Lecture 1
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Lecture 1. Hist 111 American Civilization II Instructor: Dr. Donald R. Shaffer Upper Iowa University. Lecture 1 Westward Expansion: Significance of the Frontier. The West exerted a powerful influence on the U.S. during the 19 th century

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Lecture 1

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Lecture 1

Lecture 1

Hist 111

American Civilization II

Instructor: Dr. Donald R. Shaffer

Upper Iowa University


Lecture 1 westward expansion significance of the frontier

Lecture 1 Westward Expansion: Significance of the Frontier

  • The West exerted a powerful influence on the U.S. during the 19th century

    • Manifest Destiny: the idea that Americans spreading from the Atlantic to the Pacific was divinely foreordained

  • End of the Frontier

    • 1890 Census found no frontier line, only pockets of unsettled land

    • Announcement caused Americans to reassess the frontier’s meaning

  • “Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893)

    • Prompted the Census Bureau’s 1890 report

    • Frontier had acted as a social safety valve

    • Frontier had promoted individualism, pragmatism, egalitarianism, equality, and democracy

Frederick Jackson Turner

Author of the “Significance of the Frontier in American History”


Lecture 1 westward expansion the new western history

Lecture 1 Westward Expansion: The New Western History

  • Turner and his followers helped create a romantic view of the West that made its way into popular culture

    • Epitomized by Hollywood western in which settlers and the U.S. army bring civilization to the wild West

  • The New Western History refers to a group of scholars that reject Turner’s positive, rosy view of westward settlement

  • They even rejects the concept of “frontier” itself since human societies had long existed in the American West

  • Speak of “borderlands” where U.S. citizens encroached on and disrupted established societies, and wastefully exploited nature often causing serious environmental damage in the process

  • Critics have charged this view is too negative and contend that the effect of American settlers on the West was on balance positive

Although lacking a significant effect on popular culture, 1990’s Dances with Wolves is arguably a New Western History Hollywood Western – why?


Lecture 1 westward expansion the mining frontier

Lecture 1 Westward Expansion: The Mining Frontier

  • Americans moved west to pursue economic opportunity

  • Nowhere was this fact more dramatically illustrated than among the miners

  • Nothing like a gold or silver strike could bring Anglo-Americans faster into a new area

  • Characteristics of the Mining Frontier:

    • Overwhelmingly male: mining was hard manual labor, which discouraged the presence of women

    • Transient: miners only stayed in a location as long as it was producing

    • Miners generally lacked concern about the natural environment

      • Hence to obtain minerals they sometimes used environmentally disastrous practices like hydraulic mining

Hydraulic Mining

Utilized high powered water hoses, literally eroding hillsides to get at the minerals beneath


Lecture 1 westward expansion the ranching frontier

Lecture 1Westward Expansion: The Ranching Frontier

  • Texas Cattle Frontier

    • Appeared before the Civil War

    • The Long Drive: longhorn cattle fattened on government rangeland and then driven to Kansas railheads

    • Ranching highly profitable in its early decades: $5 calf raised and fattened on free government grass could sell for $25 or more

  • As frontier moved west so did the center of the ranching frontier: from Texas to Colorado, into Wyoming, Montana and the western Dakotas

  • Open-range ranching ended, causes:

    • Overgrazing

    • Winters of 1885-1887

  • Cowboys: Myths vs. Reality

    • Became a historical icon

    • Tough work for low wages

Cowboys gathered around

a chuck wagon out on

the open range


Lecture 1 westward expansion the farming frontier

Lecture 1Westward Expansion: The Farming Frontier

  • “The Great American Desert”: before Civil War the far west was commonly considered unsuitable for agriculture

  • New farming techniques opened up this region to American farmers

    • Irrigation (not so new)

    • “Dry Farming”: farming to maximize moisture conservation

  • Homestead Act (1862)

    • Helped spur agricultural settlement of the West

    • Free land for small filing fee, five-years residence, and improvement of the property

  • Railroads also spurred settlement by transporting settlers and packaging land for sale on affordable terms

  • Lonely, isolated, often primitive life in early years

Prairie sod house in

North Dakota

Why did early settlers build their houses from earth?


Lecture 1 westward expansion native americans

Lecture 1Westward Expansion: Native Americans

  • U.S. expansion came at expense of Native Americans, who lost much of their land as well as their way of life

  • Buffalo exterminated, Indians cleared from plains

  • Indian Wars: 1865-1890

    • Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876): rare Indian victory

  • What to do with the Native Americans of the plains?

    • Even Indians’ friends believed they must be assimilated into larger American society

    • Dawes Severalty Act (1887): encouraged assimilation by distributing tribal lands to individual Indian families

  • Ghost Dance movement: evidence of Indian cultural trauma

  • Wounded Knee (1890): U.S. army crushed the last armed Indian resistance in what amounted to a massacre

“Before” and “After” pictures of a Navajo boy at the Carlisle Indian

Industrial School, c. 1880s

Boarding schools were tools of assimilating Indian children to Victorian American culture


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