American West

Timeline of events: 1835 - 1895

American West: supporting resources

  • Student resources
  • Films
    Numerous films portray the American West. Below are some of our recommendations., based on what have successfully used in class. Be beware that some content my be inappropriate for your class. Please check before showing.

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  • YouTube

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    Check out or youtube channel:
    GCSE History for selected recommended viewings.

American West: timeline

American West, 1835 - 1895

  • Background

    It is believed that Native American Indians arrived into North America via the Bering Strait and Northern Canada, 15,000 + years ago. When the Europeans arrived in the 16th century the population had been in decline. Diseases (smallpox) killed off millions of Indians over the next 400 years. US governments have sought to 'assimilate' them into the US way of life. Most tribes have been reluctant to give up their own way of life.

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    "All things in the world
    have souls. The sky has a spirit: so do the animals, trees, grass,
    water, stones, everything. The spirits are
    our gods and we pray to them so
    that they will help us"

    Chief Goodbird

  • Plains Indians: way of life, 1830s

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  • The journey west

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    Mountain Men Documentary
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    Mountain Men

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    Oregon Trail - Wagon Trails
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    Oregon Trail

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  • The Mormons: the journey to Salt Lake City, 1840s

    Who are the Mormons?
    . The Mormon religion was started by Joseph Smith in the 1820s
    . Smith claimed to have found some gold plates in the mountains of New York State
    . He translated the signs & symbols on the plates with the help of an angel
    . The translation was a story about how the person who found the plates had to build a church of Jesus Christ in America (God's Kingdom) ready for the second coming of Christ.
    . The
    Book of Mormon (1830)
    told how Jesus visited America after the resurrection & three of the lost tribes from Israel had come to America. The Indians were descended from one.

    . God's Kingdom
    the Mormons were God's chosen people & were to
    set-up their own society
    Joseph Smith's belief of having more than one wife, divided Mormons & shocked Christians in the USA, until it was banned in 1890
    converting people all around the world
    held by the church, no private ownership

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    Journey of the Mormons2:34
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    Journey of the Mormons

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    Mormon Trail
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    Morman Trail

  • The Mormons in Salt Lake City

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    Why the Mormons were persecuted

    . Polygamy
    The idea of more than one wife was against Christian teaching, so most people were against it.

    . God's chosen people
    People thought the Mormons were arrogant for thinking they were God's chosen people.

    . Missionaries
    Mormons actively looked to convert people. This annoyed many Christians.

    . Anti Slavery
    The Mormons were against slavery. This upset many people especially in Missouri.

    . Danites
    The Danites, used to protect other Mormons, but became a private army.
    The Danites scared people.

    They attacked US officials in Salt Lake.

    These factors scared many people in the USA

    Examples of persecution:

    The Mormons had to leave:
    . Ohio
    . Missouri
    . Illinois

    . Mormons attacked

    Their leader Joseph Smith
    was killed

    . 1887 law restricted the rights of the Church

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  • Homesteaders, 1860s

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    Role of Women

    The sod houses were very solid
    but were dirty & needed constant maintenance.

    The maintenance of the household was the responsibility of the women.

    Women prepared the food.
    Little change in the diet: corn bread; salted meat & coffee

    Buffalo & cow dung, dried & known as 'cow-chips' burned well.

    Dirt & disease
    Lots of insects lived in the sods, so keeping the house clean was a constant chore. Whitewashing the walls helped.
    Miles from the nearest towns & doctors so people had their own remedies for most illnesses.

    Single women were encouraged to live on the Plains & to teach
    the children.
    Pay was low & conditions poor but the job was necessary.

    From prairie to breadbasket

    By 1900, there were over 500,000 farms on the Plains.

    The prairie grass had been replaced with wheat & other crops

    Railways now took the produce to market in the East & West.

    States were formed in the USA as people settled across the country.

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    Documentary about life on the Homestead
    Descendents accounts and diaries. letters etc

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    Life as a Homesteader

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    Homestead Act
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    Homestead Act

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  • The Gold Rush, 1848 - 1855

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  • The railiways, 1860 - 1890

    Building the railways

    1860: railways stopped in Missouri

    1890: railways crossed the USA

    Total: 140,000 miles of track

    Why they built a railway from the east coast to the west coast …..
    . link the country
    . create trade & business in the USA & with Asia
    . bring civilisation to remote parts
    . improve the lives of people living on the Plains

    Who built the coast to coast railway ….
    Pacific Railways Act 1862:
    Union Pacific:
    started from Omaha in Nebraska (east) & headed west
    Central Pacific: started in Sacramento (west) & headed east

