The Conquest of the Far West Chapter 16
The Conquest of the Far West • Native American tribes had felt a land shortage among themselves beginning as early as 1831 • Some tribes were sedentary and docile. • Mexican landowners in Mexico had enslaved tribes such as Navajo, or subdued tribes such as the Pueblo (both of these are Southwest tribes) • Warrior tribes rose to the top of a tribal class system after about 1831
The Conquest of the Far West • Following the War with Mexico (1846) those tribes were not troublesome to the USA • Plains tribes strongly resisted further attempts to limit their ancestral hunting access to lands of the plains • These tribes: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and in some cases Apache, were the most feared by white settlers
The Conquest of the Far West • White understanding of Indian nations was limited • All were assumed to be the same • All were assumed to be hostile • In reality, they were hunters rather than warriors; tribes resorted to warfare against whites to protect their livelihood
The Conquest of the Far West • Indians were very diverse groups • There are an estimated 6,800 distinct languages spoken in the world today • About half are no longer spoken by children; many more are extinct • Over 2,000 have writing systems • There were at least 300 distinct languages spoken in the Americas in 1491
The Conquest of the Far West • Had the tribes united against white take over of their lands, they could not have been defeated. • As with South American indigenous peoples in the 16th century, all North American tribes suffered heavy death toll from European diseases such as measles and smallpox
The Conquest of the Far West • “Conquering the West” not just a matter of fighting Indians; subduing the land itself was a formidable task. • Travel into the new lands of the USA was difficult • Prairie grass was difficult to plow • The Plains areas thus among the last to be settled
The Conquest of the Far West • What the Mexicans called “California” was actually the modern-day states of Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. • Large numbers of non-Spanish speakers had begun to migrate there in the early 1800s. Mexicans differentiated between themselves – the true “Californios” – and these settlers.
The Conquest of the Far West • The Californios were outnumbered by the 1830s, a fact that contributed heavily to Mexico’s loss of California in the war between Mexico and the United States in 1846-1847.
The Conquest of the Far West • Manifest Destiny had been responsible for the English-speaking migration into California • The Manifest Destiny movement also dictated that the Native American tribes that inhabited California were not entitled to these lands either
The Conquest of the Far West • California was the first new state formed from the lands won from Mexico in 1847, by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo • It was quickly admitted to the Union after gold was discovered in 1848
The Conquest of the Far West • The “gold rush” resulted in a rapid increase in population of the new state • It also led to a need for cheap labor, both for mining tasks and for railroad building • Indians were unsuited for this work, and many white settlers were more interested in “get rich quick” opportunities than in the dreary labor of construction
The Conquest of the Far West • California was a “draw” to settlers from the time of the Gold Rush • The lands near the west coast settled before the Plains • Travel to California sometimes overland via covered wagon; more often, by ship
The Conquest of the Far West • Asians Began settling in California in early 1820s • Their numbers grew after the 1840s Gold Rush • White mine owners needed cheap labor • Many Chinese also worked on building transcontinental railroad in 1860s • Resistance to Chinese immigrants grew as their numbers increased and prospered
The Conquest of the Far West • Anti-Chinese racism in California was similar to anti-black racism in East • In 1852, California levied a tax on non-white mine owners, to discourage Chinese entrepreneurship • Chinese workers on transcontinental railroad were treated badly, often cruelly, to discourage them from remaining in the US after completion of the railroad
The Conquest of the Far West • In 1869, the final spike placed on transcontinental track at Promontory Point, Utah, joining Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad company tracks • Once the railroad was completed, Chinese workers were expected to return to China • Instead, they flocked to West Coast cities, establishing many “Chinatowns”
The Conquest of the Far West • Chinese contract labor was often the solution to these worker shortages • Mining companies and railroad companies advertised heavily in China (most of which was at that time under colonial control by Britain) • Working prospects in China were poor, so many workers came to the US in search of the high wages advertised
The Conquest of the Far West • The advertisements were often false • The Chinese were welcome, but with the understanding that once the work was completed they would take their wages and return to China • However, many men brought their families and settled permanently
The Conquest of the Far West • By the late 1850s the permanent Chinese population of California was growing • White resistance grew with it
The Conquest of the Far West • Chinese immigrants were successful in many ways • In San Francisco, Chinese businessmen formed the “Six Families” of “six Companies” organization • They worked out favorable trade arrangements among each other and kept Chinese trade in Chinese hands as much as possible • They also kept Chinese ethnic traditions alive
The Conquest of the Far West • Generally similar to a business corporation • Provided jobs, insurance, business contacts for Chinese people • Other Chinese organizations were more secretive, such as the gang-like “tongs” formed for protection • Not all of the tongs were criminal gangs
The Conquest of the Far West • However, so many tongs were engaged in criminal activity that the very existence of a Chinese tong in a community set local law enforcement on edge • Some of the benevolent tongs were harassed by police as much as those who ran opium dens or committed other crimes.
