Continued Western Expansion Standard 5-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the continued westward expansion of the United States. 5-2.1 Analyze the geographic and economic factors that influenced westward expansion and the ways that these factors affected travel and settlement, including physical features of the land; the climate and natural resources; and land ownership and other economic opportunities. Mountain ranges, rivers, and deserts formed obstacles to westward migration. Pioneers traveled to embarkation points such as St. Louis, which came to be called the “Gateway to the West.” From there they traveled by covered wagon across trails that had originally been created by Native Americans. Explorers and mountain men followed the Native American trails and wrote guidebooks that helped to show the way to those missionaries and then pioneers who came afterwards. The trails became increasingly marked as more and more migrants traveled along these paths. After the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad provided a way for those who had the means to travel to the West.
Migrants first traveled to and settled the west coast, rather than the Great Plains they first traversed. Underestimated and misunderstood, the Great Plains were called the “Great American Desert,” and the agricultural potential of this dry, flat land was not realized at first. With the advent of technology such as the steel plow, the windmill, and the mechanical reaper, the potential of the “American Breadbasket” would be unleashed. The steel plow was needed to till the hard packed earth; the windmill would bring scarce water to the surface; seeds such as Russian wheat would grow in the challenging climate; and mechanical reapers would make the harvest possible.
Travelers to the West had to traverse not only the plains, but also major rivers and the Rocky Mountains. The major rivers systems of the West that had to be forded were the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Colorado, and the Snake Rivers. Trails through the mountains followed passes that were often impassable during spring rains and winter snows. This made it imperative that travelers leave St. Louis in time to avoid these circumstances. Mishaps along the way that delayed the rate of travel could mean disaster. Students should be able to use a map to interpret travel to the West. Students should be able to locate the Rocky Mountains on a map.
The climate of the West was also a challenge to both travelers and settlers. Hot, dry summers brought drought, dust storms, and swarms of insects. Winters brought snow and the resulting spring floods. Storms were often accompanied by tornadoes. Unpredictable weather such as early snows or late-spring hailstorms could ruin crops and imperil livelihoods.
The West was an area with economic possibilities. People could use the land for its resources and move on (fur trade, mining) or settle permanently and use the resources (ranching, farming). The slow evolution of land policies such as the Homestead Act-1861 allowed “squatters” to claim land and keep it. The building of transcontinental railroads and the government’s generous land grants to the railroads encouraged their growth and also served to bring settlers to the region. As the region became more and more populated, the way of life of the Native American inhabitants was greatly affected.
5-2.2 Summarize how technologies (such as railroads, the steel plow and barbed wire), federal policies (such as subsidies for the railroads and the Homestead Act), and access to natural resources affected the development of the West. The environment of the West was influenced by the men and women who settled the region. Land was plowed and irrigation created to make the plains the breadbasket of the country. When the railroads crossed the plains, they affected herds of bison that had freely wandered there. The iron rails of the railroad track were trampled and mangled by the great herds. Railroad owners hired riflemen to shoot the offending beasts. Soon the bison herds were decimated and the way of life of the Native Americans who depended on the buffalo was significantly impacted. As more and more migrants settled the West, they infringed on the land that had been the domain of many Native American tribes. Native Americans resisted this encroachment but a series of Indian wars occurred after the Civil War that ended with the remainder of the western Native Americans being forced onto reservations. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States government tried to make the Native Americans into farmers. The reservations were divided into parcels for individual Native American families. However, Native Americans did not want to give up their traditional way of life and their reservation land was not, in most cases, well suited for farming that they, in turn, were not trained to utilize.
The transcontinental railroad impacted the development of the West by providing a means of travel, attracting new immigrant settlers, and providing a means for transporting the agricultural products grown in the West to market. Many settlers traveled by rail in order to settle in the West. Despite the inexpensiveness of railroad travel, some settlers from the East, such as poor farmers and immigrants, could not afford to travel by rail and continued to travel by covered wagon. The railroad also attracted new immigrants to the United States. As a result of the government’s support for the building of the railroads, the railroad companies owned thousands of acres of land along their routes. In order to fund the laying of the track, the railroad sold much of this land to settlers. They even advertised this land in Europe and this helped attract new immigrants. Towns developed along the routes. The settlers who bought land in the West from the railroad or who received free land from the government hoped to make a profit from farming. The railroad fostered trade and economic growth by providing western farmers with a means of getting their crops to market. Cash crops, such as corn and wheat, became profitable as did the raising of cattle and hogs. The railroad transported these agricultural products to processing centers and helped major industries such as flour milling and meat processing develop in cities like Chicago. As tracks crossed the plains and tunnels were dug through the mountains, railroads had an impact on the natural environment [5-6.2]. The coal burning engines required more and more fuel and this led to an increase in mining, which impacted the environment. Because railroads brought goods to market, they fostered the development of industry which, in turn, impacted the environment. Smoke from the factories and wastes from the processing plants polluted the air and the water.
5-2.3 Identify examples of conflict and cooperation between occupational and ethnic groups in the West, including miners, farmers, ranchers, cowboys, Mexican and African Americans, and European and Asian immigrants. Although the journey West often required groups of people to help one another, settlement also brought conflict among groups that competed for access to the natural resources of the region. The discovery of gold and silver brought men westward seeking their fortunes. Prospectors competed with one another to find precious minerals and often created a lawless society. Mining companies that had the equipment to dig deeper into the terrain competed with solitary proprietors for claims to the richest sites. Boom towns grew quickly to serve the needs of the miners and just as quickly turned to ghost towns once the ore vein had been depleted.
