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THE OLD WEST. 1860-1900. Indian Wars. Following the Civil War, the westward movement of settlers intensified in the vast region between the Mississippi River and the Pacific .

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the old west



indian wars
Indian Wars
  • Following the Civil War, the westward movement of settlers intensified in the vast region between the Mississippi River and the Pacific .
  • The forcible removal of the American Indians from their lands continued throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century as settlers continued to move west following the Civil War.
  • By the 1860s, the US government intensified its reservation policy. All American Indians, regardless of what tribe they belonged, were expected to live only on RESERVATIONS. This resulted in an on-again, off-again war between the US army and native tribes.

Some of the biggest conflicts between the US government and American Indians were the SOUX WARS. They started in 1868 after settlers started to pour into the Dakotas in order to find GOLD rumored to be in the Black Hills. The Black Hills also were considered to be some of the most SACRED to the Sioux living there. Sioux Chief SITTING BULL had no intention to stay on the reservation when the survival of his tribe depended upon following the BUFFALO herds .


In 1875, the US government sent General GEORGE CUSTER to investigate the claims of gold in this region. In response, the US allowed MINERS and HOMESTEADERS to move into the disputed territory. The highlight of this conflict that you need to know is the BATTLE OF LITTLE BIGHORN. Custer was sent to hunt down any SIOUX or CHEYENNE who were not on the Dakota reservation. Unfortunately for him, the 200 Sioux he though he found was in reality an encampment of 2000! Indians wiped out all of Custer’s command. As a result, Custer became a martyr to American soldiers in the west.


In the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn, aka “CUSTER’S LAST STAND,”all Indians not on reservations were systematically hunted down. The most famous example of this was Chief JOSPEH and his tribe called the Nez Perces. In 1877 they got tired of STARVING on the reservation in Kansas. So they decided to flee to CANADA where they could live where they pleased. They were captured and sent back to their RESERVATION.

  • By the 1880s, due to pressure from settlers moving west in large numbers who demanded more LAND, the US government started to INCREASE restrictions. As a result, 25,000 Sioux left the reservations and started to perform the GHOST DANCE.

The Ghost Dance infuriated the Bureau of Indian Affairs and they OUTLAWED its practice. In 1890 US agents decided to put a stop to all of this and went to arrest Chief SITTING BULL who was encouraging his people to perform the dance. When they arrived at the reservation to arrest Sitting Bull, a FIGHT broke out to protect the chief. Fighting broke out, and by the end of the day 500 of the Indians were dead. This Battle of WOUNDED KNEE ended the Indian Wars.

special points of interest the dawes act
Special points of interest:The Dawes Act:
  • Goal= assimilate Indians to white culture. It gave 160 acres of land to any Indian who would convert to Christianity, farm land, speak English and behave like whites.
homestead act 1862
Homestead Act (1862)


Six months


Southerners, including African Americans in particular (called EXODUSTERS), moved west to seek new opportunities after the Civil War.


New technologies (for example, railroads and the mechanical reaper), opened new lands in the West for settlement and made farming profitable by increasing the efficiency of production and linking resources and markets. By the turn of the century, the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains regions of the American West were no longer a mostly unsettled frontier, but were fast becoming regions of farms, ranches, and towns.

cowboys cattle drives
Cowboys & Cattle Drives
  • The years immediately before and after the Civil War were the era of the American cowboy, marked by long cattle drives for hundreds of miles over unfenced open land in the West, the only way to get cattle to market.






transcontinental railroad
Transcontinental Railroad
  • The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad soon after the war ended intensified the westward movement of settlers into the states between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Although the RAILROAD was completed in 1869, it is considered to be one of the greatest domestic achievements of the LINCOLN administration. Commissioned in 1862, the US government split the job between two railroad companies: the PACIFIC starting in Sacramento, California and working east, and the UNION railroad company who worked west. They met at PROMOTORY POINT, Utah.  

Labor for the transcontinental railroad depended upon IMMIGRANT LABOR. IRISH workers made up the bulk of the Union Pacific labor force, while the CHINESE formed the backbone of the Central Pacific.