The Conquest of the Far West • By an 1852 law, Chinese men were not allowed to purchase mines without paying an exorbitant “foreign miner’s tax.” • Working conditions for Chinese men were harsh, often deadly • The fact that Chinese immigration continued regardless of the poor conditions in America shows how desperate Chinese were in China, under British rule.
The Conquest of the Far West • All Chinese workers were called “coolies” in the slang of the day – a highly derogatory term • Evidence of strong “anti-coolie” sentiment: • Anti-Coolie clubs formed; boycott of Chinese-made products; ban on hiring Chinese workers • All were organized by white businessmen and citizens
The Conquest of the Far West • Anti-immigrant feeling towards the Chinese grew as strong in California as anti Irish feeling had in the northeast, and anti-Black feeling had in the South • Newspapers began to speak of the “Yellow Peril” – the large population of Chinese in California’s bigger cities. • Often erupted into outright violence against Chinese
The Conquest of the Far West • In 1882 Congress accepted this race fear and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned any Chinese immigration from 1882 until 1892 • It also kept any non-naturalized Chinese person already in the US from applying for citizenship • Congress extended the Act for another ten years in 1892, and made it permanent in 1902.
The Conquest of the Far West • White immigration from poor areas in the eastern United States continued during these years also. • This immigration was encouraged by the US government, in part to counter the rise of Asian populations and in part to “fill up” the new territories • Some thought this would reduce the (negligible) risk of any attempted takeover from a foreign country
The Conquest of the Far West • The invention of a new type of plow in the 1850s made prairie farming possible • Prairie soil was discovered to be exceptionally rich, ideal for corn, wheat, oats • European immigration increased strongly from Eastern European farming countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Scandinavian countries of similar climate
The Conquest of the Far West • This increasing population would bring about conflict between these new populations and the many Native American tribes who had called California home for many centuries. • Settlers were innovative in adapting to harsh prairie conditions
The Conquest of the Far West • Settlers made bricks of thatched prairie sod removed for tilling soil (“soddies.”) • Gave new nickname for Eastern European immigrants: “sod-busters” • Homestead Act of 1862 promised 160 acres to any who would live on and cultivate land
The Conquest of the Far West • USA thus settled its new lands from the edges into the center • By 1890 only Oklahoma (once called merely “Indian Territory in the early 19th century) was the only unorganized territory from the original Louisiana Purchase
The Conquest of the Far West • The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of land very cheaply (usually, 4 acres for $1) to any person who would live and farm there for at least 5 years. • Some land in California was not suitable for farming, and many homesteads were abandoned – more were abandoned than were settled.
The Conquest of the Far West • The Homestead Act made the west by far the most culturally diverse section of the United States or its territories, and it was for a long time the most socially integrated. • But the social equality was most obvious among the poor and landless than among land owners • Between these two classes, the differences resembled life in the East.
