
which large cattle ranches spread. Manned mostly by Christianized Indians
supervised by the friars, the ranches supplied English and American merchant
ships with hides and tallow. The few Americans in the area were mostly
traders, merchants, and sailors, many from "Yerba Buena" (renamed San Francisco
in 1846). Although Presidents Jackson and Tyler's efforts to buy California
from Mexico had failed, American settlers started to enter the territory
by 1841. The Bartleson-Bidwell Party brought the first overland family
migrations to Sacramento, California, followed by several more caravans
which established the California Trail. Thousands of settlers and miners
made the trip in the following decade after the discovery of gold. When
Frémont's third expedition brought him to California in 1845, he
joined the Bear Flag Revolt, and allied with other American forces, captured
and controlled considerable California territory. In 1847, a counter-revolt
by "rancheros" failed. At the same time that the Mexican War was underway
in the central Southwest, Mexico decided to formally cede California to
the U.S. in the Treaty of Cahuenga.
The Mexican War
A crisis with Mexico had been brewing from the time Texas
won its independence in 1836. The annexation of Texas by the United States
brought feelings on both sides to a boil. Additionally, the two nations
disputed the border, the U.S. insisting on the Rio Grande and Mexico claiming
the Nueces River, 150 miles (240 km) north. Also, an international commission
decided that American settlers were owed damages in the millions of dollars
for past wrongs by the Mexican government, which it refused to pay. President
Polk attempted to use the debts as leverage in offering to buy the Mexican
territories of New Mexico and California, while he made a show of force
along the border area. Negotiations got nowhere, and as Polk prepared to
ask Congress to declare war, the Mexican cavalry began an attack on American
outposts. After the declaration of war, Whigs accused the President of
imperialism and claimed that the administration had employed "an artful
perversion of truth—a disingenuous statement of facts to make people believe
a lie". Northerners also feared the extension of slavery into the new territories,
though the linchpin of slavery—the plantation—seemed improbable in the
dusty plains of Texas.
|General (and later president) Zachary Taylor was ordered
to the scene and his troops forced the Mexicans back to the Rio Grande.
Then he advanced into Mexico where several battles ensued. Also General
Winfield Scott undertook a naval assault on Veracruz, then marched his
12,000 man force west to Mexico City, winning the final battle at Chapultepec.
Some advocated for the complete take over of Mexico by the U.S., but practical
arguments as well as racism prevented the attempt. The "Cincinnati Herald"
voiced the racist sentiment asking what would the U.S. do with millions
of Mexicans "with their idol worship, heathen superstition, and degraded
The surrender by Mexico took place on September 17, 1847.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, ceded the territories
of California and New Mexico (which included the states-to-be of Utah,
Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming) to the
United States for $18.5 million (which included the assumption of claims
against Mexico by settlers). The Gadsden Purchase in 1853, covering southern
Arizona and New Mexico, pushed the border southward and acquired land for
an anticipated railroad route, and had the unintended effect of heightening
conflicts with southern Apaches now habitating U.S. territory. The Mexican
War was the smallest but deadliest of American wars—one in six American
soldiers died from bullets or disease—but the spoils of that war were substantial.
The completed Mexican cession covered over half a million square miles
and increased the size of the U.S. by nearly 20%. Managing the new territories
and dealing with the slavery issue were challenges which lay ahead. The
Compromise of 1850 kept California a free state and allowed Utah and New
Mexico to make their own decisions regarding slavery. It also imposed some
Gold rushes and the mining industry
On January 24, 1848, James Marshall
discovered gold in the tailrace of the mill he had built for John Sutter.
Sutter, a Swiss entrepreneur, had acquired a land grant for over 49,000
acres (200 km2) near present day Sacramento and built himself what was,
in effect, an independent principality. According to Sutter's reminiscence,
"Marshall pulled out of his trousers pocket a white cotton rag which contained
something rolled up in it... Opening the cloth, he held it before me in
his hand... 'I believe this is gold,' said Marshall, 'but the people at
the mill laughed at me and called me crazy.' I carefully examined it and
said to him: 'Well, it looks like gold. Let us test it.'" Prior to this
discovery, gold mining in the United States had been limited to primitive
mines in the Southeast, especially in Georgia. Word spread quickly across
the United States, after Polk told Congress in December 1848, "The accounts
of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary
character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by
the authentic reports of officers in the public service."
|The word also reached experienced
miners in South America and Europe, who quickly headed to California. Thousands
of "Forty-Niners" reached California, many along the California trail,
boosting the population from about 14,000 in 1848 to over 200,000 in 1852.
San Francisco was the main port of arrival, with Asians, South Americans,
Australians, and Europeans making long ocean journeys, and the town grew
from 800 to 20,000 people in eighteen months, with only a fractional number
of women and children. Experienced foreign miners sometimes taught the
willing American amateurs, but most newcomers arrived, grabbed some supplies,
and headed willy-nilly to the gold camps without the slightest idea of
what mining entailed.
As in many other boomtowns, rapid
growth in San Francisco resulted in hastily erected housing, mob rule,
vigilante justice, hyper-inflated prices, environmental degradation, and
considerable squalor. Field conditions for miners were even worse. They
lived in log cabins and tents, and worked in all kinds of weather, suffering
disease without treatment. Supplies were expensive and food poor, subsisting
mostly of pork, beans, and whiskey. These highly male, transient communities
with no established institutions were prone to high levels of violence,
drunkenness, profanity, and greed-driven behavior. A weekend's entertainment
with a prostitute and plentiful drink could cost hundreds of dollars, not
including gambling losses, wiping out a month or more of found gold.
Without courts or law officers in
the mining communities to enforce claims and justice, miners developed
their own ad hoc legal system, based on the "mining codes" used in other
mining communities abroad. Each camp had its own rules and often handed
out justice by popular vote, sometimes acting fairly and at times exercising
vigilantism—with Indians, Mexicans, and Chinese generally receiving the
harshest sentences. As miner John Cowden wrote, "Very few ever think of
stealing in the country of plenty and those who do so are immediately strung
fever was a widespread affliction among
all classes. Black Elk recalled, gold was "the yellow metal that makes
whites crazy." Later rushes, though notable, possessed less of the "lunacy"
and urgency of the California strikes. The extraordinary size of early
finds (including nuggets of over 20 lb (9.1 kg). each), the surprise of
the finds, and the abundance of surface gold helps explain that irrational
fervor. Most of the gold discoveries of the California Gold Rush were achieved
through placer mining, the finding of nuggets and grains loosened from
rock by nature through erosion and carried down streams from the Sierras.
This was relatively easier and required less capital and expertise than
vein mining, which required drilling down into rock and breaking gold and
silver loose. Over 250,000 miners found a total of more than $200 million
in gold in the five years of the California Gold Rush. As thousands arrived,
however, fewer and fewer miners struck their fortune, and most ended exhausted
|Prostitution grew rapidly in the
Western boom towns, attracting many female workers from the East and Mid-West.