    US Government: gave land to railroad companies either side of the tracks they laid plus
    $16 - 48,000 per mile of track

    Companies: sold this land to help pay for the cost of the tracks + make money once railway was built
    Transcontinental Railway
    Union Pacific + Central Pacific
    Before: by wagon 5 or 6 months
    After: railways 5 or 6 days

    . took 6 years to build
    . cost $50,000,000
    . 3,500 miles long
    .Central Pacific built 15 tunnels

    . telegraph was run alongside the railway tracks

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    Transcontinental Railroad documentary

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    Transcontinental Railroad

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    Railways east - West
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    Railway: transcontinental

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  • The cattle industry, 1865 - 1895

    Start of the cattle industry

    Texas was the home of the cattle industry.
    Europeans brought the 'Longhorn' cattle used by the Mexicans in Texas. The cattle were tough animals.

    Herds of cattle roamed free.
    The climate was mild, with plenty of grass and water.

    The cattle were rounded up from time to time by 'vaqueros' meaning cow in English.

    1836: Texas became independent from Mexico &
    American ranchers took over the cattle industry mainly using them for their skins.

    1850s beef became more popular in the USA.

    First cattle trails
    1837: first trails for herds of 300 - 1000 cattle
    1842: to New Orleans
    1850: to California
    1856: to Chicago

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    Transcontinental Railroad documentary

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    Transcontinental Railroad

    Railways east - West
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    Railway: transcontinental

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  • Cattlemen and cowboys, 1860 - 1895

    Key Cattlemen

    John IIlif
    First big rancher.
    Started in 1862.
    Supplied railroad companies, then the Sioux Indians.
    Others followed him onto the Plains.
    Charles Goodnight
    Took cattle from Texas to Fort Sumner in Mexico.
    Fed the soldiers & Indians there in 1866.
    US govt. bought up to 60,000 cattle per year.
    John Chisum
    Early rancher in New Mexico.
    Worked with Goodnight in herding cattle to Fort Sumner.
    Involved in the Lincoln County War.
    Joseph McCoy
    Built the first cow town: Abilene in Kansas, 1867.
    In 15 years over 1.5 million cattle past through.
    Ranchers & buyers met in Abilene to do their deals.

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    Cowboys of the Open Range

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    Cowboys of the Open Range

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    Railways east - West
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    What it was like to be a cowboy

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  • Law and order, 1860 - 1895


    Difficult to administer law
    Lots of different things made keeping law & order difficult in the American West:
    . huge geographical areas
    . lack of effective government
    . male dominated towns
    e.g. gold rush & cowboys

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    Gold Rush problems
    Gold Rush towns grew up quickly & were unorganised.

    . Lack of laws of claiming land
    . Lack of housing etc
    . Few rules & laws
    . No police
    . Bars, gambling & prostitutes

    . Often lots of violence
    . Miners' Courts - though no real powers to enforce decisions
    . Vigilante Committees - took the law into their own hands.
    Often hanging people there & then.
    Vigilante trials not always fair.
    The gun was law
    The American West was
    a place where the gun was law.
    Many people learnt to use guns in the civil war.
    A claim of self defence meant you could kill a man & get away with it.

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    The conflict over land: The Great Plains

    Background: Cattlemen v Farmers

    Before the arrival of the cattlemen there were some problems & conflicts between homesteaders over water or borders between each other's land.
    Cattlemen competed with farmers for use of:
    . land (good grazing for animals)
    . water
    Farmers complained:
    . cattle spread disease
    . cattle use up water supplies
    . cattle trampled & ate crops
    (cattlemen cut the barbed wire fences)
    . sheep farmers attacked
    . stopped from crossing ranches to get to their land
    Cattlemen complained:
    . farmers stopped access to water
    . cattle were rustled (stolen)
    . farmers animals (sheep) ate all the grass

    Cattle rustling
    Stealing cattle was a problem for all ranchers.
    Taking young unbranded cattle & branding them as your own by other cattlemen & farmers was common.

    Johnson County War

    Wyoming Stock Growers Association represented the cattle ranches. The Governor of Wyoming was a member. They were rich & got laws passed to suit the interests of the cattlemen.

    Farmers, increased in numbers in the mid 1880s as they bought land from the ranchers who went bankrupt due to droughts.
    Cattle rustling was a problem in Johnson County.

    Farmers, fenced their land which sometimes included water holes.
    Wyoming Stock Growers Association
    hired gunmen to find the cattle rustlers in Johnson County. A former Sheriff & bank robber, Frank Canton led the gunmen.


