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Settling the Western Frontier: 1865 - 1890. How the United States came to occupy the West. Settling the Western Frontier, 1865 - 1890. What is a “Frontier”? Where was the “American Frontier”?

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Settling the western frontier 1865 1890
Settling the Western Frontier: 1865 - 1890

How the United States came to occupy the West

Settling the western frontier 1865 18901
Settling the Western Frontier, 1865 - 1890

  • What is a “Frontier”?

  • Where was the “American Frontier”?

  • Can we identify or define the frontier simply as a place geographically, or is it something else?

The frontier
“The Frontier”

  • During the 19th Century, the Frontier in the American West might have been almost anywhere west of the Mississippi River. We know the “Great Plains” as 100 degrees west on a map!

When historians discuss a “frontier” they are usually describing a place where two unique cultures are making contact with one another. On one side of the frontier, there is the familiar society known to its inhabitants. On the opposite side of the frontier is the unfamiliar – the diverse, unknown, exotic, “other.” Often, Americans have viewed the Western Frontier of the 19th Century as being “unsettled,” “uncivilized,” chaotic, godless, and frightening – inhabited by cannibals or “savages.” At times, it seems that Native Americans were not there at all when we watch shows like “Little House on the Prairie”!

Who were the stakeholders on the western frontier in american history
Who were the stakeholders on the Western Frontier in American History?


Some stakeholders on the western frontier
Some Stakeholders on the Western Frontier –

  • American Indians

  • American Settlers

  • “Exodusters”

  • Mexicans

  • Mormons

  • Cattle Ranchers

  • Railroad Barons

  • Chinese Immigrants

  • Women

  • Homesteaders

  • Freedmen

  • Farmers

  • Bankers & Investors

  • United States Military

  • “Buffalo Soldiers”

  • Miners and Workers

Visions of prosperity and freedom on america s western frontier
Visions of Prosperity and Freedom on America’s Western Frontier -

  • Why did this group want to live on the Western Frontier?

  • What did this group hope to accomplish on the Western Frontier?

  • What advantages did the Western Frontier offer these people to encourage prosperity and independence?

  • Answer at least one of these questions for each of the eight (8) groups of stakeholders on the Western Frontier which you identified.

  • The Western Frontier could be a hard, isolated place to live for many reasons.

Stakeholders on the western frontier
Stakeholders on the Western Frontier Frontier -

The Mormons

Railroad Barons

  • Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints moved to the Western Frontier under the leadership of Brigham Young, hoping to escape persecution, where the practice of polygamy and certain other peculiarities of their faith had been reacted to violently by American communities. They established their community near present day Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Railroad barons like Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad hoped to make a fortune in the west by gaining monopolies on the transportation of crops and livestock. When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in May of 1869, farmers in California and cattle ranchers in Texas were able to ship their products to huge markets in Eastern cities like New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Philadelphia – for a price, payable to Stanford!

Cooperation and competition on the western frontier
Cooperation and Competition on the Western Frontier Frontier -

  • How did the various stakeholders on the Western Frontier come into conflict or compete for resources and riches in the West?

  • How did the stakeholders in the West cooperate in order to survive in a hostile environment or to defend themselves versus a common enemy?

  • Did certain stakeholders in the West seek to isolate themselves? Were they successful in doing so?

Conflict competition cooperation and communities on the western frontier
Conflict, Competition, Cooperation, and Communities on the Western Frontier

The US Army and American Indians

Buffalo Soldiers and American Settlers

  • The United States Army was in violent conflict with American Indians when they began to enforce the reservation policy. American Indians won a bloody victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but the achievement was short lived; the US Army redoubled its efforts to slaughter the buffalo and coerce American Indian tribes into living on reservations so that by 1890, virtually no tribes lived on the Great Plains.

  • Buffalo Soldiers primary tasks were to clear the railroad tracks and to maintain telegraph wires, to enforce the reservation policy against Native American tribes, and to protect American settlers as they crossed the Great Plains. Although some American settlers maintained racist sentiments, Buffalo Soldiers hoped to prove they were worthy of full citizenship and equality through their service to the Nation.

Settling the western frontier 1865 1890

Was the West really “The Wild West?” Western Frontier

Why do you think the western frontier got this name?


What generalization would you make about the Western Frontier? Are there universal truths about the Western Frontier which emerged from our discussions about the relationships between diverse peoples in the West? Is your generalization surprising? Is it a positive and inspiring statement about the Western Frontier, or a discouraging, negative statement? How could we summarize this discussion in a sentence or two?

Generalizations about the settlement of the western frontier in american history
Generalizations About the Settlement of the Western Frontier in American History

  • The Western Frontier was settled by the cooperative efforts and superior work ethic of diverse peoples.

  • The Western Frontier was a place of violent conflict between American settlers, the United States Military, and their rivals.

  • Advancements in transportation and communication during the mid to late 19th Century allowed the US territories and states on the Western Frontier to stay connected with national government in the East.

  • Racism and violence played a prominent role in the history of the Western Frontier.

  • Economic opportunity and political liberty encouraged immigration to the Western Frontier during the 19th Century.