In many towns, the ratio of "honest" women to men was 1 to 100, thereby
encouraging the flesh trade. Until the 1890s, madams predominately ran
the businesses, after which "pimps" took over, and the treatment of the
women generally declined. The openness of bordellos in western towns depicted
in films was somewhat realistic, though the true appearance of most prostitutes
was far less attractive than those depicted by Hollywood starlets. Gambling
and prostitution were central to life in these western towns, and only
later?as the female population increased, reformers moved in, and other
civilizing influences arrived?did prostitution become less blatant and
The Gold Rush radically changed
the California economy and brought in an array of professionals, including
precious metal specialists, merchants, doctors, and attorneys, who supplemented
the numerous miners, saloonkeepers, gamblers, and prostitutes. A San Francisco
newspaper stated, "The whole country... resounds to the sordid cry of gold!
Gold! Gold! while the field is left half planted, the house half built,
and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pick axes."
San Francisco harbour c. 1850.Between
1847 and 1870, the population of
San Francisco increased
from 500 to 150,000.
Camps spread out north and south
of the American River and eastward into the Sierras. In a few years, nearly
all of the independent miners were displaced as mines were purchased and
run by mining companies, who then hired low-paid salaried miners. As gold
became harder to find and more difficult to extract, individual prospectors
gave way to paid work gangs, specialized skills, and mining machinery.
Bigger mines, however, caused greater environmental damage. In the mountains,
shaft mining predominated, producing large amounts of waste. Independent
miners began to leave California in the 1850s as mines gave out, and moved
on to new finds in Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
An exception were the Chinese. After white prospectors left the placer
mining areas, many Chinese miners, previously excluded by racism, found
the freedom to buy up the old claims and re-work them.
The discovery of the Comstock Lode,
containing vast amounts of silver, resulted in the Nevada boomtowns of
Virginia City, Carson City, and Silver City. The wealth from silver, more
than from gold, fueled the maturation of San Francisco in the 1860s and
helped the rise of some of its wealthiest families.
Following the California and Nevada
discoveries, miners left those areas and hunted for gold along the Rockies
and in the southwest. Soon gold was discovered in Colorado, Utah, Arizona,
New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota (by 1864). Deadwood, South
Dakota, in the Black Hills, was an archetypical late gold town, founded
in 1875. In 1876, Wild Bill Hickok, accompanied by Calamity Jane, came
to town and cemented Deadwood's fame by being murdered there ten days later.
Tombstone, Arizona was another notorious mining town. Silver was discovered
there in 1877, and by 1881 the town had a population of over 10,000. Wyatt
Earp and his brothers arrived in 1880, became actively involved as Republicans,
saloon owners, and real estate investors, and soon became involved in the
most famous gunfight of the Old West, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
In the aftermath, Virgil Earp survived an assassination and Morgan Earp
was hunted down and killed. Wyatt fled Tombstone with warrants issued against
him and drifted through California, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, and Alaska.
In his old age, Wyatt Earp was an adviser in Hollywood for western movies,
which helped secure his legendary status.
As gold and silver played out, the
large work force of experienced miners gradually found work as industrial
miners—working copper, iron, coal, and rare earth deposits which fueled
a rapidly expanding national economy. Working the deeper mines was extremely
hazardous. Temperatures could exceed 150 °F (66 °C) below 2,000
feet (610 m) and many died from heat stroke. Poor ventilation concentrated
a toxic brew of carbon dioxide, dust, and other compounds and caused frequent
headaches and dizziness. Accidents, premature explosions, and cave-ins
were common and deadly. About half the miners had lung disorders, shortening
their lives to an average of 43 years. In the hard rock mines, accidents
annually disabled 1 of every 30 miners and killed 1 out of 80, the highest
rates of any U.S. industry.
Pony Express and telegraph
The Gold Rush and the subsequent spurt of migration to
California hastened the need for better communications across the continent.
Mail was being transported to San Francisco by ship from New York, with
a land crossing across the Isthmus of Panama, normally a month's trip.
Then the federal government provided subsidies for the development of mail
and freight delivery, and by 1856, Congress authorized road improvements
and an overland mail service to California. There was even an experiment
to use camels for transportation. Commercial wagon trains began to haul
freight out west. For mail, the Overland Mail Company was formed, using
what was called the "Butterfield route", through Texas, then New Mexico
and into Arizona, over the dangerous Apache Pass protected by Fort Bowie.
This route was abandoned by 1862, after Texas joined the confederacy, in
favor of stagecoach services established via Fort Laramie and Salt Lake
City, a 24 day journey, with Wells Fargo & Co. as the foremost provider
(initially keeping the "Butterfield" name).
|William Russell, hoping to get a government contract
for more rapid mail delivery service, started the Pony Express in 1860,
cutting delivery time to ten days. He set up over 150 stations about 15
miles (24 km) apart. Riders were required to be expert and weigh less than
125 lb (57 kg)., with an advertisement of the time asking for, "young skinny
wiry fellows, not over eighteen... willing to risk death daily... Orphans
preferred... Wages: $25 per week." If a relief rider was not available
at the next station, the rider was required to change horses and keep going.
The service was short-lived, however, as the continental
telegraph was completed on October 24, 1861, just eighteen months later.
Samuel F. B. Morse developed his telegraph system in the 1830s. It found
acceptance by the mid 1840s, and over 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of wire
were laid out to form a single national network. The telegraph and the
Morse Code made possible the instantaneous transmission of information
and the beginning of the tele-communications industry. The new national
communication system soon proved a boon to newspapers, to freight hauling,
to weather reporting, to law enforcement, and to the railroads.
Map of Pony Express route
Though Russell did get a government contract, his business
had considerable losses anyway and failed. After the Pony Express service
folded, mail continued by overland coach and by sea. However, Wells Fargo
(established in 1852) maintained special courier services across the Sierras
for carrying gold and mail through the 1860s, and its banking, freighting,
and business services flourished in California. It grew through the consolidation
of other overland mail companies until the opening of the transcontinental
railroad in 1869 caused Wells Fargo to realign its services and delivery
By the mid-1850s, the Kansas territory had a population
of only a few hundred settlers but it became the focus of the slavery question.
Of its neighboring states, Missouri was a slave state and Iowa was not.
With the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Congress repealed the Missouri Compromise
which blocked slavery in Kansas, therefore leaving the decision up to Kansas.
The stakes were high. Adoption of slavery in Kansas would have given the
slave states a two vote majority in the Senate and abolitionists were intent
on blocking that. To influence the territorial decision, abolitionists
(also called "Jayhawkers" or "Free-soilers") financed the migration of
anti-slavery settlers. But pro-slavery advocates secured the outcome of
the territorial vote by bringing in "Border Ruffians", rowdies from Missouri
who stuffed ballot boxes and intimidated voters. The anti-slavers then
sent Sharps rifles ("Beecher's Bibles") and ammunition to supporters in
Kansas, leading to widespread violence and destruction which prompted the
New York Tribune to call the territory "Bleeding Kansas."
The Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court of the United
States in 1857 declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and that
Congress had no authority to exclude slavery from the territories, thus
opening these areas to slavery again depending on the local vote. Despite
the efforts by presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan to influence
Kansas territorial governors to vote pro-slavery, Kansas voted to become
a free state and the thirty-fourth state of the Union in 1861. The conflict
also helped to foster the organization and development of the Republican
Party in 1856, a mixture of free-soilers, expansionists, and federalists
who opposed the extension of slavery into the Western territories. Abraham
Lincoln, an early Republican, made clear his position on slavery in the
famous Lincoln-Douglas debates which helped propel him to the presidency
in 1860, "Never forget that we have before us this whole matter of the
right or wrong of slavery in this Union, though the immediate question
is as to its spreading out into new Territories and States". Lincoln branded
slavery as a "monstrous injustice" and a "moral, social, and political
evil". In 1862, Lincoln signed a law prohibiting the spread of slavery
into all the remaining territorial possessions. During Lincoln's administration,
two other important acts were passed which impacted the West—the Homestead
Act and the Pacific Railroad Act.
Civil War in the West
At the outset of the American Civil War, Westerners looked
to the Civil War to settle the question of slavery in their territories.
But they also feared that the federal government would be too preoccupied
with the war to worry about the stability of the territorial governments
and that lawlessness might spread. The Dred Scott Decision had made the
choice of making slavery legal in all of the land west of the Mississippi
River, except for Kansas, Oregon, and California.
battleground when the pro-secession governor, against the
vote of the legislature, led troops to the federal arsenal at St. Louis.
When Confederate forces from Arkansas and Louisiana joined him, Union General
Samuel Curtis was dispatched to the area and regained Missouri for the
Union for the duration of the war.
A historical reenactment of the
Battle of Picacho Peak in Arizona
|Although most of the battles of the Civil War took place
east of the Mississippi River, a few important campaigns occurred in the
West. However, Kansas, a major area of conflict building up to the war,
was the scene of only one battle, at Mine Creek. But its proximity to Confederate
states enabled guerillas, such as Quantrill's Raiders, to attack Union
strongholds, causing considerable damage. Both sides attacked civilians,
murdering and plundering with little discrimination, creating an atmosphere
In Texas, citizens voted to join the confederacy. Local
troops took over the federal arsenal in San Antonio, with plans to grab
the territories of northern New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, and possibly
California. Confederate Arizona was created by Arizona citizens who wanted
protection against the Apache after the United States Army abandoned them
to go fight in the South. At the Battle of Glorieta Pass, the Confederate
campaign was defeated strategically by Union troops from Colorado and from
Fort Union. Missouri, a Union state where slavery was legal, became a
Settlers escaping the
Dakota War of 1862
he decreased presence of Union troops in the West left
behind untrained militias which encouraged native uprisings and skirmishes
with settlers. President Lincoln appears to have had little time to formulate
new Indian policy. Some tribes took sides in the war, even forming regiments
that joined the Union or the rebel cause, while others took the opportunity
to avenge past wrongs by the federal government. Engagements were fought
against natives in Utah against the Shoshone, all across New Mexico Territory
against Apaches and the Navajo, conflict also occurred in Oregon. Within
the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, conflicts arose among the Five Civilized
Tribes, some of whom sided with the South being slaveholders themselves.
While the question of whether western territories would
be free or slave-owning had preoccupied antebellum political debate, in
1862, Congress enacted two major laws to facilitate settlement of the West:
the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railroad Act.
The Postbellum West
Territorial governance after the Civil War
With the war over, the federal government focused on improving
the governance of the territories. It subdivided several territories, preparing
them for statehood, following the precedents set by the Northwest Ordinance
of 1787. It also standardized procedures and the supervision of territorial
governments, taking away some local powers, and imposing much "red tape",
growing the federal bureaucracy significantly.
Federal involvement in the territories was considerable.
In addition to direct subsidies, the federal government maintained military
posts, provided safety from Indian attacks, bankrolled treaty obligations,
conducted surveys and land sales, built roads, staffed land offices, made
harbour improvements, and subsidized overland mail delivery. Territorial
citizens came to both decry federal power and local corruption, and at
the same time, lament that more federal dollars were not sent their way.
Territorial governors were political appointees and beholden
to Washington so they usually governed with a light hand, allowing the
legislatures to deal with the local issues. In addition to his role as
civil governor, a territorial governor was also a militia commander, a
local superintendent of Indian affairs, and the state liaison with federal
agencies. State legislators, on the other hand, spoke for the local citizens
and they were given considerable leeway by the federal government to make
local law, except in extreme cases, as when the Federal government suppressed
polygamy by the Mormons in Utah.
These improvements to governance still left plenty of
room for profiteering. As Mark Twain wrote while working for his brother,
the secretary of Nevada, "The government of my country snubs honest simplicity,
but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into
a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year
or two." "Territorial rings", corrupt associations of local politicians
and business owners buttressed with federal patronage, embezzled from Indian
tribes and local citizens, especially in the Dakota and New Mexico territories.
Federal land system
In acquiring, preparing, and distributing public land
to private ownership, the federal government generally followed the system
set forth by the Land Ordinance of 1785. Federal exploration and scientific
teams would undertake reconnaissance of the land and determine Native American
habitation. Through treaty, land title would be ceded by the resident tribes.
Then surveyors would create detailed maps marking the land into squares
of six miles (10 km) on each side, subdivided first into one square mile
blocks, then into 160-acre (0.65 km2) lots. Townships would be formed from
the lots and sold at public auction. Unsold land could be purchased from
the land office at a minimum price of $1.25 per acre.
In theory, the system would provide a fair distribution
of land and reduce large accumulations of land by private owners. In reality,
speculators could exploit loopholes and acquire large tracts of land. There
was no limit to purchases of the unsold land by speculators. Furthermore,
settlers often got to the land ahead of the surveyors and became squatters,
living on land they held no title to.
As part of public policy, the government would award public
land to certain groups such as veterans, through the use of "land script".
The script traded in a financial market, often at below the $1.25 per acre
minimum price set by law, which gave speculators, investors, and developers
another way to acquired large tracts of land cheaply. Land policy became
politicized by competing factions and interests, and the question of slavery
on new lands was contentious. As a counter to land speculators, farmers
formed "claims clubs" to enable them to buy larger tracts than the 160-acre
(0.65 km2) allotments by trading among themselves at controlled prices.
The federal government also began to give away land for
agricultural colleges, Indian reservations, public institutions, and the
construction of railroads. It also gave away land when a territory became
a state, and it gave each state 30,000 acres (120 km2) for each senator
In 1862, Congress passed three important bills that impacted
the land system. The Homestead Act granted 160 acres (0.65 km2) to each
settler who improved the land for five years, to citizens and non-citizens
including squatters, for no more than modest filing fees. If a six months
residency was complied with, the settler then had the option to buy the
parcel at $1.25 per acre. The property could then be sold or mortgaged
and neighboring land acquired if expansion was desired. Though the act
was on the whole successful, the 160-acre (0.65 km2) size of parcels was
not large enough for the needs of Western farmers and ranchers, and it
failed to address the needs of the mining and timber operations as well.
to 80 acres (320,000 m2) because of its perceived higher
value given its proximity to the rail line. Railroads had up to five years
to sell or mortgage their land, after tracks were laid, after which unsold
land could be purchased by anyone. Often railroads sold some of their government
acquired land to homesteaders immediately to encourage settlement and the
growth of markets the railroads would then be able to serve. However, the
railroads were slow to build in some areas, waiting for the population
to grow adequately on its own, before selecting final routes. This caused
a "chicken-and-egg" situation which, in some cases, impeded rather than
hastened settlement. Congress also made loans to the railroads based on
the mileage of rail.
|Early on after the California Gold Rush, the federal
government decided to leave the regulation of mining claims to local governments.
