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Looking to the West (1860-1900). Miners, Ranchers, Farmers, Cowboys. The Spread of Western Mining. Mining. Young, single men Desire to strike it rich Cherry Creek, CO Other CO places in the mountains Helena, MT Virginia City, NV Black Hills (South Dakota). The Mining Frontier.

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looking to the west 1860 1900

Looking to the West (1860-1900)

Miners, Ranchers, Farmers, Cowboys

  • Young, single men
  • Desire to strike it rich
  • Cherry Creek, CO
    • Other CO places in the mountains
  • Helena, MT
  • Virginia City, NV
  • Black Hills (South Dakota)
the mining frontier
The Mining Frontier
  • Some small prospectors made fortunes
  • Most money made by large mining corporations.
  • Mining towns had high populations of foreigners.
  • Environmental destruction due to blasting, chemicals, and water pollution.
mining s economic impacts
Mining’s Economic Impacts
  • The added gold (and silver)
    • Boosted U.S. economy
    • Increased foreign investment
    • Stimulated U.S. involvement in global economy
  • Fences
  • Large tracts of land
  • Huge herds of cattle
  • Rise of the Cattle Barons
the cattle trails
The Cattle Trails
  • file:///Users/jcorn/Desktop/Animations/Cattle%20Trails.htm
texas longhorn cattle
Texas Longhorn Cattle
  • Durable
  • Tough
  • Ornery
  • Good sense of smell - could locate sources of groundwater
the american cowboy
The American Cowboy
  • Romanticized
  • Mythologized
  • Lonely, rugged existence
  • Necessary for Cattle business
  • “The Virginian”
the cattle drives
The Cattle Drives
  • Romanticized, difficult
  • Spurred growth of RRs
  • Food “on the hoof” fed growing demand in Eastern Markets and for Miners
  • Depended on the Open Range
farming as business
Farming as Business
  • Improved farming technologies:
    • Mechanical Reaper (Early Combine)
    • Barbed wire
    • Dry farming
    • Steel Plow
    • Windmills
    • Hybridization
    • Seed drills
  • Led to Bonanza farms:
    • Specialized in a single cash crop
    • The rise of ‘agribusiness’.
new technology eases farm labor

Reduced labor force needed for harvest. Allows farmers to maintain larger farms.

Mechanized Reaper

Keeps cattle from trampling crops and uses a minimal amount of lumber, which was scarce on the plains.

Barbed Wire

Allows cultivation of arid land by using drought-resistant crops and various techniques to minimize evaporation.

Dry Farming

Allows farmers to cut through dense, root-choked sod.

Steel Plow

Smoothes and levels ground for planting.


Powers irrigation systems and pumps up ground water.

Steel Windmill

Cross-breeding of crop plants, which allows greater yields and uniformity.


Keeps cattle from trampling crops and uses a minimal amount of lumber, which was scarce on the plains.

Improved Communication

Array of multiple drills used to carve small trenches in the ground and feed seed into the soil.

Grain Drill

Farms controlled by large businesses, managed by professionals, raised massive quantities of a single cash crop.

Bonanza Farm

New Technology Eases Farm Labor
bonanza farms
Bonanza Farms
  • 10,000 acre farms
  • Wheat boom of the 1880s
  • Population in Dakotas tripled
  • Overproduction, high investment costs, droughts, and reliance on one-crop agriculture brought an end to the boom
  • 1890 prices fell, some lost everything
the wild west
The Wild West
  • Gunfights
  • Outlaws (Billy the Kid)
  • Marshals and Sheriffs (Wyatt Earp)
  • Mythical
  • Dodge City, KS
  • Tombstone, AZ
myth vs reality

Cowboys were romantic, self-sufficient, and virtuous

All were white

Ideal, garden of Eden

Could make a fortune in the west

Western towns were lawless


Cowboys were young, poorly paid, and did hard labor

20% were black or Mexican

Harmonious race relations on the trail

Harsh conditions

Most made little, if any money

There were police forces and order in the West

Myth vs. Reality
the western myth
The Western Myth
  • Some (Roosevelt) saw social Darwinism in the west.
  • Perceived as the last chance to build a truly good society
  • Novels and accounts glossed over hard labor and ethnic strife.
  • Reality, western settlement depended more upon companies and railroads than individuals.
frontier myths

Taming the Frontier

By the 1880s, the frontier had many churches and a variety of social groups. Major theatrical productions toured growing western cities. The East had come West.

The End of the Frontier

By 1890, the United States Census Bureau announced the official end of the frontier. The population in the West had become dense, and the days of free western land had come to an end.

Turner’s Frontier Thesis

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner claimed that the frontier had played a key role in forming the American character. The Turner Thesis, as his view came to be called, stated that frontier life created Americans who were socially mobile, ready for adventure, bent on individual self-improvement, and committed to democracy.

Myths in Literature, Shows, and Song

The Wild West remains fixed in popular culture and continues to influence how Americans think about themselves. Many stereotypes–exaggerated or oversimplified descriptions of reality, and frontier myths persist today despite our deeper understanding of the history of the American West.

Frontier Myths

The Wild West: Some elements of the frontier myths were true. Yet, many wild towns of the West calmed down fairly quickly or disappeared.

the frontier myth
The Frontier Myth
  • Still lives in the American imagination
  • Depicted in movies
  • TV shows (Frontier House, Little House on the Prairie, Gunsmoke, etc.)