The Conquest of the Far West • The gold rushes brought a mining boom to western territories. The 1848 California gold rush was followed by an 1858 gold rush in Colorado, by a Nevada silver rush in the 1870s, and by an Alaska gold rush in the 1880s. • Each rush saw the overnight rise of “boom towns,” places where miners took care of the necessities (social and legal) of their lives and businesses.
The Conquest of the Far West • Prairie land was also excellent for grazing cattle • New industry sprang up, aided by the transcontinental railroad: cattle ranching • Ranchers established large spreads on remote prairie areas, herded cattle to nearest rail connection (“railhead”) in late summer each year to sell for beef markets and shipment East
The Conquest of the Far West • Aside from gold, the next-biggest factor in the economy of the New West was cattle farming • The plains (formerly called “The Great American Desert) were found to be very well-suited for cattle ranching. • Farmers did not develop suitable plows for the tough grass of the prairies until the 1880s, and ranchers’ cattle roamed free and grew fat on the rich prairie grass.
The Conquest of the Far West • Once yearly, ranch hands known as “cowboys” would round up their owners’ cattle – distinguished from each other by distinctive brands burned into the cows’ flesh, and herd them to the nearest railroad outpost (or “railhead.”) • Herders known as “cowboys” led the cattle to these railhead towns. • These were known as the “long drives.”
The Conquest of the Far West • Boom towns also sprang up at these railroad outposts. • Rail towns became boom towns because of the cattle markets • Dodge City, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska are only two examples
The Conquest of the Far West • Life in the “cattle country” was more relaxed, much less formal than in the east • Women were vastly outnumbered by men, and gained social acceptance in traditionally male roles that was not available to them elsewhere. • Western states generally granted suffrage to females long before eastern states did.
The Conquest of the Far West • “The West” was highly romanticized in the East • Novels, songs, “Wild West Shows” attracted a wide audience • Popular novels such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902) served to heighten public interest in the west; a popular perception was that people were somehow truer, and more natural living close to the land as westerners did.
The Conquest of the Far West • American painters idealized the “savage wilderness” • Painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Frederick Remington romanticized the heroes of the “Wild West.”
The Conquest of the Far West • A romantic aura grew around life in the West • Tales of cowboys, Indians, gold strikers were popular with Americans who never hoped to actually see the territory • Often, these stories were written by people who had never seen the territory either, based on second-hand reports and pure invention
The Conquest of the Far West • “Wild West” shows in the east featured sharp shooters, cowboys and cowgirls doing stunts on horseback • Usually included a token Indian or two.
The Conquest of the Far West • The West figured in American social history as well • Several important theories were advanced by various historians to explain both the romantic lure of the west, and the necessity of a place for the country to expand.
The Conquest of the Far West • American historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote an essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” • He advanced what has become known as the “Turner Hypothesis.” • Turner believed that the constant existence of a western frontier actually drove American expansion politically, and in turn shaped Americans’ view of themselves as a civilization
The Conquest of the Far West • Turner saw the frontier also as a safety valve, where the country could trust that the rowdier elements of society could be kept away from more citified folk • These adventurers could put their talents to use in a way that benefited the country; America got to use the talents of these people, without having to endure the problems they would have made in cities.
The Conquest of the Far West • The Gold Rush in the late 1840s (and later “rushes” as silver and copper were discovered through the 1870s and 1880s) also brought many “boom towns” into existence, almost overnight • Discovery of the Comstock Lode of silver and copper in the early 1860s brought a huge influx of new miners
The Conquest of the Far West • Boom towns were often wild and lawless places • They attracted many who had not been able to make it economically in the East • They also attracted some who were escaping from the police in the East
The Conquest of the Far West • This “safety valve” belief filled some politicians with alarm • By the late 1800s, expansion toward the Pacific was almost complete • What would happen to the country once there was no more frontier? • Where would these rowdy elements of society find a positive outlet for their energies?
The Conquest of the Far West • With the last of the frontier being settled as of 1890, how would the country cope with the absence of a “reason for developing”? • As a practical matter: the closing of the last frontier would bring “the Indian problem” to a violent and unsatisfactory close