    1889 July
    Ella Watson & Jim Averill were lynched at home for cattle rustling.
    They lived on a rancher's land. Ella was a prostitute & sometimes took cattle as payment from cowboys. Jim had written a letter to the local newspaper saying that cattle ranchers were just rich land grabbers.
    Rustling continued in Johnson County

    Lynchings continued to match the rustling
    Wyoming Stock Growers Association made a list of people they thought were rustlers & formed an assassination squad.
    Nate Champion, a small cattle rancher, who grazed cattle on public land was declared as 'king of the cattle thieves' & attacked by by the WSGA. Champion survived & a trial followed. Some people called for the rich cattlemen to be tried too. Witnesses were assassinated before the trial.
    1892 March
    The evidence showed the likely conviction of Joe Elliot, employed by the WSGA for murder & attempted murder of Champion
    The cattlemen decided to invade Johnson County & sort the problem out themselves. They attacked Champion's KC Ranch. Over 400 men from all over the county headed to the TA Ranch where the attackers hid. Before the Ranch could be attacked US soldiers arrived, saved the killers & 'arrested' them
    Governor Barber of Wyoming took control of the killers, whom he sympathised with.
    They were not questioned, as Wyoming Republican senators supported the Governor.
    Johnson County struggled to pay for the trial & all the costs linked to it. The case collapsed & nobody was brought to justice.
    Elections saw the Democrats beat the Republicans, as voters were upset by what had happened.

    Wyoming Stock Growers Association now included smaller ranchers reducing the power of the few big cattlemen.
    Vigilantism continued but was greatly reduced.

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    Cartoon portrayal of the Johnson County War
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    Johnson County War (04:18)

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    Cartoon and song about Johnson County War
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    Johnson County War (02:17)

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  • Conflict on the Great Plains, 1830 - 1895

    The conflict over land: The Great Plains

    Different cultures
    Native Americans:
    Land: did not believe in ownership
    - they
    shared the land with others.
    Lifestyle: Many were nomads
    - following the buffalo on the Plains
    Belief: in the Great Spirit

    White Americans:

    Land: believed in owning the land
    Lifestyle: settlers & farmers
    Belief: Christians

    1830 Indian Removal Act
    President Jackson started the movement of Indians.
    All land west of Mississippi was for the Indians.

    Great American Desert
    . The Great Plains was seen as a desert - of no use to the white farmers
    . The plains were for the Native American Indians

    The Great Migration: Trails
    The 1840s saw Americans start the migration from East to West
    - across the Plains
    - across the Indian lands

    Many early pioneers like
    Jim Bridger,
    traded with the Indians
    Annual fur trade camps, were attended by Indians & whites.
    There was respect for the
    Indian way of life.

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    Arrival of the railway in the 1860s
    made the situation worse for the Indians. It went against the treaties.

    Railroad companies killed buffalo
    to feed their workers.

    Railroad companies sold off land either side of the tack to settlers.

    Indians hated the 'iron horse' attacked the workers, ambushed trains & destroyed track.

    The US army came to protect the railroad companies.

    Agreements & Treaties
    Agreements & Treaties continued through the 1860s, 1870s & into the 1900s

    Generally speaking the new agreements & treaties
    reduced the size of the reservations & restricted the Indian lifestyle

    1865 Little Arkansas Treaty
    US govt wanted peace & attacks to stop on wagon trains. Indians wanted access to hunting grounds.
    Agreement on reservations, but never implemented.

    1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty
    Reduced the size of the reservations given in the 1865 Treaty. Not agreed by Indians.

    1868 Fort Laramie Treaty II
    Agreed Lakota ownership of Black Hills, plus other hunting lands.
    Gold prospectors continued to break the Treaty.

    1871 Indian Appropriation Act
    No Indian tribes recognised as independent nations.
    Made taking of their land easier.

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  • Life on the reservations, 1880s

    1887 Dawes Act


    Native Americans now lived in reservations that were getting smaller and smaller in size.

    Federal govt. supplied the reservations with food & supplies.

    Land allowed to be divided up & given to individual Indians.

    Given 160 acres, but not own it for 25 years. then allowed to be US citizens.

    Any land left was then made available to others.

    Government hoped Indians, would become more 'American'.

    Some Indian children were taken away from their parents to be educated separately.

    Many reservations had problems:
    . disease
    . alcoholism
    . poverty

    Some in the U.S. thought reservation life made people lazy.

    Amount of land given over to reservations was 60% less than originally given.

    By 1890 there were no large areas of land available.

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  • Revision

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