The completion of the railroads to the West following the Civil War opened up vast areas of the region to settlement and economic development. White settlers from the East poured across the Mississippi to mine, farm, and ranch. African-American settlers also came West from the Deep South, convinced by promoters of all-black Western towns that prosperity could be found there. Chinese railroad workers further added to the diversity of the region's population.
Settlement from the East transformed the Great Plains. The huge herds of American bison that roamed the plains were virtually wiped out, and farmers plowed the natural grasses to plant wheat and other crops. The cattle industry rose in importance as the railroad provided a practical means for getting the cattle to market.
The loss of the bison and growth of white settlement drastically affected the lives of the Native Americans living in the West. In the conflicts that resulted, the American Indians, despite occasional victories, seemed doomed to defeat by the greater numbers of settlers and the military force of the U.S. government. By the 1880s, most American Indians had been confined to reservations, often in areas of the West that appeared least desirable to white settlers.
The cowboy became the symbol for the West of the late 19th century, often depicted in popular culture as a glamorous or heroic figure. The stereotype of the heroic white cowboy is far from true, however. The first cowboys were Spanish vaqueros, who had introduced cattle to Mexico centuries earlier. Black cowboys also rode the range. Furthermore, the life of the cowboy was far from glamorous, involving long, hard hours of labor, poor living conditions, and economic hardship.
The myth of the cowboy is only one of many myths that have shaped our views of the West in the late 19th century. Recently, some historians have turned away from the traditional view of the West as a frontier, a "meeting point between civilization and savagery" in the words of historian Frederick Jackson Turner. They have begun writing about the West as a crossroads of cultures, where various groups struggled for property, profit, and cultural dominance. Think about these differing views of the history of the West as you examine the documents in this collection.
To find additional documents in American Memory on topics related to the West, use such keywords as West, ranching, Native Americans, and pioneers, or search using the names of states or cities in the West.
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International borders have always been centers of conflict, and the
U.S.-Mexican border is no exception. With the European colonizing the New
World, it was a matter of time before the powers collided. The Spanish
settled what is today Mexico, while the English settled what is to day the
United States. When the two colonial powers did meet what is today the
United StatesÃÂ¹ Southwest, it was not England and Spain. Rather the two
powers were the United States and Mexico. Both Counties had broken off from
their mother countries. The conflict that erupted between the two countries
where a direct result of different nation policies. The United States had a
policy of westward expansion, while Mexico had a policy of self protection.
The Americans never had a written policy of expansion. What they had was
the idea of 'Manifest Destiny.' Manifest Destiny was the belief that the
United States had the right to expand westward to the Pacific ocean.
other hand, Mexico was a new country wanting to protect itself from outside
powers. Evidence of U.S. expansion is seen with the independence of Texas
from Mexico. The strongest evidence of U.S. expansion goals is with the
Mexican-American War. From the beginning, the war was conceived as an
opportunity for land expansion. Mexico feared the United States expansion
During the 16th century, the Spanish began to settle the region. The
Spanish had all ready conquered and settled Central Mexico. Now they wanted
to expand their land holdings north. The first expedition into the region,
that is today the United States Southwest, was with Corando. Corando
reported a region rich in resources, soon after people started to settle the
region. The driving force behind the settlement was silver in the region.
The Spanish settled the region through three major...