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CHAPTER 17: The Transformation of the Trans-Mississippi West


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Title: CHAPTER 17: The Transformation of the Trans-Mississippi West

CHAPTER 17 The Transformation of
the Trans-Mississippi West
  • Chapter 17 Transformation of the
  • Trans-Mississippi West, 1860-1900
  • Chapter Essential Questions
  • What roles did the federal government, the army,
    and the railroads play in the settlement of the
  • 2. How was Indian life on the Great Plains
    transformed in the 2nd half of the 19th Century?
  • 3. How did ranchers and settlers displace
    Spanish-speaking Americans in the Southwest?

Native Americans and the Trans-Mississippi West
  • Westward migration destroyed the traditional
    Indian way of life.
  • Native Americans were placed on reservations,
    ending traditional, nomadic cultures
  • Throughout the mid to late 1800s, the Indians
    desperately, but unsuccessfully fought to
    preserve their traditional ways of life.

The Assault on Nomadic Indian Life
  • The 1850s discovery of gold and silver in the
    Rockies brought 1000s of miners, and pressure on
    the US government to make Indian lands available
    to white settlement
  • The governments response was to establish the
    reservation system.
  • Most Indians opposed this the 1860s-1890s was a
    period of constant fighting between Indian tribes
    and the U.S. army.
  • The US Army intentionally slaughtered the bison
    in order to undermine Indian resistance to white
  • By the 1880s, the Plains Indians way of life,
    dependent on the buffalo, was destroyed.

Custers Last Stand
  • Custer was sent into the Black Hills (SD) to
    force all Indians back onto reservations.
  • Custer attacked a force of Sioux and Cheyenne
    Indians encamped on the Little Bighorn River
  • The Indians, led by Chief Sitting Bull, vastly
    outnumbered Custers men and killed them
  • Most Americans, viewed the Indians as uncivilized
    barbarians standing in the way of progress
  • Outraged by the slaughter at Little Bighorn,
    pressure grew for the US government to solve
    the Indian problem to destroy Native American
  • After a five year campaign to destroy the Sioux
    through attacks on villages and food supplies,
    the Sioux were defeated and Sitting Bull was
    forced to surrender.

The Ghost Dance and the End of Indian Resistance
on the Great Plains, 1890
  • Desperate Sioux turned to Wovoka, an Indian
    mystic who promised that their lands would be
    returned to them if they returned to traditional
    ways, exemplified by the Ghost Dance
  • The Ghost Dance movement spread throughout the
    Sioux, unifying Indian resistance US military
    officials believed it needed to be stopped
  • At Wounded Knee (SD), in 1890, a gun fired while
    US cavalry was rounding up 340 starving men,
    women, and children of the Sioux tribe.
  • The soldiers retaliated with cannon fire,
    slaughtering 300 Indians. This slaughter
    effectively ended Plains Indian resistance.

Saving the Indians
  • A vocal minority of Americans were outraged by
    the federal governments flagrant violation of
    its Indian treaties.
  • Humanitarians concluded that the only way to save
    the Indian was to force him to abandon Indian
    culture, settle as farmers, and become
    assimilated into American society
  • Reformers established boarding schools to teach
    Indians trades and American cultural ways
  • The Dawes Act (1887) called for turning Native
    Americans into farmers and landowners.
  • The Dawes called for the distribution of 160
    acres of reservation land for farming or 320
    acres of grazing land to the head of each Indian
  • Rather than focusing on tribal rights, it imposed
    a private property model on Native Americans

The First Transcontinental Railroad
  • Pacific Railroad Act (1862) authorized the
    construction of a transcontinental railroad, with
    separate crews starting east and west moving
    toward each other.
  • Chinese, Irish, Mexican immigrants, and freed
    blacks were the main labor force in the building
    of the railroads
  • May 10, 1869 The Golden Spike is hammered in as
    the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific lines
    meet the transcontinental railroad is complete
    and the trip that once took months could now be
    completed in a week.

The two railroads meet at Promontory Point, 1869
Chinese laborers - Central Pacific RR
Railroad Expansion, Settlement and Govt.
  • The railroad dramatically accelerated the
    settlement of the West
  • Quicker transport of troops made the defeat of
    the Indians easier
  • Quicker transport of wheat and other crops opened
    new markets
  • Easy credit and cheap railroad-owned land drew
    floods of immigrants and migrating Americans to
    the West
  • By 1872, Congress had awarded around 170 million
    acres of land to the railroads as incentives for
    laying track.
  • By 1893, many western states had deeded 20-25 of
    their land to railroads.

Settlers and the Railroad
  • The vast land holdings of the railroads shaped
    the settlement of the west.
  • Building towns along rail lines was a way to
    profit through land sales, and through increased
    freight and passenger traffic that the new towns
  • Railroads advertised heavily to attract settlers
    to their land. The west was promoted as a new
    Garden of Eden. Land bureaus offered easy
    credit, long-term loans and free transportation.
  • Between 1870 and 1900, the railroads helped bring
    nearly 2.2 million foreign settlers to the west.

