Westward Expansion Unit Note Packet The Geography of the West: Main Ideas

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Westward Expansion Unit Note Packet
The Geography of the West: Main Ideas
Geography (definition) – the science dealing with the … differentiation of the earth’s surface, as shown in the character, arrangement, and interactions of such elements as climate, elevation, vegetation, population, and land use. (Webster’s College Dictionary)

- diverse climate zones

- climate varies according to elevation and position of latitude

moving north = cooler/colder (summer & winter) w/ less


moving south = warmer (summer & winter)

w/ more rain

Rocky Mountains = cold or cool winter; warm

summer; little rain

Great Plains region:

- lacks areas of high elevation (in general)

- means temperature changes are due mostly to differences

in latitude

- easy to cross and farm

Rocky Mountains and coastal mountain ranges:

- areas of high elevation

- means temperature and precipitation changes are more a factor of elevation than latitude

- difficult to cross and practice agriculture


- diverse between regions

- Great Plains region is naturally grass-covered; lack of trees due to lack of water; new technology has allowed for agriculture to thrive

- types of vegetation vary with elevation and latitude

- northwestern coastal areas are heavily forested (due to abundance

of rain)

- diverse native populations; many variations in styles of dress,

languages, political systems, religion, means of sustenance (hunting

or gathering, or both), a tendency towards war, etc.

- diversity of native population probably the result of geographic


Non-native population (a.k.a. settlers):

- diverse

- many professions (miners, explorers, trappers,

loggers, fishermen, farmers, cowboys, etc.) and

nationalities (Chinese, Irish, Germans, etc.) and

colors (black, white, etc.)

- differences between natives and non-natives causes warfare

Land Use:

- farming, mining, ranching, trapping, logging, and other

industrial and commercial uses

- brings native and non-native groups into conflict with one another

- Great Plains become highly desired for farming due to

the invention and use of new technology & innovations

Animal life:

- abundant in some areas, less so in others

- diverse (in size, number, etc.); changes from region to region

- buffalo were once abundant on the Great Plains, but later virtually

destroyed by whites

Additional Notes:

Something to Think About
Think about how the various characteristics of the West’s geography interacted with one another to affect the process of westward expansion. You should be able to make specific references to the information found in these notes.

Native Americans

  1. Cultural Differences with Settlers

  1. Race

  1. both Native Americans and whites/settlers discriminated against one another;

  2. misunderstandings between one another regarding race, religion, intelligence, values, etc. led to conflict between the races

  1. Land Ownership

  1. many Native Americans disagreed with the idea of “private property”

  2. they did not understand how one person could own something that had always been owned by everyone

  3. whites used the idea of “Manifest Destiny” – the idea that it was our nation’s destiny to spread from “sea to shining sea” – to excuse their actions that involved grabbing the Native Americans’ lands

  1. Different Ideas About Nature

  1. Native Americans viewed it as sacred and precious, as something not to be wasted

  2. Whites and other settlers saw it as something to harness and conquer; led to waste

  1. Invading Groups

  1. Each of the following groups caused more problems for the Native Americans throughout the 1800’s.

- miners - ranchers/cowboys - railroads/ workers

- farmers - trappers - U.S. military (soldiers)

  1. Early U.S. Policy for the Native Americans

  1. “policy of concentration” (see Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851)

  1. Native Americans agreed to allow passage of settlers through their territory in return for government aid and support

  2. Native Americans chose not to stay in boundaries (follow buffalo)

  3. misunderstandings and broken promises on both sides led to war

  1. attempts at assimilation

  1. early attempts were made to transform Native Americans so they would fit into an “American” society (cut hair, change clothing, learn English, become Christian, etc.)

