This chapter details western settlement and its impact on Native Americans.
Section 1 discusses how miners and ranchers migrated West after the Civil War to search for economic opportunities. The West's rich deposits of gold, silver, and copper attracted droves of settlers to the Rocky Mountains. News of a mineral strike could turn a sleepy frontier outpost into a bustling boomtown seemingly overnight. As miners exhausted deposits, many boomtowns turned into ghost towns. The flurry of mining activity throughout the West spurred the building of railroads through the Rocky Mountains and turned supply posts into large cities. Not all settlers headed west to find their fortunes in mining. Some Americans began establishing huge cattle ranches on the Great Plains. On the open range, cowhands rounded up Texas longhorns and drove them along cattle trails to the railroad for shipment east. The open-range cattle industry was beset with problems as "range wars," overproduction, and nature affected ranchers' profits. It was the invention of barbed wire, however, that put an end to the open range and long cattle drives.
Section 2 describes the settlement of the "Great American Desert"—the Great Plains. The construction of the railroads provided settlers easy access to the vast western Plains. Settlers were drawn by the railroads' offers of cheap land and a new law that protected their property rights. Life on the Great Plains was difficult, and settlers faced threats of fire, insect swarms, and extreme weather. Both small family farms and huge bonanza farms profited from new farming methods and machines, and by the 1880s the United States had become the world's leading exporter of wheat. In the 1890s, farmers fell on hard times when overproduction dropped the price of wheat and drought destroyed crops. Some Great Plains farmers were forced to go back east, but those who stayed on the Plains persevered the harsh environment to build strong communities. By 1890, the populations of settlers in the West signaled that the frontier was closing.
Section 3 explains how the Plains Indians struggled to maintain their lifestyle as American settlers moved West. The farmers, miners, and ranchers that poured onto the Plains during the late 1800s deprived Native Americans of their hunting grounds and often forced Plains Indians to relocate. Between 1862 and 1890, the Plains Indians attempted to defend their land and preserve their way of life. Battles between Native American nations and the American army led to bloodshed. Congress tried to put an end to Native American resistance by establishing reservations on the Plains and giving the army authority to deal with those who refused to report or remain there. Within a few years, Native Americans began leaving the reservations to hunt the dwindling numbers of buffalo that lived on the open Plains. As the army tried to rein in Native Americans, bloody battles ensued. After a massacre in Montana, the army stepped up its campaign against fugitives. In 1890 at Wounded Knee, Native American resistance came to an end. Attempts to replace Native American culture with a new lifestyle failed. Their traditional way of life, based on the migrating buffalo, had been wiped out with the herds.