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Chapter 2 Settling the Western Frontier The Great Plains The Great Plains was a vast stretch of land between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. During the 1840s and 1850s, European settlers passed up this area on their way to the rich lands of Oregon and the gold in California. The flat, dry Great Plains seemed useless to them. The Great Plains Beginning in 1858, many Americans traveled westward by stagecoach from St. Louis. A stagecoach is a horse drawn coach that was used for transporting people or mail. St. Louis was the western end of the railroad at that time. The three-week journey over mountains and deserts was a difficult one. Travelers were under constant danger of attack by robbers or American Indians. The Great Plains American Indians often saw the settlers as invaders. At the same time, most shipments of supplies from the East traveled by long ox-drawn wagon trains. A wagon train is a large number of wagons traveling together. Communication improved in 1861, with the completion of the telegraph. The appeal of the western frontier grew stronger to many Americans in the East. The Great Plains In 1862, Congress provided money for the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The time had come to link the far western parts of the country to the East. Two companies were chosen to build the railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad started in the West at Sacramento, California, and was built eastward. The Union Pacific Railroad started at Omaha, Nebraska, and was built westward. The Great Plains Work on the railroad increased after the Civil War ended in 1865. The Union Pacific Railroad hired thousands of war veterans, many of whom were Irish. The work was hard and dangerous. Many workers were killed in accidents and American Indian raids. Because of difficult working conditions and the loss of workers, only a few miles of track were laid each day. The Great Plains Chinese immigrant s on the west coast worked for the Central Pacific Railroad. They worked very hard, and progress was very slow because the land was so mountainous. Tunnels had to be blasted. Sometimes it took all day to go just a few feet. The Great Plains In May of 1869, the two railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah. The Central Pacific Railroad had laid more than 700 miles of track. The Union Pacific laid more than 1,000 miles of track. A golden spike was driven into the final link of the track. The news of the completed transcontinental railroad went out on the telegraph to the country. Now, settling the Great Plains was more appealing to many Americans. Frontier Life Miners, farmers, and people who tended cattle, or cowhands as they were called, were important in settling the western frontier. These groups lived different lives and faced different problems. Each had its own interest in the frontier as they searched for gold, built cattle ranches, or claimed land for family farms. Frontier Life Gold was discovered near Pikes Peak, Colorado, just before the start of the Civil War. Silver and gold were found in Nevada. Miners and prospectors traveled many miles to these places. A prospector is a person who searches an area for gold, silver, or other minerals. During the 1860s, gold was also discovered in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Frontier Life The mining boom felt throughout this Rocky Mountain region was similar in many ways to the California gold rush of 1849. Most miners never became rich. Individual prospectors could not compete with the special equipment that large mining companies brought to the mountains. These machines were faster than the pick, pan, and shovel methods that individual miners used. Frontier Life Many of those who had traveled westward in search of gold settled down as farmers or ranchers. Others became loggers, taking advantage of the rich timber resources. The lack of law and order in many mountain areas during this gold rush was similar to that in California in 1849. Many former miners grouped together to form city governments. They elected sheriffs to help provide them and their families with some law and order. As their lives became more civilized, the settlers in cities on the former frontier developed some pride in their new homes. Frontier Life They elected sheriffs to help provide them and their families with some law and order. As their lives became more civilized, the settlers in cities on the former frontier developed some pride in their new homes. Frontier Life Settlers in Texas discovered that large herds of longhorn cattle were running wild. This kind of cattle had been brought to America many years earlier by Spanish settlers. The Texans rounded up the cattle and raised the animals for beef, hides, and other goods. Texas became an important ranching area. Cattle were easy to raise in the grasslands of the Great Plains. Frontier Life Ranchers wanted to bring their cattle to Chicago and many eastern cities. They could make more money if the cattle were sold in these areas. The ranchers' main problem was a lack of transportation. However, this problem was solved with the development of the railroad system. Then the grasslands were linked to America's major cities. Frontier Life Cowhands guided cattle to the holding pens near railroads. Before moving the cattle, every calf was branded with the special mark of its owner. Some cattle were moved over 1,000 miles. The Chisholm Trail was a widely used route. Frontier Life The herd traveled ten to fifteen miles a day. A cattle drive took more than two months. During that time cowhands usually spent as many as eighteen hours a day in the saddle. The cowhands' main jobs were to prevent a stampede and to protect the cattle from thieves. A stampede is a wild rush of cattle. Frontier Life Cow towns were a welcome sight to tired cowhands. Cow towns had many saloons and gambling houses. A saloon was a public building where people gathered to drink or gamble. The only law in cow towns was provided by United States marshals such as Wild Bill Hickock. It was a difficult job, for a marshal had to cover a large territory. Law and order developed, as the frontier became more settled. Frontier Life In 1862, Congress had passed the Homestead Act. This act made it very easy for pioneers to own land. Settlers were given 160 acres of land provided they agreed to live on it for five years. This offer brought many farmers, factory workers, and immigrants to the Great Plains. Frontier Life Pioneers who owned land under the Homestead Act were called homesteaders. These people faced difficulties that were unknown to the farmers east of the Mississippi River. Eastern farmers were used to good land, plentiful water, and good supplies of wood. The plains farmers found the ground hard to plow, and there was little rain. In many areas, trees for building materials and fuel could be found only on the riverbanks. Frontier Life Farmers soon learned that sod. which is thickly matted grass and roots, could be used in place of wood as building material. Brick-like chunks of sod were cut from the ground. They were piled one on top of the other to build the walls of a house. Trees from riverbanks formed the roof, which was then covered with sod. A sod house kept a farm family cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Frontier Life There was enough water on the plains for farming, but it was