Looking to the West (1860-1900) Miners, Ranchers, Farmers, Cowboys
Mining • Young, single men • Desire to strike it rich • Cherry Creek, CO • Other CO places in the mountains • Helena, MT • Virginia City, NV • Black Hills (South Dakota)
The Mining Frontier • Some small prospectors made fortunes • Most money made by large mining corporations. • Mining towns had high populations of foreigners. • Environmental destruction due to blasting, chemicals, and water pollution.
Mining’s Economic Impacts • The added gold (and silver) • Boosted U.S. economy • Increased foreign investment • Stimulated U.S. involvement in global economy
Ranching • Fences • Large tracts of land • Huge herds of cattle • Rise of the Cattle Barons
The Cattle Trails • file:///Users/jcorn/Desktop/Animations/Cattle%20Trails.htm
Texas Longhorn Cattle • Durable • Tough • Ornery • Good sense of smell - could locate sources of groundwater
The American Cowboy • Romanticized • Mythologized • Lonely, rugged existence • Necessary for Cattle business • “The Virginian”
The Cattle Drives • Romanticized, difficult • Spurred growth of RRs • Food “on the hoof” fed growing demand in Eastern Markets and for Miners • Depended on the Open Range
Farming as Business • Improved farming technologies: • Mechanical Reaper (Early Combine) • Barbed wire • Dry farming • Steel Plow • Windmills • Hybridization • Seed drills • Led to Bonanza farms: • Specialized in a single cash crop • The rise of ‘agribusiness’.
Reduced labor force needed for harvest. Allows farmers to maintain larger farms. Mechanized Reaper Keeps cattle from trampling crops and uses a minimal amount of lumber, which was scarce on the plains. Barbed Wire Allows cultivation of arid land by using drought-resistant crops and various techniques to minimize evaporation. Dry Farming Allows farmers to cut through dense, root-choked sod. Steel Plow Smoothes and levels ground for planting. Harrow Powers irrigation systems and pumps up ground water. Steel Windmill Cross-breeding of crop plants, which allows greater yields and uniformity. Hybridization Keeps cattle from trampling crops and uses a minimal amount of lumber, which was scarce on the plains. Improved Communication Array of multiple drills used to carve small trenches in the ground and feed seed into the soil. Grain Drill Farms controlled by large businesses, managed by professionals, raised massive quantities of a single cash crop. Bonanza Farm New Technology Eases Farm Labor
Bonanza Farms • 10,000 acre farms • Wheat boom of the 1880s • Population in Dakotas tripled • Overproduction, high investment costs, droughts, and reliance on one-crop agriculture brought an end to the boom • 1890 prices fell, some lost everything
The Wild West • Gunfights • Outlaws (Billy the Kid) • Marshals and Sheriffs (Wyatt Earp) • Mythical • Dodge City, KS • Tombstone, AZ
Myth Cowboys were romantic, self-sufficient, and virtuous All were white Ideal, garden of Eden Could make a fortune in the west Western towns were lawless Reality Cowboys were young, poorly paid, and did hard labor 20% were black or Mexican Harmonious race relations on the trail Harsh conditions Most made little, if any money There were police forces and order in the West Myth vs. Reality
The Western Myth • Some (Roosevelt) saw social Darwinism in the west. • Perceived as the last chance to build a truly good society • Novels and accounts glossed over hard labor and ethnic strife. • Reality, western settlement depended more upon companies and railroads than individuals.
Taming the Frontier By the 1880s, the frontier had many churches and a variety of social groups. Major theatrical productions toured growing western cities. The East had come West. The End of the Frontier By 1890, the United States Census Bureau announced the official end of the frontier. The population in the West had become dense, and the days of free western land had come to an end. Turner’s Frontier Thesis In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner claimed that the frontier had played a key role in forming the American character. The Turner Thesis, as his view came to be called, stated that frontier life created Americans who were socially mobile, ready for adventure, bent on individual self-improvement, and committed to democracy. Myths in Literature, Shows, and Song The Wild West remains fixed in popular culture and continues to influence how Americans think about themselves. Many stereotypes–exaggerated or oversimplified descriptions of reality, and frontier myths persist today despite our deeper understanding of the history of the American West. Frontier Myths The Wild West: Some elements of the frontier myths were true. Yet, many wild towns of the West calmed down fairly quickly or disappeared.
The Frontier Myth • Still lives in the American imagination • Depicted in movies • TV shows (Frontier House, Little House on the Prairie, Gunsmoke, etc.)