Chapter 15 The Western Frontier Lesson 1

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Chapter 15

The Western Frontier

Lesson 1

The Mining Booms

Mining is Big Business

  • By the mid-1850s the California Gold Rush had ended, and miners were off to prospect in other areas of the West.

  • In 1858, a mining expedition found gold on Pikes Peak in the Colorado Rockies.

  • By 1859, about 50,000 prospectors had flocked to Colorado.

  • Most gold was deep in underground lodes, rich streaks or ore sandwiched between layers of rock.

  • Mining this rock, or ore, and then extracting the gold required expensive machinery, may workers, and an organized business.

  • Mining companies soon replaced individual miners.

  • In 1859, prospectors found a lode of silver-bearing ore on the banks of the Carson River in Nevada.

  • The discovery was called the Comstock Lode after Henry Comstock, who owned the claim.

  • Thousands of mines sprang up near the site, but the largest share of the profits went to the mining companies.

The Mining Frontier

  • Gold strikes created boomtowns - towns that grew up almost overnight around mining sites.

  • The Comstock boomtown was Virginia City, Nevada.

  • Boomtowns were lively, and often lawless, places.

  • Sometimes citizens took the law into their own hands and became vigilantes, people who deal out their own brand of justice without benefit of judge or jury.

  • Boomtowns were made up mostly of men, and very few children lived in boomtowns.

  • Some women opened businesses or worked as laundresses or cooks in boomtowns.

  • Mining booms were often followed by mining busts, which occurred when people left town after the mines stopped producing ore.

  • Toward the end of the rush, people began mining other metals, such as copper, lead, and zinc.

  • Frontier areas around boomtowns eventually became states.

Railroads Connect East to West

  • Because the mines were far from industrial centers, transportation became important to the survival of mining communities.

  • Wagons and stagecoaches could not meet the transportation demands of the West, but railroads could.

  • The network of railroads increased rapidly between 1865 and 1890.

  • Railroad work was often supported by government subsidies, financial aid and land grants from the government.

  • The federal government granted more than 130 million acres of land to railroad companies to build the rail network.

  • Much of the land was obtained or purchased by treaties with Native Americans.

  • Towns often offered cash subsidies to make sure the railroads came to their communities.

  • Los Angeles was a community that offered a subsidy to a railroad company.

  • The search for a route for a transcontinental rail line - one that would span the continent and connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts - began in the 1850s.

  • Two companies accepted the enormous challenge of building the transcontinental railroad - the Union Pacific Company, which built its track westward, and the Central Pacific Company, which built its track eastward.

  • Both companies were very competitive with each other.

  • The Central Pacific hired about 10,000 Chinese laborers, and the Union Pacific hired Irish and African American workers.

  • All workers toiled for low wages in harsh conditions.

  • Construction of the transcontinental railroad was complete on May 10, 1869.

  • The two sets of track met a Promontory Summit in Utah Territory.

  • Leland Stanford, governor of California, drove tin the final golden spike.

  • The economic consequences of the railroad were enormous.

  • Trains carried metals east and manufactured goods west.

  • The demand for steel and coal grew.

  • Towns sprang up along rail lines, and some grew into large cities.

  • The demand for sensible train schedules changed how people kept time.

  • The railroad companies divided the country into four time zones, and all communities in one zone shared the same time.

  • Congress made this practice law in 1918.

Lesson 2

Ranchers and Farmers

Cattle on the Plains

  • The Spanish brought longhorn cattle to Mexico and Texas when they settled the areas.

  • Much of Texas was open range - not fenced or divided into lots.

  • Hugh ranches covered areas of Texas.

  • Ranchers added wild cattle to their herds, marking their cattle with a brand, or symbol, that was burned into the animals’ hide.

  • The Missouri Pacific Railroad reached Missouri in 1866.

  • Ranchers in Texas could load their cattle onto trains in Sedalia, Missouri, and ship the animals north and east.

  • Cattle drives to cow towns - towns located near railroads to market and ship cattle - turned into yearly events.

  • Over the next decade, cow towns such as Abilene, Kansas, and Dodge City, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, became important rail stations.

  • With railroad transport, longhorns quickly became more valuable.

  • The sudden increase in value began what was known as the Long Drive - the herding of cattle across miles to meet railroads.

Life on the Trail

  • Many cowhands who worked on cattle drives were veterans of the Confederate army.

  • Some were African Americans who moved wet, and some were Hispanics.

  • The traditions of cattle herding began with the Hispanic ranch hands - vaqueros- in the Spanish Southwest.

  • The cowhands’ skills and equipment were based on those of the vaqueros.