This was reversed by later acts, which helped legitimate land acquisition
for all purposes but which also made it easier for speculators and swindlers,
especially in the timber and ranching industries. Given the necessity of
water for ranching, squabbles over water rights ensued and complicated
the situation. The railroads got much of the best land, and the land available
to homesteaders was not always arable or commercially useful. On the whole,
only about one-third of all Homestead Act claimants actually completed
the process of obtaining title to their land.
The Pacific Railroad Grant provided for the land needed
to build the transcontinental railroad. Since several routes were under
consideration, the amount of land so provided was huge, over 174,000,000
acres (700,000 km2). The land given the railroads alternated with government-owned
tracts saved for distribution to homesteaders. In an effort to be equitable,
the federal government reduced each tract
The Morrill Act provided land grants to states to build
institutions of higher education for agricultural purposes, in an effort
to stimulate rural economic growth and the education programs to support
it. The states would sell the bulk of the land to raise funds to build
The federal government even attempted to forest the prairies
to make better use of undesirable land. Relying on the theory that planting
trees would alter the climate enough to produce the rainfall need to sustain
the forests long term, the government encouraged homesteaders to plant
trees. When the "rain-follows-the-plow program" failed due to drought and
pests, the federal government turned instead to more practical programs
to develop irrigation, though large-scale irrigation projects came decades
later. But by the 1870s, the large land giveaways raised concerns about
the management of remaining public lands, particularly those of unique
value such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and the conservation movement
was born. In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park in the United
States (and in the world).
The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 finally hastened the
transition of the transcontinental railroad from dream to reality. Existing
rail lines, particularly belonging to the Union Pacific, had already reached
westward to Omaha, Nebraska, about half way across the continent. The Central
Pacific, starting in Sacramento, California, was extended eastward across
the Sierras to link with the Union Pacific heading west. The two finally
met at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. Leland Stanford, one of
the prime backers of the Central Pacific, hammered the golden spike in
triumph, linking the two lines. A cross-country trip was reduced from about
four months to one week by the completion of the railroad.
Building the railroad required six main activities: surveying
the route, blasting a right of way, building tunnels and bridges, clearing
and laying the roadbed, laying the ties and rails, and maintaining and
supplying the crews with food and tools. The work was highly labor intensive,
using mostly plows, scrapers, picks, axes, chisels, sledgehammers, and
handcarts. A few steam-driven machines, such as shovels, were employed
as well. Each iron rail weighed 700 lb (320 kg). and required five men
to lift. For blasting, they used gunpowder, nitroglycerine, and limited
amounts of dynamite. The Central Pacific employed over 12,000 Chinese workers,
90 percent of the work force. The Union Pacific employed mostly Irishmen.
The crews averaged about two miles (3 km) of new track per day but they
were driven to do more. Each man lifted a few tons a day of weight. In
the haste to complete the project, engineering errors caused collapsing
roadbeds and badly graded curves. Substandard rails and ties were also
serious problems. The defects became even more apparent with freight runs,
causing many accidents, and the line eventually required millions of dollars
to repair and replace bad track.
The worst corruption revolved around George Francis Train's
Crédit Mobilier, the construction company for the Union Pacific,
which, according to author Richard White, drew in "dozens of congressmen,
a secretary of the treasury, two vice-presidents, a leading presidential
contender, and an eventual president. It caused a scandal that remained
an issue in four presidential elections". Train's other enterprises, including
the Credit Foncier of America, Train Town and Omaha's Cozzens Hotel, succeeded,
further burnishing Train's image. While the Central Pacific-Union Pacific
railroad succeeded, other transcontinental projects failed to reach the
Pacific coast until many years later. The most notorious was the Northern
Pacific project which failed to sell its bonds, resulting in the collapse
of the Jay Cooke and Company investment house and helping to trigger the
financial Panic of 1873. The most profitable of the transcontinental lines
was the Great Northern railroad which ran along the northern tier of the
United States, providing freight service to the Northwest. The cost of
moving freight on the Great Northern was 2.88 cents per ton early on, falling
to less than. 80 cents by 1907.
|With grants and loans, the federal government stimulated
the land and capital acquisition needed for the project. Leland Stanford,
former governor and part of a group of businessmen known as the "Big Four",
sold stock and bonds in the enterprise to finance construction, with the
help of Wall Street money men like Jay Gould who connected with investors
in the United States and Europe. The enterprise was considered risky, given
the high construction costs, and the bonds need to yield high interest
(similar to today's "junk bonds") to be attractive to investors. The huge
dollars involved in the project and the participation of so many groups
out to profit resulted in substantial corruption and influence peddling.
The owners of both construction companies, using mostly "other people's
money", insured their own profits with shady dealing and with slush funds
used to bribe government officials.
The meeting of the lines on May 10, 1869
Despite the engineering problems and political scandals,
the transcontinental railroad was a big success in helping to open up the
West. In the first year, 150,000 passengers made the trip for "pleasure,
health, or business" and enjoyed the "luxurious cars and eating houses"
as advertised by the Union Pacific. Settlers were encouraged with promotions
to come West on scouting trips to buy land near the line and to use the
rails for freight needs. The railroads had "Immigration Bureaus" which
advertised the "promised land" abroad. Railroad "Land Departments" sold
land on easy terms. The Great Plains, a harder "sell" than California or
Oregon, was promoted as "prairie which is ready for the plow" and "a flowery
meadow" only requiring "diligent labor and economy to ensure an early reward."
The transcontinental railroad spurred the development
of trunk and feeder lines and the rapid growth of Omaha specifically, creating
a rail network extending from the city that eventually reached over most
of the West. The railroads made possible the transformation of the United
States from an agrarian society to a modern industrial nation. Not only
did they bring eastern products west and agricultural products east, but
they also helped the establishment of western branches of eastern companies.
Mail order businesses grew rapidly, bringing city products to rural families,
sometimes dominating local companies and forcing them out of business.
The building and the operation of railroads, which required vast amounts
of coal and lumber, spurred the timber and mining industries. Most industries
benefited from the lower costs of transportation and the expanding markets
made possible by the railroads. Railroads also had a profound social effect.
Rail travel brought immigrant families to the West as women were less intimidated
by the rail journey west than by wagon. The greater numbers of women and
children migrating west helped stabilize and tame some of the wild frontier
towns, as these settlers organized and demanded schools, law enforcement,
churches, and other institutions supportive of family life.
