The Great West and the Agricultural Revolution
The Clash of Cultures on the Plains
In the West, white soldiers spread cholera, typhoid, and smallpox to the Indians. The whites also put pressure on the shrinking bison population by hunting and grazing their own livestock on the prairie grasses.
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.
"Tribes" and "chiefs" were often fictions of the white imagination, for Indians usually recognized no authority outside their own family.
In the 1860s, the federal government herded the Indians into smaller confines, 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 massacred 400 Indians who apparently posed no threat.
In 1866, a Sioux war party attempting to block construction of the Bozeman Trail to the Montana goldfields left no survivors when they ambushed Captain William J. Fetterman's command of 81 soldiers and civilians in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains.
In 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry set out to suppress the Indians after the Sioux attacked settlers who were searching for gold in the "Great Sioux reservation." His cavalry was instead slaughtered.
The Nez Percé Indians were forced to surrender and were deceived into being sent to a dusty reservation in Kansas in 1877.
The taming of Indians was accelerated by the railroad, white men's diseases, and white men's 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 upon 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 the following year in search of the precious metals.
"Fifty niners" also rushed to Nevada in 1859 after an abundant amount of gold and silver was 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 population and wealth to the West. The discovering of gold and silver also allowed the Treasury to resume specie payments in 1879.
Beef Bonanzas and the Long Drive
The problem of bringing cattle meat to the East from Texas was solved with the introduction of the transcontinental railroad and the newly perfected refrigerator cars.
The "Long Drive" consisted of Texas cowboys driving herds of cattle over unfenced plains until they reached a railroad terminal to where they could be sold. It became significantly less profitable when homesteaders and sheepherders began to put up barbed-fences by which the cattle could not cross.
Cattle-raisers organized the Wyoming Stock-Growers' Association in order 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 a rapid filling of empty spaces and to provide a stimulus to the family farm.
The Homestead Act turned out to be a cruel hoax because the land given to the settlers usually had terrible soil and the weather included no precipitation. Many homesteaders were forced to give their homesteads back to the government.
After the devastating 6-year drought in the West in the 1880s had destroyed farmers' crops, "dry farming" took root on the plains. Its methods of frequent shallow cultivation were adapted to the dry western environment, but over time it depleted and dried the soil.
Once wheat was introduced to the West, it flourished. Eventually federally-financed irrigation projects caused the Great American Desert to bloom.
The Far West Comes of Age
The Great 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.
In 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 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, the superintendent of the census announced that for the first time, a frontier line was no longer evident; all the unsettled areas were now broken up by isolated bodies of settlement.
Western migration may have actually caused urban employers to maintain wage rates high enough to discourage workers from leaving to go farm the West.
Cities of the West began to grow as failed farmers, failed miners, and unhappy easterners sought fortune in cities. After 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 prompted 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.
The mechanization of farms brought about the idea that farms were "outdoor grain factories."
Deflation Dooms the Debtor
The farmers of the West became attached to the one-crop economy - wheat or corn - and were in the same lot as the southern cotton farmers. The price of their product was determined in a unprotected world market by the world output.
In 1870, the lack of currency in circulation forced the price of crops to go down. Thousands of farms had mortgages, with the mortgage rates rising ever higher.
The good soil of the West was becoming poor, and floods added to the problem of erosion. Beginning in the summer of 1887, a series of droughts forced many people to abandon their farms and towns.
Farmers were forced to sell their low-priced products in an unprotected world market, while buying high-priced manufactured goods in a tariff-protected home market.
Farmers were also controlled by corporations and processors. Farmers were at the mercy of the harvester trust, the barbed-wire trust, and the fertilizer trust, all of which could control the output and raise prices to high levels.
Even though farmers made up ˝ the population in 1890, they never successfully organized to restrict production until 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 gradually raised their goals from individual self-improvement to improvement of 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 held the idea of public control of private business for the general welfare. The Grangers' influence faded after courts had reversed their laws.
The Greenback Labor Party combined the appeal of the earlier Greenbackers with a program for improving the lot of labor.
Prelude to Populism
Farmers formed the Farmers' Alliance in Texas in the late 1870s in order to break the grip of the railroads and manufacturers through cooperative buying and selling.
The Alliance weakened itself by excluding blacks and landless tenant farmers. The Colored Farmers' National Alliance was formed in the 1880s to attract black farmers.
Out of the Farmers' Alliances the People's Party, also known as the Populists, emerged. It called for nationalizing the railroads, telephones, and telegraph; instituting a graduated income tax; and creating a new federal subtreasury - a scheme to provide farmers with loans for crops stored in government-owned warehouses. Populists also wanted the 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 mistreated by an oppressed economic and political system.
"General" Jacob S. Coxey set out for Washington in 1894 with a demand that the government relieve unemployment by an inflationary 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. Debs was imprisoned for not ceasing the strike.
Golden McKinley and Silver Bryan
The Republican candidate for the election of 1896 was William McKinley. Marcus Alonzo Hanna led the Republican presidential campaign. Hanna felt that the prime function of government was to aid business. The Republican platform supported the gold standard.
The Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan. The platform demanded inflation through the unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold; meaning that the silver in a dollar would be worth about 50 cents.
Class Conflict: Plowholders versus Bondholders
William McKinley won the election of 1896. Many of McKinley votes came from the East. Many of Bryan's votes came from the debt-stricken South and the trans-Mississippi West. The wage earners in the East voted for their jobs and had no reason to favor inflation, which was the heart of Bryan's campaign.
McKinley's election ushered in a new character to the American political system. Diminishing voter participation in elections, the weakening of party organizations and the fading of issues like the money question and civil-service reform came to replaced by the concern for industrial regulation and the welfare of labor. Scholars have dubbed this new political era the period of the "fourth party system."
Republican Stand-pattism Enthroned
The Dingley Tariff Bill, passed in 1897, proposed new high tariff rates to generate enough revenue to cover the annual Treasury deficits.
The panic of 1893 had passed and Republican politicians claimed credit for bringing prosperity to the nation.
The Gold Standard Act of 1900 provided that paper currency be redeemed freely in gold.