(HRS) The Development of the West, 1865-1900

               Sitting Bull                       George Armstrong Custer                    Chief Joseph

HRS Chapter 17 Study Guide

Chapter 17 begins a series of four chapters that analyze the transition of American society from an agrarian society to an urban, industrialized society. The expansion westward in the late nineteenth century closed the physical frontier that had been part of American society since its beginnings. As in the past, American expansion was carried out at the expense of Indians. Americans were and are an ethnocentric people. They see their civilization, their society, and their value and belief systems as being better than those of other peoples. This ethnocentrism led Americans to believe that they had a right to expand and to impose their values and beliefs on the peoples and societies they encountered. It is this attitude that formed the basis of the failed Dawes Severalty Act.

As Americans sought opportunity in this vast western region, they discovered and developed the riches of the land, thus conquering the natural-resource frontier a prerequisite for the subsequent development of an industrialized economy. Exploitation of the land and its resources for profit raised questions in several areas: (1) who owns the resources private developers or the American people (2) which takes precedence the desire for progress and profit or the desire to protect the natural landscape and (3) who has rights to the precious streams, rivers, and basins of the West only those along their banks or all those who intend a beneficial use of river water?

The natural-resources frontier, especially the mining and lumbering frontiers, produced personalities who enriched American folklore; but reality was far different from folk tales. Most westerners worked long hours as they attempted to eke out an existence for themselves and their families. Women and nonwhites suffered discrimination, especially with the development of racial categories by the dominant Anglo-Americans and European immigrants. Furthermore, although individual initiative was important in the development of the West, individuals usually gave way to corporate interests, which had the capital necessary to undertake the expensive extraction of minerals, timber, and oil. In addition, the federal government, as owner of the western lands, encouraged the development of the area by actively aiding individuals and corporations through measures such as the Timber and Stone Act and the Newlands Reclamation Act.

As frontiers of opportunity were conquered in the West, the expansion of regional and transcontinental railroad lines made possible by generous government subsidies helped create a vast national marketplace. Besides providing nationwide economic opportunities to farmers and industrialists, the railroad altered concepts of time and space, gave rise to new communities, and brought technological reforms as well as organizational reforms that affected modern business practices.

Railroad expansion and Indian removal made possible the successful settlement and development of the farming and ranching frontiers. These frontiers shared the characteristics of the natural-resource frontier: use of public land for private enrichment; the importance of technological innovations to successful development; government promotion of settlement and development; the bowing of the individual to corporate interests; the emergence of a frontier folk culture, especially in relation to the ranching frontier; and contributions to urbanization and to national economic growth and expansion.

Norton (2008). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 8th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 The Rise of Big Business and the Triumph of Industry: 1870-1900

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.

1900 General Electric founds the first formal research lab in American industry.

1901 U.S. Steel becomes the nation's first billion-dollar corporation.

1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright fly the first airplane.

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.

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: APUSH exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

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

Student Assignments 

1860-1890 Legislation ws

Web Links 

Student Learning Center