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Settling the West. Phase 1:Miners and Ranchers. Miners Go West. 1848-Gold was found in California. Led to 1849 Gold Rush. 1859- Pure silver ore strike became known as the “Comstock Lode” was found in Nevada by Henry Comstock.

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settling the west

Settling the West

Phase 1:Miners and Ranchers

miners go west
Miners Go West

1848-Gold was found in California. Led to 1849 Gold Rush.

1859- Pure silver ore strike became known as the “Comstock Lode” was found in Nevada by Henry Comstock.

  • Almost overnight, the population went from frontier town to a boomtown.
  • Economy collapsed years later and the town was abandoned. Boom and Bust Cycle became commonplace in the early West.

Crime levels rose over claim disputes, theft, etc. and law officers were scarce. Self-appointed volunteers formed vigilance committees to police the towns.

Mining towns were mostly men, but women did start to migrate West and fill vital roles.

other mining towns
Other Mining Towns

Colorado, the Dakota Territory, and Montana were also a result of mining.

  • Pikes Peak- Gold was found in 1858, spurring a frenzy of miners. The famous “Pikes Peak Hoax” was a reality for many, but plenty of gold and silver was buried deep in the Colorado Mountains.
  • Leadville, Colorado received 1000 newcomers a week in 1879 thanks to a huge strike. More than $1 billion in silver was found, making it one of the most famous boomtowns
  • The difficult extraction process created a need for more aggressive mining techniques. Prior to this, placer mining with picks, shovels, and hands was the primary method.
  • Corporations began to fill this need with a process called quartz mining. As the need for supplies in mining towns grew, so did the need for transportation of the minerals. The Railroad was extended to the Rocky Mountains for this purpose.
the dakota territory and montana
The Dakota Territory and Montana

1870’s -Gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory while copper was discovered in Montana.

These strikes led to rapid development of the Northern Great Plains. Eventually, the Railroad was needed there as well. It allowed many farmers and ranchers to move there.

Congress divided the territory into North and South Dakota in 1889.

ranchers go west
Ranchers Go West
  • While many miners were looking for work in the Rocky Mountains after the Civil War, others turned to cattle farming on ranches in the Great Plains.
  • Many people thought this was a bad idea because:
    • Water was scarce
    • Cattle from back East could not survive on the tough prairie grasses.

However, a new breed of cattle known as the Texas Longhorn was perfectly suited for life on the plains.

the texas longhorn
The Texas Longhorn

Descended from Spanish cattle 200 years earlier and brought in by ranchers in Mexico.

By 1865(end of Civil War), 5 million roamed Texas.

Cattle ranching was introduced by the Mexicans in Texas, New Mexico, and California before these areas were states.

The Open Range System allowed cattle ranching to grow in these areas because it was a large area of grasslands that was owned by the government. The government allowed ranchers to graze their cattle free of charge and without boundaries.

the texas longhorn s impact
The Texas Longhorn’s Impact
  • Prior to the Civil War ranchers had no desire to round up longhorns because the price of beef was low and transporting the cattle back east was difficult.

Two things changed this

  • The Civil War had left a food shortage as eastern cattle were used to feed the Union and Confederate armies. After the war, beef prices soared.
  • The Railroad finally reached the Great Plains by the 1860’s. The lines ended at Abilene and Dodge City in Kansas, and Sedalia, Missouri. Ranchers realized that if they could drive the cattle north to these railroad points, they could be sold for a huge profit. They would then be shipped back east.
the long drives
The “Long Drives”
  • This refers to the physical act of rounding up cattle and driving them in herds.
  • The first Long Drive occurred in 1866 when ranchers drove 260,000 cattle to Sedalia, Missouri. Only a fraction survived, but it was a huge success as they sold the others for ten times the price they could get in Texas.
  • Other trails developed too. The Chisholm Trail linked to Abilene and became a famous route.
  • The Long Drives created the “Cowboy”. Cowboys worked for the ranchers and accompanied their herds to the railroad.
the cowboy culture
The Cowboy Culture
  • Many were former Confederate soldiers wanting to escape the “new south” that was created by Reconstruction.
  • Others were Hispanic and African American.
  • Undoubtedly, Long Drives were exciting and dangerous. However, many cowboys told exaggerated tales about their adventures that formed the stories found in “dime novels”. These books helped to create the myths that many people associate with the Wild West.
  • As ranching became big business, “Range Wars” broke out among competing groups. A new invention was created to address the Range War problems: Barbed Wire.
barbed wire
Barbed Wire

Barbed wire enabled hundreds of square miles to be fenced off cheaply and easily

Though ranchers opposed it at first, they soon realized that it would allow them to block their land off from competing ranchers trying to drive cattle across their land. This made it difficult to continue with the “Open Ranges” and the need for cowboys declined.

Other factors also contributed to the end of the Long Drives:

An oversupply of animals caused prices to drop drastically.

The winter of 1886 and 1887 saw harsh blizzards that made cattle unable to travel through the deep snow.

The cattle industry survived, but it was changed forever. Cowboys became ranch hands and new European breeds replaced the longhorn.