The Closing of the Frontier
• From the early stages
of American history,
moving West away from
the more settled regions
to frontier areas.
• First, these early
Western settlers moved
to the Appalachian
Mountains, and later
they crossed over them
Early Westward Movement
• Early Western settlers
moved into an area
called the Northwest
included Ohio, Indiana,
and much of Minnesota.
• Later, settlers moved
into the Southern
frontier, to areas that
Interaction with Native
• All of the land settled by the
American settlers was
inhabited by Native
Americans or used by them
for hunting and farming.
• Negotiations for land took
place, and treaties were
signed to avoid conflict, but
these deals were usually
ignored by the settlers when
they became inconvenient.
• Wars between settlers and
Native Americans took place
throughout the early Western
• In the 1820’s, as the Cotton
industry began to grow,
white settlers saw the
potential of more land to be
had in the deep Southeast,
or Alabama, Florida,
• To get ownership of this land
the U.S. government
forcefully removed the Five
Civilized Tribes to the new
Indian Territory in what is
• In 1803, Thomas
828,800 square miles of
territory from France,
west of the Mississippi
• In 1804 he sent an
expedition led by
Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark to explore
The Fur Trade and Mountain Men
• The First Americans to enter the
far West in large numbers were
trappers and fur traders.
• Until the 1840’s beaver hats
were fashionable in Europe, and
this demand made trapping a
• These “Mountain Men” usually
forged good relations with
Native Americans, and learned
many skills from them, and
picked up key information on
the geography of the area.
• The Mountain Men were skilled
in hunting, survival, and
tracking, marking passes
through mountain ranges, and
setting trails for future settlers
like the Oregon Trail.
• Americans began entering
Mexico, in what is now
Texas from the time Mexico
became independent in
1810. The Mexican
encouraged these settlers.
• These new Texans brought
slavery and cotton with them
from the U.S. and many
• By the 1820’s some of these
independence from Mexico,
which they won in 1836,
forming the Republic of
Texas. Texas joined the
Union in 1845.
• From 1846 to 1848 the
United States fought a
war with Mexico over
the disputed boundary
in the new state of
• The U.S. victory in the
war led to the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo and
gave to the U.S. all of
the territory seen at left
in Red. Later the
added the territory in
• In 1848, gold was
discovered in California by
John Sutter. In 1849
thousands of people,
popularly called “49er’s”,
flocked to California to get
into the mining business.
• The population of California
had gone from 14,000 in
1848, to 200,000 in 1852.
• Some of the miners struck it
rich, but most lived tough
lives in mining camps hoping
for the big strike.
• During this time San
Francisco became a major
city and port.
Other Mining Strikes
• After most of the California
gold played out, other strikes
were made in states such as
Colorado, Utah, Arizona,
New Mexico, Montana, and
South Dakota. Mining towns
developed in each of these
• Silver was also discovered in
Nevada, where boom towns
developed seemingly over
• These mining towns were
often filled with saloons,
casinos, and brothels, as
they were fairly lawless, and
there were few women of
The Great American Desert
• The area that we now call
the great plains was once
thought by the white men
that crossed it do be largely
inhabitable, except to the
Native Americans who lived
there. They called the plains
the “Great American Desert”.
• This largely treeless area of
grasslands covers parts of
Oklahoma, Texas, South
Dakota, North Dakota,
Colorado, and New Mexico.
Buffalo • On the Great Plains lived an
abundance of wild life, none
more impressive than the
American Bison, or buffalo.
• Millions of buffalo roamed
the grasslands and provided
the native tribes of the plains
with food, clothing, shelter,
and other tools.
• In the mid-1800’s white
commercial hunters began to
move into the area to hunt
them for their skins.
• As railroads moved west
even more hunting took
place, along with deliberate
hunting by the U.S. Army. By
the end of the 1800’s only a
few hundred buffalo were
• There were hundreds of
Native Americans of the West Native American Tribes in
the western states, each with
their own distinct culture.
• Some tribes like Pawnee,
Iowa, and Wichita on the
plains, the Pueblo,Navaho,
and Apache in the
Southwest, and the Nez
Perce and Chinook in the
Northwest were mostly
sedentary,relying on both
agriculture, hunting, and
fishing for survival.
• Some tribes, like the Makah
in what is now Washington
State relied heavily on
• The more famous Western
Indians were the plains
tribes who were usually
almost exclusively nomadic
A New Wave of Settlers
• After the mountain men,
settlers began moving
to Western areas to
farm, following trails the
mountain men had
blazed, such as the
Oregon trail, the Santa
Fe Trail, and others.
• These new settlers
crossed the great plains
in wagon trains
• The journey west would
usually take 3-6
months, and could be
• In 1862, Abraham Lincoln
signed the Homestead Act,
which gave 160 acres of unused
federal land West of the
Mississippi River to anyone 21
or older who was willing to file
an application, settle and
improve the land for 5 years,
and then file a deed.
• The Homestead Act greatly
increased Western Settlement.
• Though farming on the plains
was tough, the steel plow,
invented by John Deere in
1836, made it easier and
eventually this was some of the
most successful farmland in the
Conflict With Native
• As more and more settlers
moved West, conflict with
Native Americans increased.
• Many times the settlers were
breaking treaties signed by
the government with the
• The United States Army was
chiefly responsible for
putting down the Native
American “threat” to
• The official policy of the U.S.
regarding the Indians of the
West was to force them onto
Indian Wars (and massacres)
• There were literally hundreds of battles, skirmishes, and
ambushes involving settlers, soldiers, and Indians in the West,
from the sporadic fighting against the Apache in the desert, to
the great battles against the Sioux on the Plains.
• The U.S. Army fought vicious campaigns to put the Indians on
reservations, and while they typically were honorable,
sometimes they resorted to the massacre of Native Americans
as in the case of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 described
• “I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse
mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to
pieces ... With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out;
children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from
sucking infants up to warriors ... By whom were they mutilated?
By the United States troops”. - John S. Smith, Congressional
Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith, 1865
• Most of the Indian Wars were fought by the U.S.
Army Cavalry. Infantry, of course played a role, but
on the great plains, horse soldiers were vital.
• One of the most famous Cavalry outfits of the late
1800’s was the 10th Cavalry, sometimes known as
the Buffalo Soldiers. This was an all African American
Unit under white officers, famous for fighting Indians
in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.
No More Forever
• Despite the commitment of many Native Americans
to fight to the death for their lands and way of life,
and the bravery of they frequently displayed, the U.S.
Army, the destruction of the buffalo, and the closing
down of the frontier proved to be too much for them.
• Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, once stated that the
fight was no longer sustainable, and said “I will fight
no more forever.”
• By the 1890’s, almost all of the Western tribes had
been defeated and placed onto reservations.
• There they were encouraged to assimilate into white
• Many times Indian Reservations were located on the
least valuable land.
Cattle and the Open Range
• When the Spanish
settled in the Americas
they brought cattle with
them. These Spanish
cattle flourished on the
grassy plains of the
West, especially in
• This breed of cattle was
called the Texas
Longhorn, for its
distinctive long horns.
Cattle and the Open Range
• In the 1830’s and 1840’s Texans were already attempting to
drive cattle long distances to places like New Orleans, and
northern states like Illinois. These early cattle drives were not
• During the Civil War, before the Mississippi River was closed by
Union forces, Texans drove cattle to the Confederacy for a
supply of beef.
• In 1865 Phillip Armour opened a huge meat packing plant in
Chicago, and demand for beef increased significantly.
• In 1866 the first large scale attempt to drive huge herds of Texas
cattle north to railroad lines in Missouri was made. Farmers
living on the trail resisted these attempts, and the drive failed.
• The following year, another large scale drive was made, this
time to the rail head in Abilene, Kansas. Since this drive avoided
farmland, the drive was successful, and the age of the open
Cattle and the Open Range
• As the price of cattle increased to as much as $40
dollars a head, thousands of people flocked to the
West to open large cattle operations, work as
cowboys, or to capitalize on this new industry in other
• From the 1860’s until the 1880’s, the Federal land in
the West was “open range”, and the cattle were free
to roam and graze on the vast expanses of
• Initially the herds were located in Texas, but as time
went by, the herds were driven to open spaces in
New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the Dakotas,
Wyoming, and Montana, to gain access to more
How the Open Range worked.