  • Homesteading on the Great Plains
  • The Homestead Act (1862) offered 160 acres of
    land to any individual who would pay a 10
    registration fee, live on the land for five
    years, cultivate and improve it.
  • Nearly 400,000 families claimed land under the
    Homestead Act, but the law did not function as
    Congress intended.
  • Land fraud was common - speculators, lumber
    companies, and cattle ranchers gained control of
    8 of every 9 acres intended for homesteading
  • Another problem was the 160 acre limit of the
    Homestead Act. In drier climates more land was
    needed for successful farming.

  • New Farming Technology, New Markets
  • Steel plows and new plowing techniques enabled
    farmers who could afford the new machinery to
    produce ten times more than was possible only
    decades earlier.
  • Rapid growth in urban population (400 between
    1870 and 1910) caused skyrocketing demand for
  • High start-up costs for a farm led to dependence
    upon cash crops to repay mortgage loans and
  • Farmers were at the mercy of fluctuating grain
    prices worldwide overproduction or local crop
    failures could quickly bring ruin
  • Farmers were also at the mercy of railroads, who
    controlled the price of shipping their crops

Racism in the Southwestern Frontier
  • As white settlers poured into California, Texas,
    and the Southwest, the legal and property rights
    of Hispanics were often ignored
  • Increasingly, Mexican-Americans were segregated
    into barrios and restricted to low level manual
    labor and migrant labor jobs
  • Similar laws were passed restricting the rights
    of Chinese immigrants to mine or farm

The Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs,
Wyoming by Thure de Thulstrup, 1885
Mining in the West
  • Heavy publicized stories of gold strikes drew
    hundreds of thousands of easterners and
    immigrants west in search of riches
  • In reality, mining is a boom-and-bust economy
  • Few become rich, most remained dirt poor
  • Large corporations, with mechanized mining
    equipment, quickly pushed out solitary miners
    panning or digging by hand
  • Millions of ounces of gold and silver stimulated
    immigration, funded eastern industrial growth,
    and helped move the US into the world economy
  • Progress came at a price the environmental cost
    of extracting ore was staggering (air, water
    pollution, and the destruction of forests)

Cowboys and the Cattle Frontier
  • Encouraged by railroads eager to sell land,
    open-range cattle ranching was promoted as a way
    to get rich quick, and boomed in the 1860s and
  • Profits to herd owners could be huge, but
    unstable market conditions could as easily lead
    to ruin
  • Little of the profit filtered down to the cowboys
    on the cattle drives, whose lives were harsh and
    pay low
  • Barred from many other lines of work, nearly 20
    of the cowboys were black or Mexican
  • By the 1880s, the days of the open range and
    cattle drives had ended a victim of easier rail
    transport and competing demands upon the land

Wheat and Early Agribusiness
  • The Panic of 1873 caused Northern Pacific
    Railroad bonds to plummet. The railroad offered
    land in the Red River Valley of North Dakota in
    exchange for its depreciated bonds
  • Speculators bought up 10,000 acre plots, invested
    heavily in massive farm machinery and gave birth
    to agribusiness
  • Early success inspired migration to North Dakota
    and led to a wheat boom in 1880
  • By 1890, a combination of drought and collapsing
    prices due to world-wide overproduction had
    destroyed profits, leaving large numbers of both
    large-scale and small farms in the Great Plains
    states bankrupt.
  • In contrast, agribusiness was booming in
    California, where fruit and vegetable giants were
    growing, aided by newly developed refrigerated
    train cars, which could ship to midwestern and
    eastern markets without spoilage.

The Oklahoma Land Rush, 1889
  • By the 1880s, land hungry settlers were eyeing
    Indian Territory (Oklahoma), demanding that the
    government open it to farmers
  • In 1889 the government confiscated 2 million
    acres from Native Americans, and opened it to
  • At noon, April 22,1889 thousands of settlers
    stampeded onto the land to stake claims. A number
    of earlier settlers (Sooners) had sneaked onto
    the land illegally and begun claiming and plowing
    the land.

The West of Life and Legend
  • The American frontier was seized upon by critics
    of industrialization, who romanticized the west
    as a place where true American virtues of truth,
    honor, and rugged individualism still existed.
  • The western myth ignored the role played by
    government, railroads, and big business in the
    settlement of the west.
  • The romanticizing of the west did, however, lead
    to the development of the national parks system,
    and the first efforts at environmental

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, by Thomas Moran
Dazzled by its monumental beauty, painters strove
to portray the western landscape as one of Gods
wonders. In the process, they stimulated a new
popular interest in preserving the spectacular
features of the land.