  • Much of the language ranchers use today is derived from Spanish words used by vaqueros long ago.

  • Cowhands faced many dangers on the trail, such as violent storms, treks across dangerous terrain, and stampedes.

  • Although many different people worked as cowhands, discrimination was present in the West.

  • Cowhands spent their time after cattle drives in cow towns, drinking and gambling.

  • Sheep ranchers were moving their herds across ranges where farmers were trying to cultivate their crops.

  • The competition over land turned into range wars.

  • The range wars were settled when a new invention - barbed wire - fenced off areas,

  • The invention of barbed wire meant the end of long cattle drives and cowboys.

  • Cattle ranching spread north from Texas as the profits from cattle increased.

  • Ranchers crossbred cattle to produce new and better breeds.

  • As the cattle prices boomed, ranchers became rich.

  • Ranchers overgrazed their cattle on grasslands and depleted the grasses.

  • Overproduction of cattle glutted the beef market and prices fell.

  • Two hard winters killed large numbers of cattle.

  • A bust soon followed, and the mid-1880s marked the end of the Cattle Kingdom.

Farmers Settle on the Plains

  • In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which gave 160 free acres of land to a settler who paid a filing fee and lived on the land for five years.

  • This federal policy brought farmers to the Plains to homestead, earn ownership of land by settling on it.

  • The Homestead Act lured thousands of settlers to the Plains, including women and immigrants.

  • Swedes and Norwegians settled in the northern Plains - the Dakotas and Minnesota.

  • Many African American soldiers served in the West after the Civil War, and thousands more migrated from the Southern states into Kansas.

  • These migrants called themselves “Exodusters.”

  • These people, fearing for their safety in former slave regions, moved farther west.

  • The Plains presented challenges to farmers, such as droughts, fires, floods, harsh winters, and swarms of grasshoppers.

  • Families worked together on their farms.

  • Me worked in the fields, and women worked in the fields and also cared for the children.

  • Children helped in the fields, tended animals, and did household chores.

  • Farm work often kept children from school.

  • The usual methods of farming would not work in the Plains.

  • The Plains farmers, known as sodbusters, needed new methods and tools.

  • One approach was called dry farming.

  • In this process, seeds were planted deep in the ground where there was some moisture using newly invented steel plows.

  • Dry farming saw little success.

  • Oklahoma Territory, designated as “Indian Territory” by Congress, was the last part of the Plains to be settled.

  • The federal government opened Oklahoma to homesteaders in 1889, after much public pressure.

  • In 1890, the government announced that the frontier no longer existed because the Plains were settled.

Lesson 3

Native American Struggles

Following the Buffalo

  • Each new group that went to the Plains in the mid-1850s threatened the Native American culture.

  • Red Cloud was a Sioux chief who lamented the loss of his culture.

  • Some Native American groups lived as farmers and hunters.

  • Others led a nomadic life, traveling vast distances to follow their main source of food - the buffalo.

  • Plains Indian nations were divided into bands of people.

  • Each band had a governing council.

  • Women reared children, cooked, and prepared hides.

  • Men hunted, traded, and supervised the military life of the band.

  • American hunters hired by the railroads began slaughtering buffalo to feed the crews building the railroad and prevent buffalo from blocking the trains.

  • William Cody, hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, claimed that he had killed more than 4,000 buffalo In less than 18 months.

  • He became known as Buffalo Bill.


  • As settlers moved onto the Plains, they took hunting grounds from Native Americans, broke treaties, and often forced Native Americans to relocate.

  • Native Americans retaliated by attacking settlers.

  • In 1867, the federal Indian Peace Commission recommended moving the Native Americans to large reservations - tracts of land set aside for them.

  • One reservation was in Oklahoma, which Congress used to relocate Native Americans of the Southeast.

  • Another reservation was in the Dakota Territory and was meant for the Sioux people.

  • Many reservations were located on poor land, and the government often resorted to trickery to get Native Americans to move there.

  • Many conflicts took place between whites and Native Americans in the 1860s.

  • One conflict occurred in Minnesota Territory, when Sioux warriors burned and looted settlers’ homes before federal troops ended the uprising.

  • The army sent patrols out onto the northern Great Plains, which put them into contact with the Lakota people, who fought hard to keep control of their hunting grounds.

  • The Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho planned a series of attacks from 1865 to 1867, with the bloodiest occurring on December 21, 1866.

  • A Sioux military leader, Crazy Horse, acted as a decoy and lured army troops into a deadly trap and tricked the fort’s commander into sending 80 soldiers in pursuit.

  • Hundreds of warriors ambushed the troops.

