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30. Conquest of the West
Focus Question:
To what extent did the natural environment shape the development of the West beyond the Mississippi and the lives of those who lived and settled there?

Use BOTH evidence from the documents AND your knowledge of the period from the 1840s through the 1890s to compose your answer.

(1992 DBQ)
Reading Assignment: Brinkley 434-452, 457-461
Terms to Know:

The Western Tribes

Economic Importance of the Buffalo

Indian Weakness

Hispanic New Mexico

Hispanic California and Texas

The Chinese Migration


Building the Transcontinental Railroad

Anti-Chinese Sentiments

Chinese Exclusion Act

Homestead Act

Government Assistance

Labor in the West

Limited Social Mobility and the Divided Working Class

Life Cycle of a Mining Boom Town

Comstock Lode

The Cattle Kingdom and Mexican Origins

Chisholm Trail

Competition with Farmers

Political Gains for Women

The Western Landscape

Cowboy Culture

The Idea of the Frontier

Turner’s Frontier Thesis

Key Role of the Railroad

Barbed Wire


Farmer’s Grievances
Hippocampus Videos

Migration Westward, The Far West, Chinese Immigrants, Reaction to New Immigration, Growth of the West, Mining, The Frontier Passes into History

Students will be able to:

Respond to the opening passages of Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis (see other side)

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people--to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We are great, and rapidly--I was about to say fearfully--growing!", 2 So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the slavery struggle, which is made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies its important place in American history because of its relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave-- the meeting point between savagery and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

  1. How did the 1890 census report spur Jackson’s Frontier Thesis?

  1. How did the frontier function within American society?

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