The American Journey Modern Times © 2009

Chapter 4: Opening the West

Chapter Overviews

Section 1: The Mining Booms

After the California Gold Rush ended in the mid-1850s, miners began prospecting other parts of the West. Gold strikes created boomtowns. As territories developed and populated, they became new states.

Far from industrial centers in the East and Midwest, mining communities depended on the railroad to bring supplies and take their gold and silver to market. Government subsidies spurred construction of the transcontinental railway, which was largely built by African Americans and Chinese and Irish immigrants under harsh conditions. Transcontinental rail lines led to the development of cities in the West, created time zones, and changed American society.

Section 2: Ranchers and Farmers

Ranchers and cowhands drove herds of longhorn cattle across the Plains on the difficult and dangerous Long Drive from Texas to railroad towns in Kansas and Missouri. Cattle were then shipped by railroad to new markets in the North and East. The “Cattle Kingdom” ended when beef prices fell.

Farming came to the Plains after the Homestead Act of 1862 offered free land to those willing to settle there. Many immigrants as well as African Americans were attracted by the chance to own land and be independent. Despite new farming tools and methods, the climate of the Plains proved to be a great challenge to farmers. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Territory, which had been set aside as “Indian Territory,” opened for settlement in 1889.

Section 3: Native American Struggles

Native Americans depended on the buffalo to survive. Railroad companies, however, slaughtered the animals for food and to protect the trains, threatening the Native American lifestyle. The government forced Native Americans to move to reservations in the Plains, which precipitated many violent conflicts between whites and Native Americans. One of the most violent clashes took place in 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. This confrontation marked the end of armed conflict between the U.S. government and Native Americans.

Section 4: Farmers in Protest

During the late 1800s, prices for farm crops dropped steadily, but prices for seeds, equipment, and transportation continued to increase. To solve these problems, farmers organized groups like the National Grange and Farmers’ Alliances which promoted education and cooperative buying. Although the organizations failed to become a powerful political force, Alliance members formed the Populist Party, which supported the views of farmers and common people. The Populist Party also endorsed a currency based on free silver. The Populists supported many reforms and although they won many state and local offices their presidential candidate lost to Republican William McKinley in the 1896 election.

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