Chapter 26

The Great West and the Agricultural Revolution



The Clash of Cultures on the Plains

In the West, soldiers spread cholera, typhoid, and smallpox to the Indians.  They also reduced the bison population through hunting.

The federal government tried to appease the Plains Indians by signing treaties with the "chiefs" of various "tribes" at Fort Laramie in 1851 and at Fort Atkinson in 1853.  The treaties marked the beginning of the reservation system in the West.

Indians usually recognized no authority outside their own family; "tribes" and "chiefs" were fictitious names made up by white people.

In the 1860s, the government grouped the Plains Indians into smaller plots of land: mainly the "Great Sioux reservation" in Dakota Territory, and the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.


Receding Native Population

At Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864, Colonel J. M. Chivington's militia killed 400 innocent Indians.

In 1866, a Sioux war party attacked and killed Captain William J. Fetterman's command of 81 soldiers and civilians in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn was a rare Indian victory in the plains wars.

In 1876, Colonel George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry was slaughtered as they tried to suppress the Indians after the Sioux attacked settlers who were searching for gold in the "Great Sioux reservation."

The Nez PercÚ Indians were sent to a dusty reservation in Kansas in 1877.

The "taming" of Indians was accelerated by the railroad, white men's diseases, and alcohol.


Bellowing Herds of Bison

After the Civil War, over 15 million bison grazed the western plains.  By 1885, fewer than 1000 were left after the bison had been slaughtered for their tongues, hides, or for amusement.


The End of the Trail

By the 1880s, the nation began to realize the horrors it had committed on the Indians.  Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor in 1881 which told of the record of government ruthlessness in dealing with the Indians.  She also wrote Ramona in 1884 which told of injustice to the California Indians.

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 dissolved many tribes as legal entities, wiped out tribal ownership of land, and set up individual Indian family heads with 160 free acres.  If the Indians behaved like "good white settlers" then they would get full title to their holdings as well as citizenship.  The Dawes Act attempted to assimilate the Indians with the white men.  The Dawes Act remained the basis of the government's official Indian policy until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

In 1879, the government funded the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.


Mining:  From Dishpan to Ore Breaker

In 1858, minerals including gold and silver were discovered in the Rockies, prompting many "fifty-niners" or "Pike's Peakers" to rush to the mountains in search of the precious metals.

"Fifty niners" also rushed to Nevada in 1859 after gold and silver were discovered at Comstock Lode.

Women gained the right to vote in Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1896), long before the women of the East.

Frontier mining played a vital role in bringing people and wealth to the West.  The discoveries of gold and silver also allowed the Treasury to resume specie payments in 1879 (payments for silver).


Beef Bonanzas and the Long Drive

Transcontinental railroads enabled live cattle to be transported to the East from Texas. The cattle were butchered once they arrived in an Eastern city.

Cattle-raisers organized the Wyoming Stock-Growers' Association to make the cattle-raising business profitable.


The Farmer's Frontier

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed a settler to acquire as much as 160 acres of land by living on it for 5 years, improving it, and paying a nominal fee of about $30.  Instead of public land being sold primarily for revenue, it was now being given away to encourage settlement of empty spaces and to provide a stimulus to the family farm.

Much of the land given away by the Act had terrible soil and the weather included no precipitation.  Many homesteaders were forced to give their homesteads back to the government.

The 100th meridian was an imaginary line running from the Dakotas to Texas that separated the wet East from the dry West. "Dry farming" was the practice of using shallow cultivation to grow crops in the dry western environment. Over time, it depleted and dried the soil.

Tough strains of wheat flourished in the West, and new federally-financed irrigation projects caused the Great American Desert to bloom.


The Far West Comes of Age

The West experienced tremendous population growth from the 1870s to the 1890s.  Colorado was admitted as a state in 1876 after the Pike's Peak gold rush.

From 1889-1890, the Republican Congress, seeking more Republican electoral and congressional votes, admitted six new states:  ND, SD, MT, WA, ID, and WY.  Utah was admitted in 1896, after the Mormon Church formally banned polygamy in 1890.

Many "sooners" illegally entered the Indian lands in the district of Oklahoma.  On April 22, 1889, the district was opened to the public and thousands came.  In 1907, Oklahoma was admitted as the "Sooner State."

The Fading Frontier

In 1890, an American frontier line was no longer evident; all the unsettled areas were now broken up by isolated bodies of settlement.

Western migration may have caused urban employers to maintain high wages to discourage workers from leaving to go farm the West.

