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The American West 1840-1895

The story of the American West is the story of how white settlers gained control of the whole of the North American continent from the East Coast to the West Coast. The Plains are a vast stretch of America, West of the Mississippi River. Why did Americans call the Plains the Great White Desert?

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The American West 1840-1895

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  1. The story of the American West is the story of how white settlers gained control of the whole of the North American continent from the East Coast to the West Coast. The Plains are a vast stretch of America, West of the Mississippi River. Why did Americans call the Plains the Great White Desert? BECAUSE: They thought no-one could live there. They thought the land was so poor that you could not grow anything to eat so no-one could survive. BECAUSE: Before 1830, no-one had really explored it so they did not know much about it. White settlers arrived on the East coast in the 1600s By 1890 they had settled right across to the West coast The American West 1840-1895 Why were the Plains Indians able to survive on the Plains? BECAUSE: They made good use of the things that were there. Buffalo: They were nomads – they followed the buffalo herd and hunted them. They ate their meat and used the skin for clothes, shoes and for their shelter – called a tipi.

  2. BECAUSE: They were a close community who all helped each other. A chief was in charge and men hunted and women cooked and put up the tipis. All the decisions were made together so everyone accepted them. Why did Plains Indians live in tipis? BECAUSE: Suited weather: Cone shape meant they were not blown over by strong winds on plains. Cool in summer and warm in winter because front flap could be open or shut. BECAUSE: They were easy to put up and take down which was important because the Plains Indians were always on the move, following the buffalo herds. What were the beliefs of the Plains Indians? The Plains Indians believed in: WakanTanka – the Great Spirit who was in everything. The Happy Hunting Ground – which was their heaven. Honour in battle – enemies were often touched with a coup stick rather than killed. Why did White Americans think the Plains Indians were savages? BECAUSE: They mutilated their enemies by scalping them BUT Indians did this to stop them getting into the Happy Hunting Ground. BECAUSE: Indians sometimes had more than one wife BUT this was to make sure every woman in the tribe was looked after. BECAUSE: They were not Christians Why were horses important to the Plains Indians BECAUSE: They were a sign of status, the more horses a tribe had, the wealthier it was (like expensive sports cars now!). Tribes often stole horses from each other and this caused conflict. BECAUSE: Horses made hunting buffalo easier so Indians were better fed. Travelling was also easier. Indians collapsed tipis and turned them into sleds called travois to carry more things to trade or people.

  3. Why did the first settlers travel West in the 1840s and 1850s? BECAUSE: They were poor and thought they would have a better life in the West, farming the Plains or that they would get rich like those looking for gold. BECAUSE: They wanted to be able to practise their religion without being attacked for it eg Mormons. Why was going West dangerous? BECAUSE: Weather: Hot sun, cold nights, winds, flash floods. Journey took months, if delayed could be hit by snow and freezing winters. BECAUSE: Easy to run out of supplies on such a long journey and few places to stock up. BECAUSE: They could get lost as trails were not well known, especially at start of going West in 1840s. Why did people dislike the Mormons? BECAUSE: Mormons worked and lived together to create strong communities. They did not like Non-Mormons which made Non-Mormons suspicious of them. BECAUSE: They were successful and so rich. This made Non-Mormons jealous of them. BECAUSE: Mormons practised polygamy and took more than one wife. Christians did not like this. Why was the West such a lawless place? BECAUSE: It was big, isolated and so far away from big towns and cities. Criminals knew they could get away with things because it took so long for law officials to get there. There were lots of places to hide from the law. BECAUSE: There were so many different types of people with different ways of life – homesteaders/cattle ranchers and many different races of people Europeans, Chinese etc who did not always understand each other. BECAUSE: The type of people who went there were tough, carried guns and sorted out their own problems.

  4. What problems did railroad companies face in building the railroads? • Money: Building railroads was expensive so government gave companies land which the companies could then sell to settlers. 2) Difficult land: Mountains and deserts are not easy to build on but they did it with the help of skilled Chinese immigrants going through the Rocky mountains. What impact did the railways have? SPEEDED UP SETTLEMENT: Settlers could now get to West easier and quicker so thousands more went West. UNITED THE STATES: Railroad meant Government could now control whole of USA as could get law men out to West much quicker and communication was improved. 3) DESTROYED BUFFALO: Railway tracks interfered with buffalo migration, trains brought in hunters who killed millions of buffalo. Huge impact on Indians – beginning of end, no buffalo, no way of life. ? Why did the Open Range end? BECAUSE: There was no money in it. Too many cattle meant too much beef so price dropped. BECAUSE: Invention of windpumps meant cattle men could get water when they wanted it so did not have to drive cattle around to find it. BECAUSE: Invention of barbed wire meant huge amounts of land could be easily fenced off.

  5. Homesteaders PROBLEM SOLUTION HARD SOIL: Land never farmed before. Too tough to plant in. SODBUSTER PLOUGH: Its steel blades could break up soil. WATER: Little rain fell, droughts common, crops failed WIND PUMPS: Could draw water up to surface. BARBED WIRE: Land could be fenced off (but led to conflict with open range. FEW TREES: No wood to fence off their land SIZE OF PLOT: Homesteaders given 160 acres in Homestead Act of 1862 but too small to get good living out of. SIZE OF PLOT: Government gave them another 160 acres in 1873 if they planted trees on half of land NEW CROPS: Red Turkey wheat from Russia introduced and grew well in harsh conditions. TYPE OF CROPS: American wheat was too weak to grow in harsh conditions

  6. Why did the Plains Indians win the Battle of Little Big Horn? BECAUSE: Strong leaders: Crazy Horse was a military genius who had worked out how to fight the US Army and had beaten them in battle before. Sitting Bull had a vision that the Sioux would win. This meant the Indians were full of confidence before the battle. BECAUSE: General Custer of the US Army did not realise their were so many Indians and divided his soldiers up into three different groups so they were hugely outnumbered. He had also exhausted his troops by making them march overnight. What were conditions like on the reservations? - HORRENDOUS! BECAUSE: Food rations to the Indians were often not enough and the land was so poor they could not farm it to grow extra supplies. BECAUSE: Indians’ children were sent away to boarding school to become good Christians. Parents who refused to let them go were not given any food. BECAUSE: Chiefs had all their powers taken away and all Indian traditions and customs were banned. Why did the Plains Indians lose control of the Plains? BECAUSE: US Government Policy: The US Government took over the Plains bit by bit using treaties that they then broke when white settlers wanted more land. It followed Manifest Destiny – God wanted Americans to settle plains. BECAUSE: When the Indians fought back because the treaties were broken, the US Government sent in the US Army who were better equipped than the Indians and forced them onto reservations. BECAUSE: The US Government destroyed the herds of buffalo, killing millions of them between 1870-1885. Without the buffalo, the Indians had no way of surviving on the Plains so had to move onto reservations or starve to death.

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