• Most cattle were free to roam in a semi-wild
state largely unattended for most of the year.
To distinguish one company’s cattle from
another’s, the cattle were given the
company’s distinct brand.
• Early in the spring, roundups were held when
each company would gather up their cattle
and brand new calfs.
• Later, the cattle were driven rail heads, where
they would be sold.
How the Open Range worked.
• The men who worked the cattle came to be known as
cowhands, or sometimes, cowboys. These men had
to be skilled horseback riders, and competent with
roping. Most cowhands had 3 or more horses to use
on a drive
• Specially trained personnel included a cook who
operated a kitchen wagon called the chuck wagon,
and the wrangler, whose responsibility was to train
and care for the horses. Specialized horses called
“cutters” and highly skilled riders could separate a
single cattle from the heard, maneuver the cattle with
their movements, and prevent stampedes.
• Before a drive the cowhands lived in a barracks style
“bunkhouse”. During the drive the hands slept in the
How the Open Range worked.
• The average drive consisted of 3000 or more head of
• To ensure that the cows did not lose to much weight
on a drive, the pace had to be somewhat slow. While
the cattle could be driven as much as 25 miles a day,
15 miles was the best pace.
• As a result of the slow pace, drives would usually last
two and sometimes three months.
• At night, hands worked in shifts to move the herd,
and prevent stampedes and rustling, or stealing
• Since many drives took place in Indian Territory,
conflict with Native Americans did occur, but was
usually rare. Usually the companies paid the Indians
15 cents a head, and peace was maintained.
The End of the line.
• When the drive reached cowtowns, such as Abilene, Dodge
City, or Witchita, the cattle would be sold, and the hands would
receive their pay.
• The cowtowns were the first place the hands had to enjoy
themselves for sometime, and gambling and drinking was quite
common. Violence could often flair up, and town famed town
marshalls such as Wild Bill Hickock, and Wyatt Earp as well as
many others, were hired to keep the peace. Despite Hollywood’s
portrayal of the West, deadly shootouts were actually rare.
Large cities in the East such as New York, were far more
• While gun violence was more rare than depicted, gambling
parlors and saloons were certainly wild places.
• Because there were so few women in the West at this time,
prostitution was common and accepted. Brothels could be found
throughout the West.
The End of the Open Range
• The age of the open range was short lived. The increase of
homesteaders in the West decreased the amount of free grazing
land, and forced ranchers to fence off land to raise their cattle
on. The invention of barbed wire in the 1880’s made it cheap
and practical to fence in vast areas.
• By the 1880’s, overgrazing became a problem, as there were
more cattle than available grassland.
• The particularly harsh winter of 1886-1887 killed thousands of
cattle, hurting the cattle boom and hastening an end to the
• By the 1890’s there were hundreds of ranches that operated
closer to the ever expanding railroads, which made the rancher
and cowhands way of life, much more settled.
Images of the Open Range
Images of the Open Range
• In the 1860’s, the U.S. government subsidized the building of a
railroad to cross the entire country. Much intrigue and corruption
went into choosing the routes, but eventually Omaha and
Sacramento would chosen.
• The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Companies built the
railroad, the former from the East, and the latter from the West.
• Most of the labor was done by immigrant Irish and Chinese, as
well as Civil War veterans.
• Blasting through the Rocky mountains for tunnels, dealing with
the threat of Native American uprisings, back breaking labor in
brutal heat and freezing cold were just some of the difficulties of
• In 1869, the final spike joining the two lines was made in
Promontory point Utah. The journey between coasts which had
previously taken 6 months, could now be made in a week.
The Closing of the West
• As the Indians were gradually subdued and
placed on reservations or assimilated,
homesteaders created farms and
communities in previously wilderness areas,
and railroad and telegraph lines crisscrossed
the country, the era of the frontier wilderness
in the American West came to a close.
• By 1900, the West, effectively, had been