  • This became known as the Fetterman Massacre.

  • In Colorado, Cheyenne and Arapaho began raiding wagon trains and stealing livestock from ranches.

  • Mining camps became unsafe, and the governor of Colorado demanded the Native Americans surrender at Fort Lyon.

  • Many, but not all, Native Americans surrendered.

  • Chief Black Kettle brought several hundred Cheyenne to negotiate a peace deal, but army troops attacked the unsuspecting Native Americans.

  • Conflict rose over the Black Hills of the Dakotas.

  • The government had promised the hills to the Native Americans, but gold was rumored to be there, so prospectors swarmed the area.

  • Sitting Bull, an important leader of the Lakota Sioux,, refused to sell the land.

  • He gathered the Sioux and Cheyenne leaders along the Little Bighorn River.

  • The U.S. army, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, was ordered to round them up and move them to reservations.

  • Custer, trying for glory, attacked the Native Americans, but Custer’s small force was met by thousands of warriors.

  • The entire command was killed.

  • The army moved to crush the Native Americans, and succeeded in sending many to reservations.

  • Sitting Bull and his followers fled to Canada.

  • Afterward, the Lakota and Cheyenne agreed to live on a reservation.

  • Members of the Nez Perce refused to be moved to a reservation in Idaho.

  • When the army came to relocate them, they fled for more than a thousand miles before surrendering.

  • Many Apache resented their relocation to the reservation.

  • An Apache leader, Geronimo, escaped and fled to Mexico.

  • He and his followers led raids against the army and settlers.

  • The army pursued Geronimo, and he eventually became the final Native American to surrender to the United States.

  • Helen Hunt Jackson was one of many reformers who was horrified by the massacres of Native Americans and by the cruelty of the reservation system.

  • Congress passed the Dawes Act in 1887, which proposed to break up reservations and end identification with tribal groups.

  • Over the next 50 years, the reservations were divided, with speculators getting most of the valuable land.

  • Native Americans often received dry plots that were not suited to farming.

  • Under the Dawes Act, the Native American culture was undermined.

  • The Sioux turned to a prophet, who said that the Sioux could reclaim their former greatness if they performed a ritual know as the Ghost Dance.

  • Reservation officials, seeking to ban the dance, tried to arrest Sitting Bull and ended up killing him.

  • Several hundred Sioux fled and gathered at a creek called Wounded Knee.

  • On December 29, 1890, federal troops went to collect the Sioux’s weapons, and fighting broke out.

  • This was the last armed conflict between whites and Native Americans.

Lesson 4

Farmers in Protest

The Farmers Organize

  • After the Civil War, farming expanded.

  • There were more crops than were needed, so prices fell.

  • Small and middle-sized farms struggled to survive.

  • Farmers blamed their troubles on railroad companies, bankers, and Eastern manufacturers.

  • Farmers organized into networks of local groups.

  • The first organization was called the National Grange.

  • The Grange offered education, fellowship, and support to farmers, and it encouraged economic self-sufficiency.

  • It set up cash-only cooperatives, stores where farmers bought products from each other.

  • Farmers in the Midwest asked state legislatures to pass laws regulating railroad shipping rates, but railroad companies pressured state legislatures to repeal the laws.

  • The Grange had declined by the late 1780s, and the Farmers’ Alliance was organized, consisting of the Southern Alliance and the colored Farmers’ National Alliance.

  • The Alliances proposed a plan in which the federal government would store farmers crops in warehouses and lend farmers money.

  • Regional differences and personality conflicts reduced the effectiveness of the Alliances.

A Party of the People

  • The Alliance leaders formed the Populist Party, whose goals appealed to common people.

  • The Populist Party wanted the government to own the railroads.

  • They wanted to replace the gold-based currency system with a flexible system based on free silver - the unlimited production of silver coins.

  • They also wanted election reforms, shorter work hours, and a national income tax.

  • At a convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1892, the Populist Party nominated James B. Weaver as its presidential nominee, but Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, won the election.

  • Although the Populist Party had high hopes for the state and local elections of 1894 and 1896, the party lacked money and organization.

  • Farmers, debtors, and mining companies supported free silver.

  • In the mid-1890s Democrats from farm and silver-producing states took up the free silver issue, aligning themselves with the Populist Party.

  • Grover Cleveland opposed free silver, so the Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan as their candidate in the presidential election of 1896.

  • The Populists decided to endorse Bryan as their candidate and to nominate their own candidate for vice president.

  • The Republicans chose William McKinley as their candidate.

  • McKinley won the election.

  • The Populist Party affected politics by promoting reform and taking stands on controversial issues.

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