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The West and the Transcontinental Railroad. Where is this? What are they doing? Why are they doing it?. A. The Great Frontier . The “West” constituted the Great Plains to CA. Virtually no whites in this area before 1865. Floods of people to this area after 1865.

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the west and the transcontinental railroad

The West and the Transcontinental Railroad

Where is this?

What are they doing?

Why are they doing it?

a the great frontier
A. The Great Frontier
  • The “West” constituted the Great Plains to CA.
  • Virtually no whites in this area before 1865.
  • Floods of people to this area after 1865.
  • Inhabited by natives that have already been pushed westward.
    • Sioux & Comanche (Plains)
    • Apache & Navajo (SW)
    • Nez Perce & Shoshoni (NW)
  • Expansion spurred by Homestead Act (1862)
b homestead act 1862
B. Homestead Act (1862)
  • Settler could acquire as much as 160 acres of land by living on it 5 yrs and making improvements on it.
  • Land given away by gov’t to encourage settlement of West
  • Caused problems with native tribes.
c native american clashes
C. Native American clashes
  • By 1860, 10,000s buffalo hunting natives roamed western Plains.
  • Organized into tribes and broken down further by “bands” of 500.
  • Western tribes never successfully united politically or militarily.
  • Many treaties with US gov’t from before 1860, but pressure by white settlers to gain greater access to land made treaty-breaking, corruption and fraud prevalent.
  • Natives often gave up ancestral lands in exchange for food, supplies and the promise of being LEFT ALONE.

6. Warfare

  • 1868-1890 – constant warfare between whites and natives.
  • US wants land for gold/mining vs. natives avenging broken promises and treaties
    • Sioux Wars (1876-1877)
      • warriors led by Sitting Bull
      • US troops led by George A. Custer
      • Started in Black Hills, SD and ended in Montana at Battle of Little Big Horn where Custer and his troops wiped out by Crazy Horse and Sioux Warriors.
    • Nez Perce (Idaho) led by Chief Joseph
      • forced into Canada in 1877
      • Relocated to OK but only after 1/3 died from disease
    • Apache (AZ and NM) led by Cochise and Geronimo
      • Forced into Mexico
      • Relocated to OK and become successful cattle farmers.
    • Wounded Knee (1890)
      • Last major clash between US troops and natives
      • US army sent to stop “Ghost Dance” – 300 killed

7. Result of the Indian Wars

  • By 1890, all No. American tribes on reservations
  • Natives ravaged by white diseases and alcohol.
  • Railroads
    • Cut through ancestral lands
    • Brought endless supplies of US troops and settlers.
  • Killing of buffalo ended native resistance to white westward movement.
    • 15 mil buffalo in 1868 – 1000 by 1885.
    • Food supply destroyed, had to farm to eat.
  • Helen Hunt Jackson writes “A Century of Dishonor”
    • chronicling US deceit toward natives.
    • “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” of its time
    • Inspired reform efforts to “assimilate” natives.

8. Dawes Severalty Act (1887)

  • Attempt to “assimilate” natives into white culture
  • Gave native families 160 acres to farm.
  • Accelerated already decaying native culture.
  • Remained federal policy towards natives until FDR’s New Deal.
  • Natives become US citizens in 1924.
  • Currently 2 million Native Americans in US
d transcontinental railroad
D. Transcontinental Railroad
  • Pacific Railway Act (1862) –passed by Republican Congress during Civil War.
  • Work started in 1863
    • Union Pacific built West from Omaha using mostly Irish “paddies”.
    • Central Pacific Railway built east from Sacramento using mostly Chinese laborers.

c. Completed in 1869 at Promontory Point, UT

  • UP built 1086 mi.
  • CP built 689 mi.

d. Hundreds lost their lives in explosions and Indian raids

e impact of transcontinental rr
E. Impact of Transcontinental RR
  • Linked entire continent by rail and telegraph
  • Paved the way for incredible growth of West
  • Seen as the most monumental achievement.
  • Travel time cut from 6 mo. to 1 week.
  • Created huge domestic market for raw materials and manufactured goods.
  • Led to great exodus to cities from rural areas in late 19th c.
  • Large influx of immigrants due to RR advertising in Europe and free land offers.
  • Standardized time zones created
  • Makers of millionaires
  • Natives marginalized and put on reservations.
  • Established 3 western frontiers – MINING, CATTLE and FARMING


    • Copper, lead, tin, quartz and zinc more bountiful and profitable than gold and silver.
    • Gold discovered at Pike’s Peak in CO (1859) – 100,000 ppl settle there.
    • Comstock Lode (gold and silver) discovered in NV in 1859 – big population influx

b. Cattle raising

  • RR (and refrigerated cars) made meat transport to cities faster
  • Created the “long drive”
    • Cowboys drove herds thru Plains until they reached a RR terminal.
    • Cowboys mostly Mexican and black.
    • Difficult living
      • Barbed wire invented by homesteaders made driving cattle difficult
      • Weather, lightning could be fatal for herd and themselves
      • Overgrazing and water supplies limited.

c. Farming

  • Motivated by Homestead Act
  • “free land” giveaways last until 1934.
  • Not all 160 acre plot created equal
    • Many couldn’t make a go of it.
    • Many use RR to come back to urban centers for jobs.
  • Railroads and corporations controlled much land- farmers upset about this.
  • Improved irrigation techniques helped
  • Glidden’s barbed wire helped protect crops from grazing cattle.
f end of the frontier
F. End of the Frontier
  • Incredible growth from 1870-1890
    • states admitted from 1888-89.
    • Feeling that “western frontier” no longer existed now that all area had some settlement.

2. Economic Problems for Farmers

    • Crop lien system – poor farmers borrowed money at high rates and could not get out of debt.
    • Deflated currency
    • Natural disasters
    • High property taxes
    • Charged high freight rates by RRs.
    • Not represented and poorly organized
    • form Populist (or “People’s”) Party
g populism and the populist party
G. Populism and the Populist Party
  • Third party formed from various farmers groups
  • Create a platform for 1892 Prez election
  • Nominate James B. Weaver
  • Won over 1 million votes and 22 electoral votes - One of few third parties to win electoral votes
  • Party dies out, but issues carry on into Progressive era and eventually most get addressed/solved

6. Platform

    • Free and unlimited coinage of solver (easier to pay off debts)
    • Graduated income tax (wealthy pay a higher %age of their income, thus more money)*
    • Gov’t ownership of telephone*, telegraph * and railroad. (to keep rates affordable)
    • Initiative, referendum and recall (more popular involvement in state politics)*
    • Limited land grants to settlers only, not to RRs
    • Direct election of senators*
    • 8 hr work day*