  1. many Native Americans fought against these changes, often in a form of violence

  1. Armed Conflict Between Whites and Native Americans

  1. Sand Creek Massacre (Nov. 29, 1864)

  1. 1000 Colorado militiamen slaughtered unarmed Cheyenne and mutilated their bodies, killing at least 150 people

  2. soldiers, with scalps and genitals of their victims on spears, arrived in Denver to cheering crowds; that shows how much some whites hated the Native Americans

  1. Battle of Little Bighorn (“Custer’s Last Stand”) – June 25, 1876, Montana

  1. caused by the discovery of gold on the Native Americans’ land (Black Hills)

  2. George Armstrong Custer and 200+ soldiers were sent in to capture and remove the Native Americans

  3. 1800+ Native American warriors, under the leadership of Sitting Bull, slaughtered EVERY SINGLE SOLDIER

  4. caused the U.S. government and military to be even tougher on the Native Americans, making the Native Americans’ greatest victory lead to their biggest defeat

  1. Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek (December 29, 1890 in South Dakota)

  1. caused by the practice of Wovoka’s Ghost Dance

  2. U.S. military was called in to round-up and arrest the leaders of the dance, causing some Native American groups to scatter

  3. U.S. military caught one group at Wounded Knee Creek and slaughtered over 150 men, women and children when things went terribly wrong during the surrender of the Native Americans

4. this marked the end of the Native Americans’ resistance to the U.S.

government on the Great Plains; they were beaten

  1. Other Governmental Actions Against Native Americans

  1. Reservations

  1. many Native Americans were put on these pieces of land to get them out of the way

  2. they had horrible living conditions

  1. Dawes Allotment Act (1887)

  1. done to try to assimilate (“Americanize)” the Native Americans by splitting up reservations into private plots of land for Native Americans to own and farm (to break-down, or reduce, tribal connections and identity)

  2. tried to change the Native Americans (language, dress, religion, etc.) through schooling and church

  3. failed because of corruption, and because Native Americans were not given the farm equipment and knowledge needed to survive

  1. reservations

  1. they were recreated and Native Americans were put back on them; many still exist

  1. Results of the Conflict

  1. Native American cultures have largely been destroyed.

  2. Native American population levels declined for decades, but have just started to bounce back.

  3. Native Americans are largely dependent upon the U.S. Government for survival.

  4. Many Native Americans suffer from alcoholism, depression, and unemployment (as high as 50% in some areas) because their cultures have been in decline.

  5. They live on the worst land, while we live on the best.

Additional Notes:

Farmers and Farming

I. Reasons for Explosion in Farming

A. people flocked to the Great Plains in droves starting w/ introduction of

Homestead Act by the U.S. government in1862

1. it did the following:

a. gave immigrants or U.S. citizens 160 acres of land

b. must pay small registration fee

c. must improve the land and build a house

d. must live on the land for five years

B. actually, the majority of land was bought from:

1. speculators bought large tracts of land and later sold them for

outrageous profits

2. railroad companies that had been given land by government as an

incentive to build the railroads

a. railroads wanted farmers to settle on their lands by their


1. would give railroads steady supply of customers

C. usually any land gained by whites came at expense of Natives Americans

  1. this caused conflict

D. Other Governmental Legislation/Actions Meant to Help Farmers

1. Department of Agriculture created (1862)

2. Morrill Act (1862)

3. Timber Culture Act of 1873

4. Desert Land Act of 1877

5. Timber and Stone Act (1878)

6. Hatch Act (1887)

II. Life on the Homestead

A. harsh

1. lonely and desolate (nobody around for miles)

2. windy, dry, and lack of enough wood

3. living conditions were horrible

a. “soddie houses” & dugouts

1. full of insects, snakes, rodents

2. dirt floor became muddy after rain

3. dirt covered everything (up to a few

inches a day)

b. burned corn-cobs and cattle/buffalo chips for

fuel (lack of wood)

4. difficult land to farm without correct equipment
B. helpful technology and methods

1. steel plow and lister

2. steel windmill

3. mechanical reapers

4. barbed wire

5. irrigation systems

6. dry-farming

7. Russian Wheat

III. Farming Goes Large-Scale: A Closer Look at Bonanza Farms

A. small-scale farming (homesteading) largely replaced by

large-scale corporate farms (bonanza farms)

1. bonanza farms have large amounts of capital ($)

needed to purchase expensive equipment and the best land

2. allows for economies of scale

a. homesteaders cannot compete (during most situations)