underground. New inventions made it possible to drill deep wells into the Earth. Farmers then pumped water to the surface by using wind-powered devices called windmills. Farmers also used a dry farming method. Part of the land remained unplanted each year so that the area could absorb rainwater. The Plains Indians The Cheyenne, Comanche, Blackfeet, and the seven tribes of the Sioux nations lived on the open plains. They were called the Plains Indians. Their way of life depended on the buffalo. The treatment of buffalo herds brought them into direct conflict with European settlers. The Plains Indians were hunters and nomads. They followed the constantly moving buffalo herds. They ate the meat, used the hides for clothing and shelter, and made the bones into tools. The Plains Indians Some army and government officials thought that killing the buffalo would force the American Indians to settle in one place. Farmers and ranchers wanted the buffalo out of their way. Others killed the buffalo so that they could sell the hides. Between 1865 and 1875, millions of buffalo were killed. William F. Cody got the name "Buffalo Bill" after he killed more than 4,000 buffalo in eighteen months. The Plains Indians Buffalo hides were very valuable for making high-quality leather products. Buffalo robes were popular in winter. By 1889, only 541 buffalo survived in the United States. As the buffalo herds disappeared, the American Indians lost their independence. They were forced to find another way to live. The Plains Indians The settlers and the U.S. government thought that the American Indians were in the path of progress. With little understanding of American Indians, government officials felt that the nations should settle in one place. The government signed treaties with the American Indians. According to these treaties, the American Indians would stay within certain boundaries. The Plains Indians The remaining land would be used for the European settlers and railroads. In return, the government would teach the American Indians to become farmers. Most nations, feeling that they had little choice, moved to a government reservation. A reservation is land set aside by the government for the American Indians. Some American Indians, however, chose to fight. The Plains Indians By the mid-1870s, after many battles and much bloodshed, most American Indians agreed to live on a reservation. These reservations were in New Mexico, Arizona, and the territories of Dakota and Wyoming. The government told the American Indians that their way of life would be protected. The Plains Indians The government's reservation policy was tested in 1874 when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. This land was holy to the Sioux. They believed the Great Spirit was present in these hills. The United States government had promised that the Black Hills would belong to the Sioux forever. The Plains Indians Government troops tried to protect these hills for the American Indians, but the number of prospectors who wanted gold was too great. It was clear that the government could not keep its word. Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse gathered more than 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors together. They decided to defend their lands. The Plains Indians Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh Cavalry met this force at the Little Big Horn River in Montana on June 25, 1876. Custer and about 210 members of his troops were killed. The only survivor was an officer's horse named Comanche. The Plains Indians The defeat of Custer shocked the country. The American Indians had won a great victory. However, Custer's Last Stand, as it was called, would be the last big victory for the Plains Indians. They eventually surrendered to government troops because of lack of food and ammunition. The Plains Indians Custer's defeat forced the government to move all American Indians onto reservations. In the summer of 1877, the government ordered the Nez Perce to a small reservation in Idaho. Settlers took their horses when the Nez Perce were leaving their homes. Angry warriors raided European settlers. The Nez Perce tried to escape to Canada to avoid any more bloodshed. The Plains Indians About 750 Nez Perce fled. Chief Joseph led them. They traveled 1,500 miles in seventy-five days. The weather was cold, and they did not have blankets. Little food was available. Many died along the way. The Plains Indians The Nez Perce were thirty miles from the Canadian border. Chief Joseph urged his people to surrender. He told them he was tired of fighting . "Hear me, my chiefs," he said, "I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever." The Plains Indians In 1870, Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux wanted to inform the government officials of the problems of the Plains Indians. He spoke at a meeting in Washington, D.C., and told the audience about broken treaties, dishonest government agents, fear, and misunderstanding. Red Cloud wanted the President of the United States, whom he called the Great White Father, to understand that he wanted peace. Congress Aids the American Indians The American people became aware of what had happened to the American Indians living on the western frontier. In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, a detailed history of how the American Indians were mistreated. Her book was sent to every member of Congress. Congress Aids the American Indians Congress passed the Dawes Act in 1887. The purpose of the law was to turn the American Indians into independent farmers. Their lands were divided into family-size farms. Any American Indians who accepted land would be made citizens of the United States. They could not sell their land for twenty-five years. Congress Aids the American Indians The Dawes Act attempted to protect the American Indians from being cheated. In many cases, however, the American Indians were cheated by land hungry European settlers. In some cases, even government agents took advantage of them. It was not until 1924 that all American Indians were made citizens. Congress Aids the American Indians A religious movement known as the Ghost Dance developed in 1890. Some American Indians believed that performing this dance would protect them from soldiers‘ bullets, bring back the buffalo herds, remove settlers from their lands, and bring back their former way of life. Congress Aids the American Indians The Ghost Dance frightened the settlers. An army was sent to prevent violence. The Seventh Cavalry arrived to arrest and disarm several hundred Ghost Dance followers from different tribes at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 28, 1890. Congress Aids the American Indians The next day, the cavalry tried to disarm the Ghost Dance followers. Someone fired a shot. It is not known who fired. The soldiers turned their guns on the followers and killed or wounded about 290 men, women, and children. Twenty-five soldiers were also killed. This massacre at Wounded Knee ended the fighting between the United States government and the American Indians of the western plains. Congress Aids the American Indians People had moved into most areas of the western frontier. By 1890, for the first time in American history, there was no frontier line. The frontier had been conquered. Thirteen states were created from these vast western lands between 1864 and 1912.
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