The Frontier West
As America expanded, many Americans desired to move westward and cultivate new lands. Federal government policies intended to facilitate the move westward, but it was often at the expense of the Native Americans who already occupied the land. As Americans continued to move the frontier farther and farther west, America expanded across the continent.
Great American Desert: For years, the geography of the U.S. was unknown to most Americans. Their perceptions of western regions were drawn from descriptions left by early travelers. Maps published prior to the Civil War often called the Great Plains area the "Great American Desert." It was a region deemed unfit for settlement.
Homestead Act, 1862: This act cut up Western public lands into many small holdings for the free farmers. It was originally started by Andrew Johnson as the first homestead bill but met strong opposition by Southern Representatives and therefore could not be passed until the secession of the Southern States during the Civil War.
Barbed wire, Joseph Glidden: Barbed wire was invented and patented by Joseph Glidden in 1874 and had a major impact on the cattle industry of the Western U.S. Accustomed to allowing their cattle to roam the open range, many farmers objected to barbed wire. Others used it to fence in land or cattle that did not belong to them.
Indian Appropriations Act, 1871: By this act Congress decided that Indian tribes were no longer recognized as sovereign powers with whom treaties must be made. Existing treaties, though, were still to be considered valid, but violations continued to occur. This lead to many conflicts, including that between the Sioux and the U.S. at Little Big Horn.
Plains Indians: Great Plains tribes began attacking wagon trains carrying settlers during the 1850s. They had been angered by settlers who drove away the buffalo herds they depended on for food, clothing, and shelter. When war would break out, the Indians would either be defeated and transported, or a treaty would be made in which they lost part of their lands.
Chivington Massacre: The United States Army, led by Colonel John M. Chivington, attacked and massacred the Cheyenne Indians that were settled along Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864. At the time, the Cheyenne were being led by Chief Black Kettle, and were attacked despite a previous agreement made with the governor.
Battle of Little Big Horn: The Sioux refused to sell the land to the government in 1875, and refused to leave the area to inhabit reservations. When the Sioux refused, the army under Lieut. Col. Custer, was sent to enforce the order.In this battle the main body of Indians, under Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, wiped out General Custer's men in 1876.
Chief Joseph: When he became chief of the Nez Perce Indian tribe in the American Northwest in 1871, Joseph led his people in an unsuccessful resistance to white settlers who were confiscating land. The tribe was ordered to move. Joseph agreed, but when three of his tribe killed a group of settlers, he attempted to escape to Canada with his followers.
Ghost Dance Movement: As the Sioux population dwindled as a result of the federal government policies, they turned to the Ghost Dance to restore their original dominance on the Plains. Wearing the Ghost Shirts, they engaged in ritual dances that they believed would protect them from harm. The ritual allowed them to reaffirm their culture amidst the chaos.
Battle of Wounded Knee: Convinced that Sitting Bull was going to lead an uprising, the United States Army massacred more than 200 Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on Dec. 29, 1890. After the incident, the Ghost Dance movement which had been recently revived by Indians rapidly died out. This event ended the conquest of the American Indian.
Helen Hunt Jackson, A Century of Dishonor: This book, by Jackson, was a discourse concerning the plight of American Indians published in 1881. She gathered information regarding American Indians and their lives while serving on a federal commission investigating the treatment of Indians. Jackson also wrote Ramona concerning the same topic.
Dawes Severalty Act, 1887: It was proposed by Henry L. Dawes, and was passed in 1887. It was designed to reform what well-meaning but ignorant whites perceived to be the weaknesses of Indian life-- the lack of private property, the absence of a Christian based religion, the nomadic traditions of the Indians, and the general instability in their way of life -- by turning Indians into farmers. The main point of the law was to emphasize treating Indians as individuals as opposed to members in a tribe, or severalty.
Frederick Jackson Turner, Frontier Thesis: In his analysis of how the frontier, moving from east to west, shaped the American character and institutions, Turner decisively rejected the then common belief that the European background had been primarily responsible for the characteristics of the United States. He also justified overseas economic expansion as a means to secure political power at a time when America began focusing on expanding its influence throughout the world.
Safety Valve Thesis: This assertion stated that as immigrants came to the eastern United States during the late nineteenth century and "polluted" American culture, citizens of the U.S. would have the West as a "safety valve" to which they could go in order to revitalize their pure Americanism.
Comstock Lode: One of the richest silver mines in the United States was discovered in 1859 at the Comstock Lode in Nevada. This discovery contributed to the speed by which Virginia City, Nevada was built. An influx of settlers came to Nevada, and Nevada granted statehood in 1864.