B. similar to the trend that took place in ranching and mining

IV. Significance/Effects?

A. federal government actions helped accelerate the settling of the West

1. a factor in the conflict w/ NA’s

B. led to economic development of West and Midwest

C. still the “Bread Basket of America”

D. trend towards larger corporate farms mirrors trend of many

businesses and industries today

E. problems that farmers had led to the Populist movement

Additional Notes:

Cattle Ranching

I. Growth of Cattle Industry
A. cattle ranching begins to become big business as railroad lines become

connected (mid-1860s)

B. growth due to the increased demand for beef in eastern markets after

the Civil War, as well as the breeding of hardier (tougher) cattle

C. ranchers grazed cattle on Great Plains un-restricted by property

boundaries; that changed when barbed wire was used to mark property

(stunted growth of cattle industry
II. The Goal
A. the aim of the rancher was to take a steer worth $4 in Texas and have its

meat shipped east where it would fetch up to $40; huge profits could

potentially be made

III. The Job Itself
A. first needed to round up steer, brand them, and drive them (long drive) to a

railhead (i.e. Abilene, Kansas); this could take months

B. cowboys moved the cattle on the “long drive”; a very tiresome, lonely

and dangerous time; job not as exciting or fun as it has been shown in

movies and books; a famous cattle trail was known as the “Goodnight

Loving Trail,” that went from Texas to Denver and Cheyenne

C. paid roughly a dollar a day; a good pair of boots would be about $30

IV. Who

A. most cowboys were veterans of the Civil War, immigrants, Mexicans,

blacks (25% were black), or people running from the law; the average

career of a cowboy lasted only 7 years

V. The Industry Struggles

A. cattle industry began to collapse around 1890

1. due to an oversupply of cattle (drove prices down)

2. bad weather (1886-1887), consisting of hot and dry summers, as

well as bitterly cold winters

a. killed many of the animals

b. wiped-out many ranchers

c. cattle drives no longer profitable

VI. Changes in the Industry

A. many smaller ranches disappear because of conditions of 1886-1887

1. remaining ranches tend to be large companies with smaller herds

than before

2. grow food for use in winter, as well as build shelter, if possible


B. ranches able to move farther north, close to railheads, due to breeding with

hardier (tougher) northern cattle (thicker hides to withstand cold)

1. long drives no longer necessary due to combination of

this and railroads expanding farther south

C. the era of the cowboy on the long-drive comes to an end

1. the cattle industry continued (it still exists today), just

not the long-drives

VII. Significance/Effects?

A. helped to populate the West and South

B. helped develop the region economically

C. added to overall conflict w/ Native Americans

D. a good case-study for the growth and decline of present-day industries

1. growth of demand and supply

2. problems

3. distribution of product (rail, train, plane, freighter,

tractor-trailer, etc.)

Additional Notes:

Miners and Mining

I. When and Where?
A. Gold Rush of 1849 in California marked the beginning of serious mining


B. people eventually moved east to other “strike” areas, which were usually

located near a source of running water

  1. why near water?

II. The Work
A. profitability of strikes was often greatly exaggerated

B. “gold placer” mining (using a pan and water) by lone prospectors (miners)

soon gave way to large-scale corporate mining

1. had the capital ($) for machinery needed to reach the deep

deposits of minerals;

a. hydraulic (water) mining

b. quartz mining (very deep)
C. small-scale miner disappeared; replaced by daily wage-earner
D. mining was the largest nonagricultural source of jobs in the trans-

Mississippi West at this time (employed thousands); (South Dakota);

E. rough life for the miners

1. tunnels reeked of blasting powder, unclean bodies, rotten timber,

and human waste (since there were no toilets)

2. long hours, back-breaking labor, and little pay

3. always the danger of collapse or flooding in the mines (remember

the mining accident in western PA about 5 years ago, the one last

year, and the one a few weeks ago?)

4. ethnic and racial diversity of the miners:

a. whites, European immigrants, Hispanics, and Chinese;

racial problems existed

5. a lack of government or law led to “vigilante” justice

a. hangings, shootings (executions) without trials

III. Notable Large Mineral Strikes
A. Sutter’s Mill (California), Pikes Peak (Colorado), Comstock

Lode (Nevada), and Black Hills (South Dakota)

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