Life on the Frontier
Migration after the Civil War
conditions. The major exception was the Mormons, who sought
a religious and economic Utopia, free of persecution, which would allow
their entire community to thrive. In many cases, migrants sank their roots
in communities of similar religious and ethnic backgrounds. For example,
many Finns went to Minnesota and Michigan, Swedes to South Dakota, Norwegians
to North Dakota, Irish to Montana, Chinese to San Francisco, German Mennonites
in Kansas, and German Jews to Portland, Oregon.
|After the Civil War, many from the East Coast and Europe
were lured west by reports from relatives and by extensive advertising
campaigns promising "the Best Prairie Lands", "Low Prices", "Large Discounts
For Cash", and "Better Terms Than Ever!". The new railroads provided the
opportunity for migrants to go out and take a look, with special "land
exploring tickets", the cost of which could be applied to land purchases
offered by the railroads. As one farm wife stated, "There's nothing up
there but Indians and rattlesnakes and blue northers and prairie fires".
The truth was that farming the plains was indeed more difficult than back
east. Water management was more critical, lightning fires were more prevalent,
the weather was more extreme, rainfall was less predictable.
Most migrants, however, put those concerns aside. Their
chief motivation to move west was to find a better economic life than the
one they had. Farmers sought larger and more fertile areas; merchants and
tradesman new customers and less competitive markets; laborers higher paying
work and better
Migration after the Civil War
The California Gold Rush set off large migrations of Hispanic
and Asian people which continued after the Civil War. Chinese migrants,
many of whom were impoverished peasants, provided the major part of the
workforce for the building of Central Pacific portion of the transcontinental
railroad. They also worked in mining, agriculture, and small businesses,
and many lived in San Francisco. Significant numbers of Japanese also arrived
in California. Some migrants intended to make their fortune and return
home and others sought to stay and start a new life.
|Many Hispanics who had been living in the former territories
of New Spain, lost their land rights to fraud and governmental action when
Texas, New Mexico, and California were formed. In some cases, Hispanics
were simply driven off their land. In Texas, the situation was most acute,
as the "Tejanos", who made up about 75% of the population, ended up as
laborers employed by the large white ranches which took over their land.
In New Mexico, only six percent of all claims by Hispanics were confirmed
by the Claims Court. As a result, many Hispanics became permanently migrating
workers, seeking seasonal employment in farming, mining, ranching, and
on the railroads. Border towns sprang up with barrios of intense poverty.
In response, some Hispanics joined labor unions, and in a few cases, led
revolts. The California "Robin Hood", Joaquin Murieta, led a gang in the
1850s which burned houses, killed miners, and robbed stagecoaches. In Texas,
Juan Cortina led a 20-year campaign against Texas land grabbers and the
Texas Rangers, starting around 1859. Instead of the reality of Hispanic
life, in the United States the public's image became one of quaint peasants
happy with their lot.
Among the first African-Americans to arrive in the West
were deserting sailors and slaves of white prospectors who came during
the California Gold Rush, numbering about four thousand by 1860. However,
the number of blacks in the West remained at only a few thousand throughout
the 19th century. Blacks did participate in nearly all segments of Western
society but many lived in segregated communities. They served in expeditions
that mapped the West and as fur traders, miners, cowboys, Indian fighters,
scouts, woodsmen, farm hands, saloon workers, cooks, and outlaws. The famed
Buffalo Soldiers were members of the Negro regiments of the U.S. Army and
they played a substantial role in fighting the Plains Indians and the Apache
in Arizona. Relatively few freed slaves, known as "Exodusters", became
prairie settlers in all-black towns like Nicodemus, KS.
Bison versus cattle
The rise of the cattle industry and the cowboy is directly
tied to the demise of the huge bison herds of the Great Plains. Once numbering
over 25 million, bison were a vital resource animal for the Plains Indians,
providing food, hides for clothing and shelter, and bones for implements.
Drought, loss of habitat, disease, and over-hunting steadily reduced the
herds through the 19th century to the point of near extinction. Overland
trails and growing settlements began to block the free movement of the
herds to feeding and breeding areas. Initially, commercial hunters sought
bison to make "pemmican", a mixture of pounded buffalo meat, fat, and berries,
which was a long-lasting food used by trappers and other outdoorsmen. Not
only did white hunters impact the herds, but Indians who arrived from the
East also contributed to their reduction. Adding to the kill was the wanton
slaughter of bison by sportsmen, migrants, and soldiers. Shooting bison
from passing trains was common sport. However, the greatest negative effect
on the herds was the huge markets opened up by the completion of the transcontinental
railroad. Hides in great quantities were tanned into leather and fashioned
into clothing and furniture. Killing far exceeded market requirements,
reaching over one million per year. As many as five bison were killed for
each one that reached market, and most of the meat was left to rot on the
plains and at trackside after removal of the hides. Skulls were often ground
for fertilizer. A skilled hunter could kill over 100 bison in a day.
|By the 1870s, the great slaughter of bison had a major
impact on the Plains Indians, dependent on the animal both economically
and spiritually. Soldiers of the U.S. Army deliberately encouraged and
abetted the killing of bison as part of the campaigns against the Sioux
and Pawnee, in an effort to deprive them of their resource animal and to
The sharp decline of the herds of the Plains created a
vacuum which was exploited by the growing cattle industry. Spanish cattlemen
had introduced cattle ranching and longhorn cattle to the Southwest in
the 17th century, and the men who worked the ranches, called "vaqueros",
were the first "cowboys" in the West. After the Civil War?with railheads
available at Abilene, Kansas City, Dodge City, and Wichita?Texas ranchers
raised large herds of longhorn cattle and drove them north along the Western,
Chisholm, and Shawnee trails. The cattle were slaughtered in Chicago, St.
Louis, and Kansas City. The Chisholm Trail, laid out by cattleman Joseph
McCoy along an old trail marked by Jesse Chisholm, was the major artery
of cattle commerce, carrying over 1.5 million head of cattle between 1867
and 1871 over the 800 miles (1,300 km) from south Texas to Abilene, Kansas.
The long drives were treacherous, especially crossing water such as the
Brazos and the Red River and when they had to fend off Indians and rustlers
looking to make off with their cattle. A typical drive would take three
to four months and contained two miles (3 km) of cattle six abreast. Despite
the risks, the long Texas drives proved very profitable and attracted investors
from the United States and abroad. The price of one head of cattle raised
in Texas was about $4 but was worth more than $40 back East.
Photograph from the mid-1870s of a pile
of American bison skulls to be
ground into fertilizer.
By the 1870s and 1880s, cattle ranches expanded further
north into new grazing grounds and replaced the bison herds in Wyoming,
Montana, Colorado, Nebraska and the Dakota territory, using the rails to
ship to both coasts. Many of the largest ranches were owned by Scottish
and English financiers. The single largest cattle ranch in the entire West
was owned by American John W. Iliff, "cattle king of the Plains", operating
in Colorado and Wyoming. Gradually, longhorns were replaced by the American
breeds of Hereford and Angus, introduced by settlers from the Northwest.
