The Conquest of the Far West p.430-456

               Sitting Bull                       George Armstrong Custer                    Chief Joseph

Chapter 16 Study Guide

Far from being empty and unknown, significant parts of what would become the western United States were populated by Indians and Mexicans long before the post-Civil War boom in Anglo-European settlement.  Even after the waves of white occupation and in face of significant prejudice from those whites, large numbers of Mexicans and Asian Americans continued to live in the West. White settlement developed in initial boom and decline patterns in three industries that would do much to shape the region in the long run: mining, ranching, and commercial agriculture.  Asians, Mexicans, and African Americans provided much of the labor force for these industries. In the late nineteenth century, the South and West were underdeveloped regions with an almost colonial relationship to the industrial, heavily populated Northeast and Midwest.  Except for a few pockets in the far West, the frontier line of agricultural settlement in 1860 stopped at the eastern edge of the Great Plains.  Hostile Plains Indians and an unfamiliar environment combined to discourage advance.  By the end of the century, the Indian barrier to white settlement had been removed, cattlemen and miners had spearheaded development, and railroads had brought farmers, who, despite nagging difficulties, had made significant adaptations to the Great Plains.

1862 Homestead Act makes free land available. Morrill Act authorizes "land-grant" colleges.

1866 Texas cattle drives begin.

1868-74 Midwestern states pass "Granger" laws to regulate railroads.

1869 Transcontinental railroad completed.

1870 John D. Rockefeller incorporates Standard Oil Company of Ohio.

1872 Thomas Edison invents the stock ticker.

1873 Panic of 1873 ushers in five-year depression.Supreme Court decides Slaughterhouse Cases.

1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone.

1877 Supreme Court decides Munn v. Illinois.

1879 Edison invents the incandescent lightbulb.

1882 Economic downturn begins and lasts three years. Edison's electric company lights Wall Street. Rockefeller?s Standard Oil Company becomes the nation's first trust. Nineteenth-century immigration to the United States peaks.

1883 Railroads divide the United States into standard time zones.

1885 Supreme Court decides Wabash v. Illinois.

1886-87 Severe winter and drought cycle in the West cause collapse of cattle boom.

1887 Passage of the Interstate Commerce Act.Hatch Act establishes agricultural experiment stations.

1889 New Jersey passes law legalizing holding companies.

1890 Congress passes the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.Superintendent of the census announces the closing of the frontier.

1893 Stock market panic precipitates severe depression, lasting until 1897.

American Identity:
This chapter is important for raising three issues: the experience of Native Americans during the white settlement of the West; the opening of the American political system to women; and the struggle of Asian immigrants and Hispanics in western development.

Demographic Changes: The heart of this story is one of migration. White settlers moved west, and then reversed that trend as farming declined. Opportunity lured Chinese and other Asians to America. American Indians under pressure from white settlement and federal policy were forced to move repeatedly.

Economic Transformations: The West underwent several economic transformations. One way to think of this is as a succession of opportunities in mining, ranching, and farming. Overall, the West, like the East, was industrializing in the national economic context.

In his Frontier Thesis Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the frontier, with its vast resources, promoted waste. Consumption, not conservation, was central to western development. Once an area satisfied immediate economic goals, it was abandoned.

Digital History

Closing the Western Frontier

In 1860, most Americans considered the Great Plains the Great American Desert. Settlement west of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana averaged just 1 person per square mile. The only parts of the Far West that were highly settled were California and Texas. Between 1865 and the 1890s, however, Americans settled 430 million acres in the Far West--more land than during the preceding 250 years of American history. By 1893, the Census Bureau was able to claim that the entire western frontier was now occupied. The discovery of gold, silver, and other precious minerals in California in 1849, in Nevada and Colorado in the 1850s, in Idaho and Montana in 1860s, and South Dakota in the 1870s sparked an influx of prospectors and miners. The expansion of railroads and the invention of barbed wire and improvements in windmills and pumps attracted ranchers and farmers to the Great Plains in the 1860s and 1870s. This chapter examines the forces that drove Americans westward; the kinds of lives they established in the Far West; and the rise of the "West of the imagination," the popular myths that continue to exert a powerful hold on mass culture.

Biography of America

The West (series 16)
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.

Lecture Outlines 

The American West 1860-1890


Tragedy of the Plains Indians

Closing the Western Frontier