Settling the West


  1. Moving West
    1. Large migrations west began with the Gold Rush of 1849
    2. Mines in turn pushed the development of free-range ranching to supply the mines, which put great pressure on Indian land and buffalo ranges
      1. In 1870s and 1880s, large unfenced ranches appeared, with enormous semi-wild herds that required little investment
      2. Cattle drives - these hers would then be driven to railroad yards for transport east
      3. Over-grazing and blizzards led to collapse of free-range ranches in late 1880s, to be replaced with fenced-in racnhes
    3. Determining who could claim ownership of land became a major issue
    4. With the Indians pushed to the reservations, most land belonged to the government
    5. The government begins to distribute this land with the Homestead Act of 1862
      1. For ten dollars and a promise to work the land for five years, anyone could get 160 acres
      2. Inspired many Europeans to cross the ocean and migrate west
      3. But in arid West, 160 acres wasn't much, and many farmers lacked money to develop land
      4. Congress put in a number of other laws to sell western land cheap - speculators took advantage of many of them
      5. In the end, 80 million acres went to individual farms, while half a billion went to speculators and corporations


  2. Railroads
    1. Some of the biggest winners in getting government land were the railroad companies
    2. Congress encouraged railroad building with massive loans and huge land grants
    3. This inspired rapid building after the Civil War - and a lot of corruption
    4. The Union Pacific line - The first transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869
      1. Final link-up made at Promontory Point
      2. Linked San Francisco to Chicago (other, older lines linked it on to New York and the East)


  3. The Sodbusters
    1. The small farmers on the Plains came to be known as sodbusters
    2. Good rain and market prices from 1870 to 1890 encouraged widespread settlement
    3. Because wood was rare and expensive, their homes were often built of sod
    4. Tornadoes, blistering heat, intense blizzards, swarms of grasshoppers and locusts all made life tough
    5. Many new technologies had to be developed to work what turned out to be difficult farm land
      1. barbed wire (wood fencing too expensive)
      2. dry farming (a method for conserving water)
      3. windmills
      4. New kinds of ploughs, grinders, machines for bundling wheat and corn, etc.
    6. Big investors could best afford these technologies, and "bonanza" farms appeared in the 1870s
    7. Most of these, though, were wiped out in the droughts of 1885-1890.


  4. African Americans on the Plains
    1. Buffalo Soldiers
      1. For about twenty years after the Civil War, two black regiments, the 9th and 10th Calvary, served in the West
      2. No shortage of volunteers - good pay, room and board, opportunity for advancement
      3. Got their nickname from the Cheyenne
      4. Fought in all the major campaigns during the Indian Wars
      5. Many settled in the West after the wars ended
    2. Settlers
      1. Many of the sodbusters were black
      2. Moved west to escape sharecropping and the Black Codes of the South
      3. Usually migrated in large groups
      4. The biggest of these were the Exodusters - 6000 people who moved from the South to Kansas in 1879