Though less hardy and more disease-prone, these breeds produced better
tasting beef and matured faster.
Then disaster struck the cattle industry. A terribly severe
winter engulfed the plains toward the end of 1886 and well into 1887, locking
the prairie grass under ice and crusted snow which starving herds couldn’t
penetrate. After their livestock died by the thousands, great syndicates
and “barons”, already under pressure from declining prices and tightening
credit, were financially ruined. Many of them had spent much more each
year than they made in order to expand their land and cattle empires, but
now they were forced to liquidate most of their remaining holdings just
to pay for living expenses and to help satisfy a host of demanding creditors.
Sheep grazing took over as sheep were easier to feed and
needed less water. However, sheep also helped cause ecological changes
that enabled foreign grasses to invade the Plains and also caused increased
erosion. Open range cattle ranching came to an end and was replaced by
barbed wire spreads where water, breeding, feeding, and grazing could be
controlled. This led to "fence wars" which erupted over disputes about
water rights. Cattlemen and sheep ranchers sometimes engaged in violence
against each other as did large and small cattle ranchers, culminating
in the Johnson County War.
fairly and successfully in the absence of law officers and
judges, more often than not vigilantism was motivated by bigotry and base
emotion and produced imperfect justice directed at those considered socially
inferior. Indian hunting and race riots against the Chinese were severe
manifestations of vigilantism.
Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and others
n the Dodge City Peace Commission
|Anchoring the booming cattle industry of the 1860s and
1870s were the cattle towns in Kansas and Missouri. Like the mining towns
in California and Nevada, cattle towns such as Abilene, Dodge City, and
Ellsworth experienced a short period of boom and bust lasting about five
years. The cattle towns would spring up as land speculators would rush
in ahead of a proposed rail line and build a town and the supporting services
attractive to the cattlemen and the cowboys. If the railroads complied,
the new grazing ground and supporting town would secure the cattle trade.
However, unlike the mining towns which in many cases became ghost towns
and ceased to exist after the ore played out, cattle towns often evolved
from cattle to farming and continued on after the grazing lands were exhausted.
In some cases, resistance by moral reformers and alliances of businessmen
drove the cattle trade out of town. Ellsworth, on the other hand, floundered
as the result of Indian raids, floods, and cholera.
The early years of male-dominated life in cattle towns
gave way to a more balanced community of farm families and small businesses
as the boom passed. Though lawlessness, prostitution, and gambling were
significant in cattle towns, especially early on, the greed factor in the
mining towns added an extra element of danger and violence. Since these
towns grew rapidly, law and order often took a while to establish itself.
Vigilante justice did occur, but in many cases, it subsided when adequate
police forces were appointed. While some vigilante committees served the
A contemporary eyewitness of Hays City, Kansas paints
a vivid image of a cattle town:
To control violence, sometimes cowboys were segregated into
brothel districts away from the main part of town. Cattle rustling was
a serious offense sometimes punished by lynching. However, free-shooting
brawls, also known as "hurrahing", were not as frequent as in the movies.
In Wichita, handguns were outlawed within city limits and in many towns
some form of gun control existed. Also unlike in the movies, marshals rarely
shot outlaws, especially in the middle of Main Street in a showdown. Famed
lawmen such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok, and less
remembered ones like Michael Meagher, Thomas James Smith, and Bill Tilghman
actually averaged only one or two killings in a year.
|"Hays City by lamplight was remarkably lively, but not
very moral. The streets blazed with a reflection from saloons, and a glance
within showed floors crowded with dancers, the gaily dressed women striving
to hide with ribbons and paint the terrible lines which that grim artist,
Dissipation, loves to draw upon such faces... To the music of violins and
the stamping of feet the dance went on, and we saw in the giddy maze old
men who must have been pirouetting on the very edge of their graves."
Code of the West
A new code of behavior was becoming acceptable in the
West. People no longer had a duty to retreat when threatened. This was
a departure from British common law that said you must have your back to
the wall before you could protect yourself with deadly force. In 1876 an
Ohio court held if attacked you were not “obligated to fly”. The Indiana
Supreme Court upheld the legality of “no duty to retreat”. The code of
the West dictated that a man did not have to back away from a fight. He
could also pursue an adversary even if it resulted in death. He needed
to retreat no further than “the air at his back”.
In reality, the main activity of law enforcement in cattle
towns was knocking down drunks and hauling them away before they hurt themselves
or others, somewhat akin to naval military police controlling shore leave.
They also disarmed cowboys who violated gun control edicts, tried to prevent
dueling, and dealt with flagrant breaches of gambling and prostitution
ordinances. When the cattle were not in town, Wyatt Earp and other lawmen
might be heading up street repair projects or doing other civic chores,
or tending to their own business interests.
Most justices of the peace were poorly schooled in law,
politically corrupt, and depended on assessing fees and fines to make a
living. The better ones ruled by common sense and experience, but could
be inconsistent as they did not refer to statutes to guide their rulings.
Federal judges tended to have better qualifications and were more inclined
to follow written law. However, the West also inherited the Anglo-American
system of jury trials for serious cases in spite of the fact that most
potential jurors were biased by their personal relationships and acquaintances
and/or struggling to make ends meet, a combination which made honest and
impartial jurors difficult to find in the best of circumstances.
Some of the banditry of the West was carried out by Mexicans
and Indians against white targets of opportunity along the U.S. – Mexico
border, particularly in Texas, Arizona, and California. Pancho Villa, after
leaving his father's employ, took up the life of banditry in Durango and
later in the state of Chihuahua. He was caught several times for crimes
ranging from banditry to horse thievery and cattle rustling but, through
influential connections, was always able to secure his release. Villa later
became a controversial revolutionary folk hero, leading a band of Mexican
raiders in attacks against various regimes and was sought after by the
U.S. government. The second major type of banditry was conducted by the
infamous outlaws of the West, including Jesse James, Billy the Kid, the
Dalton Gang, Black Bart, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch and hundreds
of others who preyed on banks, trains, and stagecoaches. Some of the outlaws,
such as Jesse James, were products of the violence of the Civil War (James
had ridden with Quantrill's Raiders) and others became outlaws during hard
times in the cattle industry. Many were misfits and drifters who roamed
the West avoiding the law. When outlaw gangs were near, towns would raise
a posse (like in the movies) to attempt to drive them away or capture them.
Seeing that the need to combat the gunslingers was a growing business opportunity,
Allan Pinkerton ordered his detective agency to open branches out West,
and they got into the business of pursuing and capturing outlaws, like
the James Gang, Butch Cassidy, Sam Bass, and dozens of others. Pinkerton
devised the "rogues gallery" and employed a systematic method for identifying
bodies of criminals.
Central to the myth and the reality of the West is the
American cowboy. His real life was a hard one and revolved around two annual
roundups, spring and fall, the subsequent drives to market, and the time
off in the cattle towns spending his hard earned money on food, clothing,
gambling, and prostitution. During winter, many cowboys hired themselves
out to ranches near the cattle towns, where they repaired and maintained
equipment and buildings. On a long drive, there was usually one cowboy
for each 250 head of cattle.