Ranchers and cowboys cooperated to develop the cattle industry. Cowboys drove the herds, owned by the ranchers, across the open plains to the nearest railroad depot and shipped them to processing plants farther east. They competed with rustlers and often came in conflict with the townspeople they encountered along the way. After the Civil War, farmers settled and fenced large parts of the plains interfering with the long drive across open ranges upon which cowboys drove the herds after spring roundup. The cowboys, who did not want to be fenced in, and the farmers, who built the fences with the newly invented and highly effective barbed wire, fought over how the western lands should be used and who should use them. The era of the cattle drive did not survive the establishment of farms on the plains.
Many Mexican Americans were also driven from their land. The southwestern part of the United States and the California coast had both belonged to Spain and then Mexico until the Mexican War in the 1840s. The Mexicans who lived in those regions owned property. After the war, Mexicans, who were living in land ceded by treaty to the United States, were discriminated against. As a result, many lost title to their lands.
Due to discrimination in the South, many African Americans were eager to move west. After the Civil War many African Americans moved west in hopes of owning their own land. One group of African Americans that were encouraged to move was the Exodusters. The Exodusters primarily settled in Nicodemus, Kansas.
Some European immigrants moved to the West to start new lives. Many European immigrants however, were too poor to move to the West and stayed in the industrial cities of the East and Midwest. Many settled in regions with others from their home countries. They were resented by those who had been born in the United States (nativism). However, European Americans formed communities that engaged in cooperative activities, such as barn raisings, and helped each other to be successful in this new land.
Asian immigrants came to the United States to search for gold, and later, in large numbers, to build the transcontinental railroads. While European immigrants, such as the Irish, built from the east to west, Chinese workers laid rails from west to east. They were often paid less than white workers and suffered from discrimination at work sites because of their unique culture. Their presence was tolerated so long as there was a railroad to build. Once the major projects were completed, the Chinese attempted to compete with white men in mining and services, such as laundries, for the miners in the boom towns. This competition for scarce resources and jobs led to increasing prejudices against the Chinese. Soon, the United States government passed a law excluding the Chinese from entrance as immigrants to the United States.
5-2.4 Explain the social and economic effects of westward expansion on Native Americans; including opposing views on land ownership, Native American displacement, the impact of the railroad on the culture of the Plains Indians, armed conflict, and changes in federal policy. At first, many Native Americans welcomed and cooperated with explorers of the West. However, federal policy changed in the post-Civil War period as a result of the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of rich mineral deposits on some reservations, and continued movement west of white settlers. The destruction of the buffalo by sharpshooters, hired by the railroad companies, undermined the culture of the Plains Indians. In the second half of the 1800’s, farmers and miners claimed the lands that the Native Americans believed to be theirs. Pushed onto smaller and smaller reservations, some tribes went to war against the settlers and the soldiers who supported them. The Indian Wars were marked by massacres by white soldiers of Native American women and children such as the Sand Creek Massacre . After silver was discovered in the Black Hills, the Native Americans who lived there were driven out.
Although treaties between the United States government and Native American tribes granted the Native Americans reservations in their tribal lands and recognized tribal land ownership, these treaties were often not honored by the government. When gold was found in the Black Hills on a reservation, the Native Americans [Lakota Sioux under the leadership of Sitting Bull] were forced off the land against their will. The Battle of Little Bighorn, or “Custer’s Last Stand,”  between the Native Americans and the United States army created public support for a much larger military force that crushed Native American resistance in the area. A Native American tribe in Oregon [Nez Perce led by Chief Joseph, 1877] fled to Canada rather than be moved off of their traditional lands to Idaho in order to make way for white settlers. However, they were surrounded by the United States Army. When they were promised to be allowed to return to Oregon, they surrendered. This promise was not kept and the tribe was taken to a reservation in Oklahoma. Plains Indians of the southwest also attempted to resist [Apaches led by Geronimo] but their leader was eventually captured and returned to a reservation. Soon resistance by other Native American tribes was also broken. Some Native Americans escaped the reservation and attempted to restore their old way of life but they were surrounded by the army at Wounded Knee, South Dakota . United States soldiers massacred approximately three hundred men, women, and children as they attempted to give up their weapons. Native American resistance to the reservation policy was over.
Life on the reservation was not easy. Native Americans were forced from their tribal homelands to much less desirable lands to which their culture was not adapted. Plains Indians, whose culture centered on hunting the buffalo, could no longer provide enough food for their families. Although the United States government had promised to supply the Native Americans with food, the corruption of the Bureau of Indian Affairs meant that many Native Americans did not get enough supplies. Poverty, starvation, and despondency were prevalent on the reservations. Reformers of the late nineteenth century were concerned about the plight of the Native Americans and the unfairness of the many treaties broken by the United States government. These reformers believed that if Native Americans would give up their tribal traditions and adopt the ways of the white man they would prosper. A new federal policy took the tribal lands of the reservation and divided it up into farms for individual Native American families [Dawes Severalty Act, 1887]. However, Native Americans had different ideas of land ownership than whites. They believed that the land belonged to the group, not individuals. This policy violated those beliefs and the traditions of hunting that had sustained Native American culture for centuries. Many of the farms belonging to Native Americans failed as did many farms in the late 19th century that belonged to whites and the Native Americans lost their land. In addition, reformers believed that Native American children should learn the ways of the white man. Children were taken away from their families and sent to boarding schools faraway for example, The Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, where they were taught to behave like white children, had their hair cut and learned to speak English. The traditions and values of the Native American culture were not honored in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Today, as a result of a civil rights movement among Native Americans in the 1960s, their culture is being preserved and their rights honored. Life on many reservations is still difficult and many Native Americans live in poverty.