This article got me to thinking, so I’ve put together my own list of events which, through research for my dissertation, I believe had the greatest impact on the development of the West – for better or worse:
|Removal of eastern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi|
1. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which doubled the size of United States lands overnight and gave purpose to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806.
- 2. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 that set in motion the Trail of Tears, opening land for white farmers and transferring the country's first inhabitants (many of whom were also farmers) into marginal lands in the West.
4. The California Gold Rush of 1849 which encouraged 300,000 people to head to the west coast to seek their fortunes. In just six years, the population of San Francisco increased from 200 inhabitants to 36,000. The influx of large numbers of immigrants had a devastating impact on the Native population. It is estimated that between 1845 and 1870, as many as 120,000 Indians – or four-fifths of the population – died as a direct result of the gold rush.
5. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 which sought to confine Indians within reservations.
6. The near extermination of the buffalo in the 1870s, destroying a vital food source for Indian people throughout the central plains.
|Fencing in the frontier|
7. The introduction of barbed wire in the mid-1870s. Barbed wire fencing was first marketed to farmers as an effective method for keeping cattle off of cultivated land. Cattlemen were initially opposed to its use because it stopped livestock from finding better grazing on open lands, but by the 1880s Texas ranchers used barbed wire to protect their land from overgrazing. With the arrival of the railroad, it was no longer necessary to move cattle to markets on long trail drives and by the 1890s, open ranges were a thing of the past.
8. The Dawes Act of 1887 further damaged traditional Indian life by allotting parcels of land to individual members of the tribe and encouraging private ownership and farming. The remaining ‘unassigned lands’ – often the majority of already reduced reservations – were then opened up to homesteaders.
9. In 1892, the Johnson County War broke out in Wyoming after years of competition between small ranchers and
|Invaders, held at Fort D.A. Russell, 1892|
|Oklahoma Land Rush 1889, by Xiang Zhang|
10. The various land runs in the West brought an influx of white farmers onto the grasslands. Good harvests over several years encouraged even more farmers onto more land, and over the years the use of modern machinery brought still more land into production. Poor farming methods, however, destroyed the soil's natural resilience, and led to severe erosion. When the drought began in 1930, crops failed and, without vegetation to hold it in place, the land was exposed to further erosion by the wind. In parts of Oklahoma, as much as 75% of the topsoil was lost in dust storms between 1930 and 1940.
|South Dakota, 1936|