Before a drive, a cowboy's duties included riding out
on the range and bringing together the scattered cattle. The best cattle
would be selected, roped, and branded, and most male cattle were castrated.
The cattle also needed to be dehorned and examined and treated for infections.
On the long drives, the cowboys had to keep the cattle moving and in line.
The cattle had to be watched day and night as they were prone to stampedes
and straying. The work days often lasted fourteen hours, with just six
hours of sleep. It was grueling, dusty work, with just a few minutes of
relaxation before and at the end of a long day. On the trail, drinking,
gambling, brawling, and even cursing was often prohibited and fined. It
was often monotonous and boring work. Food was barely adequate and consisted
mostly of bacon, beans, bread, coffee, dried fruit, and potatoes. On average,
cowboys earned $30 to $40 per month. Because of the heavy physical and
emotional toll, it was unusual for a cowboy to spend more than seven years
on the range. As open range ranching and the long drives gave way to fenced
in ranches in the 1880s, the glory days of the cowboy came to an end, and
the myths about the "free living" cowboy began to emerge.
Many of the cowboys were veterans of the Civil War, particularly
from the Confederacy, who returned to ruined home towns and found no future,
so they went west looking for opportunities. Some were Blacks, Hispanics,
Native Americans, and even Britons. Nearly all were in their twenties or
teens. The earliest cowboys in Texas learned their trade, adapted their
clothing, and took their jargon from the Mexican vaqueros or "buckaroos",
the heirs of Spanish cattlemen from Andalusia in Spain. Chaps, the heavy
protective leather trousers worn by cowboys, got their name from the Spanish
"chaparreras", and the rope was derived from "la reata". All the distinct
clothing of the cowboy—boots, saddles, hats, pants, chaps, slickers, bandannas,
gloves, and collar-less shirts—were practical and adaptable, designed for
protection and comfort. The cowboy hat quickly developed the capability,
even in the early years, to identify its wearer as someone associated with
the West. The most enduring fashion adapted from the cowboy, popular nearly
worldwide today, are "blue jeans", originally made by Levi Strauss for
miners in 1850. It was the cowboy hat, however, that came to symbolize
the American West.
The modern rodeo or "Frontier Day" show is the only American
sport to evolve from an industry. It exists on both the amateur and professional
level, and it remains a favorite form of entertainment in many towns of
the West. Rodeos combine the traditional skills of the range cowboy — calf
and steer roping, steer wrestling, team roping, bronco riding, and horsemanship
with the showmanship of bull riding, and barrel racing.
Warfare on the Frontier
Military forts and outposts
enough to provide their own law enforcement, most frontier
forts were abandoned. Fort Omaha, Nebraska was home to the Department of
the Platte, and was responsible for outfitting most Western posts for more
than 20 years after its founding in the late 1870s. Fort Huachuca in Arizona
was also originally a frontier post which is still in use by the United
States Army. During the Mexican Revolution, the United States was forced
to build a new series of twelve forts for protection along the Mexican-American
border. Fort Naco in Naco, Arizona was one of these. At this time in the
southwest United States, towns were still being established and all wilderness
was still considered frontier.
Fort Bowie in 1893
|As the frontier moved westward, the establishment of
U.S. military forts moved with it, representing and maintaining federal
sovereignty over new territories. The military garrisons usually lacked
defensible walls but were seldom attacked. They served as bases for troops
at or near strategic areas, particularly for counteracting the Indian presence.
For example, Fort Bowie protected Apache Pass in southern Arizona along
the mail route between Tucson and El Paso and was used to launch attacks
against Cochise and Geronimo. Fort Bowie was established after the Battle
of Apache Pass, one of several Civil War era engagements to occur in the
Arizona frontier, it was a walled fort. Fort Laramie and Fort Kearny helped
protect immigrants crossing the Great Plains and a series of posts in California
protected miners. Forts were constructed to launch attacks against the
Sioux. As Indian reservations sprang up, the military set up forts to protect
them. Forts also guarded the Union Pacific and other rail lines. Other
important forts were Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Fort Snelling,
Minnesota, Fort Union Montana, Fort Worth, Texas, and Fort Walla Walla
in Washington. By the 1890s, with the threat from Indian nations eliminated,
and with migrant populations increasing
|As settlement sped up across the West after the transcontinental
railroad was completed, clashes with Native Americans of the Plains and
southwest reached a final phase. The military's mission was to clear the
land of free-roaming Indians and put them onto reservations. The stiff
resistance after the Civil War of battle-hardened, well-armed Indian warriors
resulted in the Indian Wars.
In the Apache and Navajo Wars, Colonel Christopher "Kit"
Carson fought the Apache around the reservations in 1862. Skirmishes between
the U.S. and Apaches continued until the 1890s. Kit Carson used a scorched
earth policy in the Navajo campaign, burning Navajo fields and homes, and
capturing or killing their livestock. He was aided by other Indian tribes
with long-standing enmity toward the Navajos, chiefly the Utes. He later
fought a combined force of Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne to a draw at the
First Battle of Adobe Walls, but he managed to destroy the Indian village
and winter supplies. On June 27, 1874 'Bat' Masterson and a small group
of buffalo hunters fought a much larger Indian force at the Second Battle
of Adobe Walls.
after the skirmish in Arizona locally called the Battle
of Bear Valley. In the fight, the 10th Cavalry captured a group of Yaquis
and killed their chief. In 1907 two soldiers from Fort Wingate, New Mexico
skirmished with Navajo rifleman and in 1911 they quelled an uprising in
Chaco Canyon. Also in 1911 the Last Massacre occurred when a family of
hostile Shoshones killed three ranchers in Nevada. A posse was formed and
after an engagement popularly called the Battle of Kelly Creek, the Shoshone
family of twelve was mostly killed with the exception of three children.
Chief Sitting Bull
|Red Cloud's War was led by the Lakota chief Makhpyia
luta (Red Cloud) against the military who were erecting forts along the
Bozeman trail. It was the most successful campaign against the U.S. during
the Indian Wars. By the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), the U.S. granted
a large reservation to the Lakota, without military presence or oversight,
no settlements, and no reserved road building rights. The reservation included
the entire Black Hills.
Captain Jack was a chief of the Native American Modoc
tribe of California and Oregon, and was their leader during the Modoc War.
With 53 Modoc warriors, Captain Jack held off 1,000 men of the U.S. Army
for 7 months. Captain Jack killed Edward Canby.
The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 was conducted by the Lakota
under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The conflict began after repeated violations
of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) once gold was discovered in the hills.
One of its famous battles was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which
combined Sioux and Cheyenne forces defeated the 7th Cavalry, led by General
George Armstrong Custer.