Western cities grew as failed farmers, failed miners, and unhappy easterners sought fortune in cities.  By 1880, the area from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast was the most urbanized region in America, measured by the percentage of people living in cities.


The Farm Becomes a Factory

High prices caused farmers to concentrate on growing single "cash" crops, such as wheat or corn, and use their profits to buy produce at the general store and manufactured goods in town.

The speed of harvesting wheat dramatically increased in the 1870s by the invention of the twine binder and the in the 1880s by the combine. This mechanization of farms brought about the idea that farms were "outdoor grain factories."


Deflation Dooms the Debtor

Because Western farmers grew single crops (wheat or corn), they existed in a one-crop economy, like the southern cotton farmers.  Farmers' livelihoods depended on the price of their single product, which was unpredictable and out of their control.

In the late 1800s, deflation caused the relative prices of crops to decrease. Thousands of farms foreclosed, and some farmers became tenant farmers, renting instead of owning the land that they farmed.


Unhappy Farmers

In the late 1800s, poor soil and droughts forced many people to abandon their farms and towns.

Farmers sold their produce in an unprotected world market, but they had to buy their manufactured equipment in a tariff-protected home market.

Farmers were at the mercy of various corporations: harvester trust, the barbed-wire trust, the fertilizer trust, railroad trust.

Farmers made up half the population in 1890, but they failed to organize until they were forced to do so by the federal government 50 years later. 


The Farmers Take Their Stand

The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry (also known as the Grange), organized in 1867, was led by Oliver H. Kelley.  Kelley's first objective was to enhance the lives of isolated farmers through social, educational, and fraternal activities.

The Grangers also sought to improve the farmers' collective troubles.  They established cooperatively owned stores for consumers and cooperatively owned grain elevators and warehouses for producers.

Some Grangers entered politics and made Grange Laws, which tried to force public control of private business for the general welfare.  The Grangers' influence faded after courts reversed their laws.

The Greenback Labor Party sought to improve the working conditions of laborors.


Prelude to Populism

Farmers formed the Farmers' Alliance in the late 1870s. They cooperated in buying and selling to gain control over the railroads and manufacturers. The Alliance had limited power because it excluded blacks and landless tenant farmers. The Colored Farmers' National Alliance was formed in the 1880s to attract black farmers.

The People's Party, also known as the Populists, grew out of the Farmers' Alliance.  It called for nationalizing the railroads, telephones, and telegraph; instituting a graduated income tax; and creating a new federal subtreasury, in which harvested crops were stored until crop prices rose. Populists also wanted free and unlimited coinage of silver.


Coxey's Army and the Pullman Strike

The panic of 1893 strengthened the Populists' stance that farmers and laborers were being oppressed by the economic and political systems.

"General" Jacob S. Coxey led a protest in Washington in 1894, demanding that the government start a public works program.

Eugene V. Debs helped to organize the American Railway Union.  The Pullman strike of 1894 was started when the Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages.  Federal troops broke up the strike.


Golden McKinley and Silver Bryan

The Republican candidate for the election of 1896 was William McKinleyMarcus Alonzo Hanna was McKinley's influential campaign manager.  Hanna felt that the prime function of government was to aid business, and he believed in the "trickle down effect" (laborers do well if the business does well). The Republican platform supported the gold standard.

The Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan.  He supported inflation through the unlimited coinage of silver, which caused many Populists to support him as a candidate.


Class Conflict:  Plowholders versus Bondholders

William McKinley won the election of 1896.  Many of McKinley's votes came from the East.  Many of Bryan's votes came from the debt-stricken South and the trans-Mississippi West.  Businesses and wage earners in the East voted for their jobs and had no reason to favor inflation, which was the heart of Bryan's campaign.

The election of 1896 was the last election in which a candidate tried to win the election with help from the farmers. There were more people in cities, so future elections focused on trying to win the urban vote.

The political era from 1896 to 1932 was called the "fourth party system." This time period was characterized by lower voter turnout, weakening of party organizations, and the fading of issues like civil-service reform. New political issues became concern for industrial regulation and the welfare of labor.


Republican Stand-pattism Enthroned

The Dingley Tariff Bill, passed in 1897, instituted high tariff rates to generate revenue to cover the annual Treasury deficits.

The Republicans claimed credit for bringing prosperity to the nation following the panic of 1893.

The Gold Standard Act of 1900 allowed for paper currency to be redeemed for gold.


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