The Settlement of the American West from 1870 to 1990
In 1860, Great Plains were called by Americans the “Great American Desert”. Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri, were very sparsely settled cities. Only Texas and California were more populated cities in the Far West. But from 1865 to 1890, the situation in the Far West was changed. People settled on 430 million acres there. It was the biggest settlement for the last 250 years in the American history.
During 1849-1870, the discovery of precious minerals, such as gold and silver, in California, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota, attracted the attention of miners and prospectors. In 1860-1870, the improvements in pumps and windmills, and the railroads’ expansion sparked an influx of farmers and ranchers to the Great Plains. The work at the mine was very risky and dangerous. The money from this work was invested into the Civil War. In 1877, it caused the declining population growth in Virginia City.
Every immigrant, who wanted to be the citizen of Great Plains, received 160 acres of land and paid a small fee, but the developing of the homesteads failed, because there was practically no rain.
In 1890, the United States took the national census and announced that only a quarter of the century was necessary for the settlement of the far western frontier. During these years, three million families started ranches on the Great Plains. By 1890, most of the population of West lived in the cities. The Trans-Mississippi West was the most urbanized region.
In 1893, the western frontier was closed. But the West’s settlement had depended on the federal government’s intervention. The government had begun to explore this region and dispatched cavalry units to force Native Americans to live in reservations. It also financed the railroad building, and, in the twentieth century, supported the building of dams.
At that time, the classic American heroes appeared. They were the cowboy and the western lawman.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the immigration from southern and eastern Europe changed the population’s religious and ethnic composition. These immigrants, in contrast to earlier immigrants, who had come from Canada, Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, and Ireland, came from Italy, Hungary, Russia, and Poland. Most of them were Jewish and Catholic and settled mainly in the cities.
The American historian Turner argued that the conquest and settlement of West formed the nation’s values and character. This expansion accounted for optimism, independence, ingenuity, adaptability, and self-reliance of the America.