The end of the Sioux Wars came at the Wounded Knee Massacre
on December 29, 1890 where Sitting Bull's half-brother, Big Foot, and some
200 Sioux were killed by the 7th Cavalry. Only thirteen days before, Sitting
Bull had been killed with his son Crow Foot in a gun battle with a group
of Indian police that had been sent by the American government to arrest
Other engagements between Americans and native Americans
occurred after the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 which is considered
the final trial of the American Indian Wars. The period came to an end
|The Arizona War was a dispute between Wyatt Earp, his
brothers, Doc Holliday and an outlaw gang known as the Cowboys, led by
Ike Clanton. The first bloodshed of the conflict came at the famous Gunfight
at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. The fight occurred at the frontier
town of Tombstone, Arizona and left three people dead and three wounded.
Wyatt Earp's brother, Morgan Earp, was assassinated soon after in Tombstone.
In December 1881, Virgil Earp escaped an assassin's bullet while he walked
Tombstone's streets. Eventually Wyatt Earp would kill Frank Stilwell in
Tucson, Arizona, leading to the Earp Vendetta Ride and the Gunfight at
Iron Springs. The death of deputy Johnny Ringo in Turkery Creek Canyon
was also attributed to the Earps and Doc Holliday. Several other Old West
gunfighters participated in the feud, including Sherman McMasters, Jack
Johnson, Texas Jack Vermillion, William Brocius and Pony Diehl. Dave Rudabaugh
may also have fought along side Curly Bill Brocius at the Iron Springs
Tombstone, Arizona in 1891
Oklahoma land rush
In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison authorized the opening
of 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2) of unoccupied lands in the Oklahoma territory
acquired from the native tribes. On April 22, over 100,000 settlers and
cattlemen (known as "boomers") lined up at the border, and with the army's
guns and bugles giving the signal, began a mad dash into the newly opened
land to stake their claims (Land Run of 1889). A witness wrote, "The horsemen
had the best of it from the start. It was a fine race for a few minutes,
but soon the riders began to spread out like a fan, and by the time they
reached the horizon they were scattered about as far as the eye could see".
In a day, the towns of Oklahoma City, Norman, and Guthrie came into existence.
In the same manner, millions of acres of additional land was opened up
and settled in the following four years.
Johnson County War
|The Johnson County War was a range war which took place
in Johnson County, Wyoming, in the Powder River Country in April 1892.
The large ranches were organized as the Wyoming Stock Growers Association
(the WSGA) and hired killers from Texas; an expedition of 50 men was organized,
which proceeded by train from Cheyenne to Casper, Wyoming, then toward
Johnson County, intending to eliminate alleged rustlers and also, apparently,
to replace the government in Johnson County. After initial hostilities,
the sheriff of Johnson County raised a posse of 200 men and set out for
the ruffians' location. The posse led by the sheriff besieged the invading
force at the TA Ranch on Crazy Woman Creek. After two days, one of the
invaders escaped and was able to contact the acting governor of Wyoming.
Frantic efforts to save the besieged invaders ensued, and telegraphs to
Washington resulted in intervention by President Benjamin Harrison. The
Sixth Cavalry from Fort McKinney was ordered to proceed to the TA ranch
and take custody of the invaders and save them from the posse. In the end,
the invaders went free after the court venue was changed and the charges
"The Invaders" of
The Johnson County Cattle War.
Photo Taken at Fort D.A. Russell
near Cheyenne, Wyoming May 1892.
Closing out the century
Poster for Buffalo Bill Wild West Show
|In his highly influential Frontier Thesis in 1893, Frederick
Jackson Turner concluded that the frontier was all but gone. (But with
the discovery of gold in the Klondike in 1896, a new frontier was opened
up in the vast northern territory. Alaska became known as "the last frontier".)
After the eleventh U.S. Census was taken in 1890, the superintendent announced
that there was no longer a clear line of advancing settlement, and hence
no longer a frontier in the continental United States. The West was finally
conquered, achieving Manifest Destiny, in less than one hundred years after
the frontier breached the Mississippi River. By century's end, the population
of the West had reached an average of two people per square mile, which
was enough to be considered "settled". Towns and cities began to grow around
industrial centers, transportation hubs, and farming areas. In 1880, San
Francisco dwarfed all other Western cities with a population of nearly
250,000. Over opposition from mining and timber interests, the federal
government began to take steps to preserve and manage the remaining public
land and resources, hence exercising more control over the affairs of Westerners.
The mythologizing of the West began with minstrel shows
and popular music in the 1840s. During the same period, P. T. Barnum presented
Indian chiefs, dances, and other Wild West exhibits in his museums, However,
large scale awareness really took off when the dime novel appeared in 1859,
the first being Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. By simplifying
reality and grossly exaggerating the truth, the novels captured the public's
attention with sensational tales of violence and heroism, and fixed in
the public's mind stereotypical images of heroes and villains—courageous
cowboys and savage Indians, virtuous lawmen and ruthless outlaws, brave
settlers and predatory cattlemen. Millions of copies and thousands of titles
were sold. The novels relied on a series of predictable literary formulas
appealing to mass tastes and were often written in as little as a few days.
The most successful of all dime novels was Edward S. Ellis' Seth Jones
(1860). Ned Buntline's stories glamorized Buffalo Bill Cody and Edward
L. Wheeler created "Deadwood Dick", "Hurricane Nell", and "Calamity Jane".
|Buffalo Bill Cody grabbed the opportunity to hop on his
own bandwagon and to promote his own legend as well as other Western stereotypes.
He presented the first "Wild West" show in 1883, creating a caricature
of the Old West with skits and demonstrations by Indians and cowboys hired
for the occasion. He offered feats of roping, marksmanship, and riding,
including those of sure-shooting Annie Oakley. Cody took his show to Europe
and was wildly received, further spreading the myth of the West to nations
Toward the close of the century, magazines like Harper's
Weekly featured illustrations by artists Frederic Remington, Charles M.
Russell, and others, and married them to action-filled stories by writers
like Owen Wister, together conveying vivid images of the Old West to the
public.[ Remington lamented the passing of an era he helped to chronicle
when he wrote, "I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to
vanish forever...I saw the living, breathing end of three American centuries
of smoke and dust and sweat."
The discovery, exploration, settlement, exploitation,
and conflicts of the "American Old West" form a unique tapestry of events,
which has been celebrated by Americans and foreigners alike—in art, music,
dance, novels, magazines, short stories, poetry, theater, video games,
movies, radio, television, song, and oral tradition—which continues in
the modern era.
Alfred L. Kroeber with Ishi in 1911.
Ishi is believed to be the last
Native American in Northern California
to have lived the bulk of his life completely
outside the European American culture.
|In 1910 the last conflict of the Old West began when
Mexican Carrancistas rebelled against their government. Fighting spread
all across Mexico and along the Mexican-American border several battles
were fought between American soldiers and citizens against Mexicans. On
many different occasions Mexican bandits crossed the border and raided
American settlements. Also, thousands of Americans joined the rebellion
in Mexico and fought at all of the major engagements in the north including
the Battle of Ciudad Juarez in 1911 and Siege of Naco in 1914 and early
1915. In 1916 an army of American cavalry invaded Mexico during the Pancho
Villa Expedition. By the end of the revolution and World War I the Old
West era came to an end with the rise of modern society in the region.
American Magonistas who fought
at the battles for Tijuana in 1911.