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Transforming the West 1865–1890
As white people pushed into the West to exploit its resources, Indians were steadily forced to cede their lands. By 1900 they held only scattered parcels, often in areas considered worthless by white people. Restricted
to these reservations, tribes endured official efforts to suppress Indian customs and values.
MAP 19–2 Economic Development of the West: Railroads, Mining, and Cattle,
The spread of the railroad network across the West promoted economic development by providing access to outside markets for its resources. The discovery of precious metals often attracted the
railroads, but stockraisers had to open cattle trails to reach the railheads.
MAP 19–3 Population Density and Agricultural Land Use in the Late Nineteenth
Century Economic integration of the West promoted regional agricultural specialization. Stockraising and grain production dominated the more sparsely settled West, while the South grew the labor-intensive crops of cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane, and other areas concentrated on dairy products, fruit, and other crops for nearby urban markets.
This idealized 1875 engraving presents a harmonious image of western expansion and railroad construction
that belies a more complex and disruptive reality, particularly for Native Americans.
Railroad building on the Great Plains, colored engraving, 1875 (Granger Collection 4E239.36).
This photograph, taken by A. J. Russell, records the celebration at the joining of the
Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit,
Utah. Railroads transformed the American West, linking the region to outside markets,
spurring rapid settlement, and threatening Indian survival.
This engraving, showing passengers shooting buffalo from a train crossing the plains, suggests the often casual approach Americans took toward the western environment. The destruction of the buffalo herds, for both profit and “sport,” also destroyed the basis of the Plains Indians’ economy and culture.
Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota chief in the 1880s. In the 1860s, he led the Sioux to military victory over the United States, forcing the
government, in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, to abandon army posts and withdraw from Sioux territory.
Dressed in their school uniforms, Indian children sit under the U.S. flag. Government
and missionary schools sought to promote “Americanization” and suppress native
cultures. Such education, said one member of Congress, “is the solution of the vexed
Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library, “Phillips #436.”
One Methodist missionary expressed his horror of early mining town saloons and their patrons: “The utter recklessness, the perfect ‘Abandon’ with which they drink, gamble, and swear is altogether astounding.” By the 1890s, when a photographer took this carefully posed picture of Crapper Jack’s Saloon in Cripple Creek, Colorado, saloon society was still popular but seemed more restrained.
Chinese miners in Idaho operate the destructive water cannons used in hydraulic mining. Technological changes made most miners wage workers for companies.
Idaho State Historical Society
Employees of the Prairie Cattle Company at the ranch headquarters in Dry Cimarron,
New Mexico, in 1888. The company, a British corporation, held 8,000 square miles of
Prospective settlers crowd the U.S. Land Office in Garden City, Kansas, in 1885. The
rush of people into the West from throughout the world contributed to the diversity of the region’s population.
FIGURE 19–1 The Growth of Western Farming, 1860–1900 City, Kansas, in 1885. The
Indian removal, railroad expansion, and liberal land policies drew farm families into the West from much of Europe as well as the East. Technological innovations like barbed wire and
farm machinery soon enabled them to build farms, but economic, social, and environmental challenges remained.
Data Source: Historical Statistics of the United States (1975).
Many Mexican Americans turned to mining as the Southwest was developed. But they
suffered from a dual wage system that discriminated in favor of Anglos and were often
restricted to segregated housing areas.
Division of Cultural Resources, Wyoming Department of Commerce.
Sunday school meeting in Custer County, Nebraska, in 1888. Sunday schools were important social as well as religious institutions on the Great Plains, where, as one newspaper reported, rural families often felt like “strangers in a strange land.”
Jimmy Smith, and Loretta Store stand in front of their dilapidated wooded shack that sits in a small conyon east of Tuba Cit Ariz.
Fort Defiance Indian Hospital Defiance, Ariz. dilapidated wooded shack that sits in a small conyon east of Tuba Cit Ariz.
Three young dancers perform the Buffalo Dance at San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico.