Expansion into the West

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Expansion into the West

As industrialism (an economy based on business and industry rather than agriculture) took over the Eastern states at the dawn of the Gilded Age, immigrants (people who leave one region to permanently live in another) came by the millions to build new lives in their new land. (The Gilded Age was the period in history following the American Civil War [1861–65] and Reconstruction [roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century], characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption.) Most of the immigrants settled in the East. The Southern states were populated largely with African Americans who had been freed from the bondage of slavery. Because the South was not as intensely affected by the Industrial Revolution (an era when business and industry replaced America's agricultural economy, approximately 1878–1900) as was the East, the population growth in that region was not as explosive.

The region of the United States that was still relatively open was the West. California was home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants who crossed the Pacific Ocean to work as servants and railroad laborers and in other positions most workers considered too dirty or dangerous. Mexican immigrants crossed the border into Texas and worked mostly as field hands, taking jobs where they could find them. For the most part, the West was still wild in the minds of Americans.

The Wild West: home of the Native American

The phrase "Wild West" conjured images of dusty plains and ferocious Indians, as Native Americans were called. They were also referred to as savages, known for their brutality in war.

Clashes between Native Americans and the rest of America had been occurring since the 1600s. Tribes in the Northeast forged respectful relationships with fur traders and missionaries, but English settlers lived in constant fear of attacks. After the American Revolution (1775–83), the new government had to deal with a major problem: how to convince the Native American tribes in the Northwest Territory (land north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River) to leave their land so white settlers could move in.

After many battles, the Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795 and the tribes left Ohio for Indiana. The treaty allowed tribes to retain hunting rights to the land, and it promised them $20,000 in immediate payment in the form of goods needed for everyday living. Tribes would also receive another $9,500 in goods annually to be split among them. That did not satisfy the government, as settlers soon began moving in on Native American lands in Indiana, too. This breach of contract angered the tribes, and they formed a confederacy led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh (c. 1768–1813). The great warrior was killed in the War of 1812 (1812–15). His death ended the threat from the Northwest Territory, and the U.S. government was able to develop a policy for removing Native Americans from the region.

By 1860, most Native Americans had been relocated across the Mississippi River. The tribes did not leave their homeland willingly or without a struggle. In addition to many smaller conflicts, the relocation program resulted in the first Seminole War (1817–18), the Black Hawk War (1832), and the second Seminole War (1835–42). These wars were a foreshadowing of what would be more than twenty years of battles between Native Americans and whites.


Gilded Age:
The period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction (roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century), characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption.
Indian agents:
Representatives of the U.S. government who worked with Native Americans. Their responsibility was to resolve conflicts and take the Native Americans' concerns to the government.
Specific land allotted to the Native Americans by the U.S. government, as part of the solution to the "Indian Problem." The tribes did not own the land, but they managed it. These areas were the only places the Native Americans were allowed to live in the nineteenth century.
Cattle thieves.
Individual ownership of land, as opposed to tribal ownership.
transcontinental railroad:
The railroad system that traveled across the entire United States; this included five routes through the West. The last stake was driven into the railroad on May 10, 1869.

The Plains Indian Wars

Relocating the Native Americans did not produce the results for which the government hoped. The conflicts between the tribes and the settlers and military did not end. The only difference was the setting: The battles were now taking place west of the Mississippi River, primarily on the Great Plains. These wars make up what is now historically known as the Plains Indian Wars (1866–90).

Plains tribes were mostly peaceful and lived together with little conflict. But as white settlers moved into the region, the Native Americans grew increasingly distraught and angry. The settlers slaughtered buffalo herds to the point of near extinction. The tribal peoples depended on the buffalo for their way of life. The Native Americans respected the buffalo and hunted it with great appreciation. They killed only what they needed and used every part of the animal for food, clothing, and weapons. The mindless slaughter by white settlers led to the first conflicts between the tribes and the white men.

Hunting was not the only point of contention between the two groups. Corruption among Indian agents (representatives of the U.S. government who worked with Native Americans) fostered distrust and resentment between the Native Americans and outsiders. The responsibility of these agents was to respond to Native American concerns, but some agents stole supplies intended for the reservations (federal land allotted to and managed by Native Americans). Others stole money that was supposed to go to the Native Americans as outlined in various treaties and agreements.

In addition to corrupt agents, the Native Americans were expected to tolerate prospectors (gold miners) trespassing on sacred tribal grounds. Railroads posed another problem when they began interfering with traditional hunting practices. Overall, the Native Americans' way of life was destroyed.

Who Were the Buffalo Soldiers?

Throughout the Plains Indian Wars, approximately 20 percent of the U.S. Cavalry were African American soldiers. These soldiers made up the Ninth and Tenth U.S. Cavalry Regiments. The Cheyenne and Comanche tribes nicknamed these men "Buffalo Soldiers" because they were courageous and strong, qualities shared by the buffalo. The hair of the Buffalo Soldiers reminded Native Americans of the tuft of hair between a buffalo's horns, as well. These soldiers wore their nickname with pride as they fought in more than 177 conflicts against the Native Americans. At least seventeen Medals of Honor were awarded the Buffalo Soldiers throughout the Indian Wars.

In addition to their military duties, the Buffalo Soldiers mapped miles of southwest frontier (wilderness at the edge of a settled area or region) territory and strung hundreds of miles of telegraph lines. Without the protection of the Buffalo Soldiers, construction crews could not have survived long enough to build the railroads throughout the American frontier.

The Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other wars, including the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War (1898), and both World War I (1914–18) and World War II (1939–45).

Hostilities peaked between 1869 and 1878. More than two hundred battles were fought during those years. By the late 1870s, the goal of the federal government became the Americanization of what Hiram Price (1814–1901), commissioner of Indian Affairs, called the "savages." In his 1881 annual report, Price wrote that to "allow them to drag along year after year … in their old superstitions, laziness, and filth … would be a lasting disgrace to our government."

Helen Hunt Jackson: Unlikely Activist

While many Native American rights activists joined organizations to further their cause, some, like writer Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885), acted alone. Jackson's parents died while Jackson was a teen. She was sent to live with an aunt and received a high-class education at Ipswich Female Seminary in Massachusetts and then Abbott Institute (a boarding school) in New York City. At Abbott, she befriended future poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886).

Jackson married U.S. Army captain Edward Bissell Hunt (1822–1863) in 1852, but their life together was marked by tragedy. She lost her husband and two sons within eleven years.

A grief-stricken Jackson moved to Newport, Rhode Island, a city she and her husband had spent time in years before. She renewed her friendship with Dickinson. It was during this time that Jackson decided to pursue a writing career. She initially wrote children's stories, poems, and travel sketches under pseudonyms (false names) like "H. H." and "Saxe Holm." Female writers of the day usually used pen names to conceal their true identity because writing was not considered a "proper" thing for women to do.

Jackson spent the winter of 1873–74 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she was seeking a cure for a breathing disorder she had. There, she met a wealthy banker named William Sharpless Jackson (1836–1919). They married in the fall of 1875, and the new bride was able to focus on her writing without worrying about finances. Jackson's time in Colorado nurtured her interest in the American West in general and in Native Americans in particular.

Jackson attended a lecture in Boston in 1879. She listened to Chief Standing Bear (1829?–1908) talk about the government's removal of the Ponca Indians from their reservation in Nebraska to Indian Territory. Jackson was so moved by the chief's words that she instantly became a tireless crusader for the remaining tribes. She used her writing skills to expose the government's mis-treatment of Native Americans and was an active fund-raiser. Jackson was a determined reformer whose talents would sway public opinion.

Jackson published A Century of Dishonor in 1881. The book was not a balanced history, but a plea for mercy on behalf of Native Americans throughout the country. The book created a scandal by exposing dishonest government officials and practices, broken treaties, and general government corruption and mismanagement. Jackson gave every member of Congress a copy of her book.

As a result of A Century of Dishonor, the U.S. Department of the Interior authorized her and a translator to investigate the condition and needs of the Mission Indians in California. However, government authorities largely ignored the report she wrote in 1883. President Chester A. Arthur (1830–1886; served 1881–85) had made her the first woman to hold the position of commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1882, but Jackson's true gift lay in reaching the public rather than moving the government to action.

In 1884, Jackson wrote a novel called Ramona. The hastily written book was based on her experiences with the Mission Indians. The novel turned out to be the highlight of her career and has been compared with the famous antislavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe's novel shed light on the physical and psychological horrors of slavery.

Ramona has been credited by some historians as the inspiration for the enactment of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 (see later in this chapter). Although the legislation did more harm than good, Jackson's ability to exert such influence at a time when men ruled politics was impressive.

Taming the savages

The 1880s was a decade of reform in the federal Indian policy in the United States. Advocacy (support) groups for Native American rights were formed. Some groups worked together. The Women's National Indian Association, the Indian Rights Association, the National Indian Defense Association, and other organizations were collectively known as the "Friends of the Indian." Their goal was to succeed where reservation life had failed the Native Americans. They believed tribal members could become productive members of society if they had education, U.S. citizenship, and their own land. It would seem that it never occurred to any of these activists that the Native Americans were the oldest citizens of the United States, having lived there longer than anyone else. The irony of the idea of "giving" land to the very people from whom they took land was lost on these well-meaning people.

In an effort to transform the Native Americans into "civilized" people, the government developed programs designed to teach them how to farm and raise livestock. Unfortunately, the reservation lands the tribes were forced to live on were mostly infertile (unproductive). No matter how skilled they would become as farmers or cattle ranchers, the land would prevent them from succeeding to any great degree.

Educational reform was another challenge for the government. A federal school system was developed, and more than twenty thousand Native American children went through that system. They were taught English and vocational skills. For the boys, this meant farming and a knowledge of common trades such as laborers, carpenters, and office clerks. Girls were taught domestic skills such as sewing, cooking, and anything else that would help them manage a household. The main objective of the government was to make the Native Americans self-sufficient.

Another reform effort involved two off-reservation experiments. A boarding school was set up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1879. Eighty-four boys and girls from the Dakota territory attended. By the mid-1890s, 769 students attended. These students were under strict surveillance and completely cut off from relatives on the reservations. Some went years without seeing their families. Reformers considered the Carlisle school so successful that the Indian Office built eighteen more similar institutions by 1895.

The other experiment, begun in 1890, involved sending reservation children to public schools in California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Again, this experiment was successful in the eyes of the whites, and by 1895 there were sixty-two off-reservation public schools for reservation children. These schools, added to the 19 boarding schools and the 185 reservation schools, made up the educational system for Native Americans at the end of the nineteenth century.

Native American response to these experiments and the Americanized educational system was mixed. Many resented having this system imposed upon them and their children. In addition to breaking up families, it instilled in students values that were not necessarily those of Native Americans. The most obvious of these values were religious in nature. Christianity was a white religion. Other Native Americans understood that their children were going to need the education forced upon them if they were to live in white man's society. Although they disliked having their children separated from their families, they accepted the imposition as just one more change in a changing society. What they could not foresee was that education alone was not going to allow their children to fit in to a mostly white society.

No studies were ever conducted to determine the long-term effects of these experiments on reservation children. Historians do know that most of these off-reservation students returned home once they completed their education. Because work was difficult to find on reservations, many reverted back to their old way of life. Those who did seek work outside the reservation often took low-paying jobs with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which was established within the War Department in 1824. Measured against the goals set by the boarding school system, these educational experiments were failures; they did not convert the Native Americans to Christianity, nor did they make them self-sufficient.

The Native Americans did not have a choice about where they lived or how they were educated. But they would not let the white man take away their customs, languages, or political structures. This stance was a threat to the federal government, and by 1871, Congress was legislating programs without consulting the tribes. The BIA was designed to regulate and settle disputes with the tribes, but by the 1870s the BIA was less concerned with justice for the Native Americans than it was with keeping order. Tribes no longer were allowed to act as their own authority figures; they became wards of the government and were subject to laws and regulations imposed upon them. The programs and people that were supposed to protect the Native Americans were now the very groups that were persecuting them.

Life on the reservation

Reaction to reservation life among Native Americans was mixed. This is not to say that some preferred the reservation way of life. Without exception, the tribes would have preferred to continue their traditional way of life, a lifestyle that had been handed down to them through generations. But some Native Americans abandoned the hope of ever returning to their traditional lifestyle. They dedicated themselves to making the most of reservation life since tradition was no longer an option.

These tribal members learned to farm. Some took jobs as reservation police and judges or worked in various capacities with the Indian Affairs agencies. Others found work outside the reservation, usually in the Wild West shows (see box) or in traveling medicine shows (shows where Native Americans performed tribal dances and sold crafts and fake medicines). Some worked in lumber camps, mines, and railroad companies. They sent their children to school. They attended Christian church and dressed like "civilized" (Americanized) members of society. In every way, they tried to assimilate (become similar to their environment) in order to build a life for themselves.

Other Native Americans refused to be "Americanized." Many of these were older male members of tribes, warriors who fought against the United States and lost. Reservations were places of despair and hopelessness for many Native Americans. Many took to drinking liquor supplied by white men. This habit impeded their ability to think clearly, and soon reservation tribes were considered lazy drunks. As noted in Charles Calhoun's The Gilded Age, the famous warrior Sitting Bull (1831–1890) said, "I do not wish to be shut up in a corral. It is bad for young men to be fed by an agent. It makes them lazy and drunken. All agency Indians I have seen were worthless. They are neither red warriors nor white farmers. They are neither wolf nor dog."

The Dawes Severalty Act

The failure of reservations forced the U.S. government to reconsider its Indian policy. U.S. senator Henry L. Dawes (1816–1903) of Massachusetts led the effort for passing a general allotment act in which individual Native Americans would own their own land. This would take away the last factor keeping tribes together. Forcing them to live separately would weaken tribal ties and theoretically make assimilation easier. Dawes was supported not only by reformers but also by railroads, settlers, and other business owners. More than 60 million acres of surplus (extra) reservation lands would be for sale if the allotment act passed.

On February 8, 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act passed. The Act provided Native American families with 160 acres of land; single adults received 80 acres. Along with the land came full U.S. citizenship. There was a catch: citizenship would not be granted until a twenty-five-year trust had expired. Native Americans would lose their legal standing as a tribe but also would not have individual legal standing for an additional twenty-five years.

The Act was implemented gradually; reservations did not disappear entirely. Section 8 of the Act listed specific tribes that would be exempt from the law. These groups included Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Osage, Miamies and Peorias, and Sacs and Foxes. Also exempt were the Seneca Nation of New York Indians in the state of New York and tribes in the territory of Nebraska that adjoined the Sioux Nation to the South. The Dawes Act's provisions eventually extended to these groups as well, but not until 1893.

The Dawes Act did very little to help Native Americans assimilate. They were not prepared to

Entertainment in the Wild, Wild West

The West's reputation as a wild and dangerous frontier was due in part to entertainment shows that traveled from town to town. These performances showcased legendary figures such as Annie Oakley (1830–1926) and Calamity Jane (1852?–1903). The most famous traveling show belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody (1846–1917). Iowa native William Cody held many jobs throughout his life, but the job he considered his career was that of a scout. He also worked for the Kansas Pacific Railroad; one of his duties included finding meat for the workers. Cody calculated that he killed more than four thousand buffalo for the railroad. Whether or not this estimate is true will never be known, but this is what earned him the name Buffalo Bill.

After his stint with the railroad was over, Cody returned to scouting, working again for the U.S. Army. In 1869, he found himself leading forty men into battle. Though surrounded by more than two hundred Native American warriors, Cody remained calm and managed to keep most of his soldiers alive. Exploits like this brought Buffalo Bill fame and respect throughout the West.

Cody met a writer named Ned Buntline (1821–1886), who soon published a series of books and magazines featuring the adventurous scout. The completion of the transcontinental railroad (the railroad system that traveled across the entire United States) in May 1869 sealed Cody's fate; he took advantage of his fame and began work as a hunting guide for the wealthy. Hunters came from all over the world and rode the rails throughout the West in search of animals they had never seen in person.

Thanks to Buntline's novels, Cody had built a reputation throughout the country as a folk hero. The living legend enjoyed his hero status and used it to make money. By 1872, Cody was traveling across the country, starring in productions written by Buntline. The applause was addicting to Cody, who made up his mind to remain in show business forever. He continued to travel but still managed to engage in scouting adventures. In 1882, Cody joined forces with play producer Nate Salisbury. That partnership resulted in "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," a show that would take Cody overseas to Europe and bring him riches he never imagined.

The show itself was made of reenactments of specific historical scenes, such as those from battles, or of general events, such as wagon trains crossing the plains. Between scenes, Buffalo Bill would entertain the crowd with displays of his sharpshooting or rodeo abilities.

Throughout the 1880s, Cody hired approximately one hundred Native Americans for his shows. They would take part in battle reenactments and in staged Indian races. The Native Americans were paid for their work and enjoyed the travel. Some of the more famous warriors of the day, including Sitting Bull (1831–1890) and Geronimo (1829–1909), took part in the show. Despite the fact that Cody used the exploitation of the Native Americans to his advantage, by every account he always treated the Native Americans he hired with respect and refused to allow anyone in the audience to degrade them.

Buffalo Bill's show was an international success because it vividly portrayed the dangers of the West in a safe environment. The lifestyle imposed on him by the show took its toll. Endless travel kept him from his home and family, and years of hard drinking led to a general decline in his health. Cody was ready to quit the show by the 1890s, but poor investments of his wealth left him with little money. He continued to tour with the show until 1916. Cody died at the age of seventy on January 10, 1917.

live life as individual, small family groups. They had been brought up to depend on one another and live as a community. When the Act passed in 1887, tribes owned about 138 million acres of land. By 1900, they had just 78 million acres, and that number would drop to 48 million by 1934. Millions of acres that were not allotted to the Native Americans were considered surplus land and made available for sale to the highest bidder.

On paper, the Dawes Act may have seemed like a solid idea. In reality, however, it was anything but. Not only did the tribes lose much of their surplus land, they lost the individual allotments because they lacked the training to farm and access to credit to buy machinery necessary to operating a farm. They were not allowed to use their land as collateral (something of value pledged to assure repayment of debt), and the federal government had set aside just $30,000 for machinery, livestock, seeds, and other necessities. Rather than compete with their white neighbors, many Native Americans just sold their land to them instead. By 1934, when the Act was abandoned, Native Americans' dependence on the government had not been eliminated in any way. The Dawes Act accomplished the opposite of its intention; dependence on the U.S. government had increased.

The Ghost Dance

Even as the Dawes Act was being implemented, the Native Americans on reservations grew increasingly dissatisfied and unhappy. Many populations were starving. In 1888, a religious phenomena swept the American West. A Paiute tribe holy man named Wovoka (c. 1856–1932) from Nevada experienced a vision during an eclipse (overshadowing) of the sun. The result of his vision was a religion called the Ghost Dance. According to the Ghost Dance, the earth as it was would soon die. New soil would cover the earth and bury the white men, leaving only Native Americans to enjoy the wild horses, buffalo, green grasses, and running water. Even those who had already died in this lifetime would enjoy an existence free from suffering.

In order to earn the right to this next life, Native Americans had to live honestly and embrace their culture's traditions. This meant turning their backs on the white men's ways, especially the use of alcohol. Wovoka instructed tribes to turn to prayer and chanting. He taught them the Ghost Dance, a dance in which dancers might die for a moment to get a brief glimpse into the paradise that awaited them. Part of the Ghost Dance involved the wearing of a specially made shirt which was believed to protect the wearer from enemy bullets.

The Ghost Dance movement caught on throughout the West. All Sioux reservations were practicing this new religion. One Lakota, Kicking Bear (c. 1852–1904), and his brother-in-law, Short Bull (c. 1845–1915), traveled to Nevada to learn about the Ghost Dance. Kicking Bear then visited the great Sitting Bull (1831–1890) in October 1890 to tell him what he had learned. Sitting Bull was a highly respected Lakota chief whose visions of the defeat of General George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876) and his own death came true. Sitting Bull expressed doubt that the dead would be brought back to life, but he had no objections to allowing his people to dance the Ghost Dance.

Indian agents, however, had already reported to the federal government their fears about the strength and influence of the Ghost Dance movement. Now their fears were intensified, as they believed Sitting Bull would join the Ghost Dancers. To keep this from happening, forty-three Lakota policemen were sent to remove Sitting Bull from his home at Standing Rock, South Dakota. They entered his cabin on December 15 and woke the sleeping chief. He agreed to come with the police and asked that his horse be saddled while he dressed. Meanwhile, a large group of Ghost Dancers gathered outside the cabin, and when Sitting Bull and the police stepped outside, one of the dancers shot Lieutenant Henry Bull Head. Bull Head pulled his gun and shot back at the dancer but accidentally shot Sitting Bull instead. Another policeman then killed Sitting Bull with a shot to the head. Before the morning was over, six police and seven warriors were dead.

Wounded Knee Massacre

The Ghost Dance was officially banned on Lakota reservations, yet the dancers continued with their rituals. Many of Sitting Bull's tribe had fled to find safety with another Lakota tribe led by chief Big Foot (c. 1820–1890). Wanting to avoid further violence, Big Foot led his people and the newcomers further south toward the reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

What Big Foot did not know is that officials had already ordered his arrest. The great chief was growing weaker with each hour as pneumonia set in. He had no intentions of fighting and was flying the white flag (symbol of truce, or peace) when he had his people set up camp for the night near Wounded Knee Creek on December 28, 1890. As they settled in for sleep, troops of the Seventh Cavalry surrounded them on all sides.

Soldiers entered the camp the following morning and demanded the Native Americans turn over all their weapons. One of the Native American warriors, Black Coyote, was deaf; he did not understand what was going on and was not willing to give up his weapon. A soldier tried to disarm him and the firearm discharged. Chaos immediately set in, as Native Americans ran for cover and soldiers began shooting them to try to control the disorder. Big Foot was among the first killed, and his corpse lay in the snow for three days before being tossed into a mass grave.

The massacre lasted less than one hour. When it was over, around three hundred Native Americans had been unnecessarily slaughtered; two-thirds of them were women and children. Twenty-five soldiers were dead, another thirty-nine wounded. As reported on the Web site PBS: New Perspectives on the West, Lakota warrior American Horse (c. 1840–1908) recalled the brutality:

There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce. … A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing. … The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through … and after most of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys … came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them.

Corpses of women and children were found scattered as far away as three miles from camp. On New Year's Day of 1891, soldiers dug a pit and piled into it the bodies they could find. Relatives had already removed other bodies. Some soldiers kept souvenirs of the massacre, items such as Ghost Dance shirts they could selllateras"relics"fromtheGhostDance movement.

Because of his actions at Wounded Knee, the man who ordered the slaughter, Colonel James Forsyth (1834–1906), was removed from command. His superior officer was disgusted that Forsyth had approved of the brutal killings of innocent women and children. It was also discovered that many Lakota warriors were unarmed. Forsyth failed to see the error of his ways and instead wrote a report praising his troops for their courage in the face of "religious fanaticism." Forsyth was later reinstated to his position and even rose to the rank of major general. The government further insulted the Native American community when it awarded three officers and fifteen soldiers with the Medal of Honor for their conduct at Wounded Knee.

Although fighting between the Native Americans and whites continued occasionally throughout January, the Wounded Knee Massacre is generally considered the end of the Indian Wars as well as the end of the American Frontier. In 1890, the Bureau of the Census (the government department responsible for collecting information and analyzing the population) announced the closing of the frontier, as there was no longer an obvious line dividing the wilderness from settlement.

Railroads usher in the end
of the Frontier

Railroads, and the Pacific Railroad in particular, were the main factor in the closing of the American Frontier. In 1865, the West and the Great Plains had just 960 miles of track. That figured increased more than a hundredfold by 1900, when the region boasted over 90,000 miles of track. Five routes linked the East with the West.

Railroads made travel faster, cheaper, and safer as they moved not only passengers, but equipment, ore, and grain across the vast prairies and Rocky Mountains of the West. Railroads permanently changed the landscape as well. Where once buffalo and bison roamed the plains, by the late nineteenth century, railroad tracks had destroyed the animals' environment. Eager sport hunters from across the globe traveled to and across the West in search of the mighty bison. Their slaughter was thorough; only about one thousand buffalo were left by 1885.

Frederick Jackson Turner: Frontier Theorist

Frederick Jackson Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin, in 1861. He became a professional historian and taught at the University of Wisconsin as well as Harvard University.

Turner gave a lecture to fellow historians in 1893 in Chicago. The lecture, titled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," was ignored at the time of its delivery. Eventually, it became so well known and studied that one modern scholar calls it "the single most influential piece of writing in the history of American history," according to the Web site PBS: New Perspectives on the West.

Turner's theory was that the frontier's past gave the best explanation of the history of the United States as a whole. He called the frontier the "meeting point between savagery and civilization," and credited it with being the most influential factor on America's character and society. The closing of the frontier, for Turner, left the prospects of the future of the nation a mystery.

Although more than a century has passed since Turner delivered his speech, historians still debate his ideas. Most historians agree that his theory that the frontier is the key to American history as a whole is too simple. They argue that his assumption leaves out important factors such as slavery, immigration, industrialism, and major wars. Others point out that the frontier was not "free land," as Turner called it. If it had been free, there never would have been a need for an "Indian policy," and the Indian Wars would never have taken place.

More recent scholarship focuses on the West not offering the freedom and opportunity that popular Western mythology—and Turner—would have people believe. Turner and popular Western mythology both fail to take into consideration the price paid by Native Americans, Asians, Mexicans, and women who found themselves living in the West.

Turner's theory is debated and contested as a whole, but few critics reject it altogether. The thesis became the organizing principle of American history studies and even prompted the development of a new movement called "The New Western History." This scholarship movement seeks to tell the story of America's history from the viewpoint of those who were treated unjustly. Turner continued his research until his death in 1932.

Cattle drives

As the American Civil War ended, the demand for beef in the East was great. The dry land of the West made growing many crops impossible, but it was perfect for raising cattle. The challenge was getting the cattle across the country. Before the Transcontinental Railroad was built, the only way to get the cattle from the West (primarily Texas) to the railroad in Kansasor Colorado was to make the cattle walk the distance, also called a cattle drive. The journey was long—1000 miles—and took six months of riding ten- or twelve-hour days.

Twenty to forty cowboys were joined by a cook, a trail boss, and several wranglers to herd several thousand cattle and keep them moving in the right direction. The average age of the cowboy was between fourteen and eighteen years, and most of them were Spanish-speaking sons of local farmers, Native Americans, or freed African Americans. The work was hard and the days were long, but cattle drives provided much-needed work for young men in the early 1800s.

By the end of the nineteenth century, cattle drives had become a thing of the past. Cattle was now transported via railroad car.

The Pacific Railroad and the Federal Land Grant Program

Before the final stake was pounded in connecting East with West via the Transcontinental Railroad, passengers and freight could only go as far as Kansas and Colorado. While this was a major accomplishment, the lack of railroads in the West prohibited human settlement on a large scale. The development of the Pacific Railroad changed that.

Barbed Wire: Small Invention with Big Results

As settlers moved into the West and began farming, one thing became clear: Something had to be done with the cattle that freely roamed the plains. Crops needed protection from the destructive animals, but materials for building fences—mainly stone, trees, thorny brush, and mud—were in short supply. Farmers sometimes dug ditches around their crops, but those usually only made the cattle's invasion of croplands more difficult, not impossible.

In 1874, De Kalb, Illinois, farmer Joseph Glidden (1813–1906) invented fencing material consisting of a strand of wire with barbs (sharp points) wrapped around it. The strand was held in place by twisting another strand around it. Glidden's design was just one of more than 570 that received patents (sets of rights granted by the government to show ownership). A friend of Glidden's, De Kalb hardware store owner Isaac Ellwood (1833–1910), bought half the interest in Glidden's patent, and the partners built a factory in 1875 to make the wire. Glidden sold his half of the business to the Washburn & Moen Company, which went on to acquire all but one of the many barbed-wire patents by 1876.

The remaining patent belonged to De Kalb carpenter Jacob Haish (1826–1926), a German immigrant. Haish had received the first barbed-wire patent but became involved in a three-year legal battle over rights with Glidden. In the end, the courts decided Glidden was the true father of barbed wire. Despite the ruling, Haish made a fortune off his patent. He left it all to charity upon his death at the age of ninety-nine.

The invention of barbed wire solved one problem but created another. As landowners used the wire to protect crops and cattle alike, cattle owners who preferred the free-range method (letting their cattle graze openly, without fencing) hated the way it kept their animals from moving about at will. Religious groups called barbed wire "the devil's rope" because of the pain the barbs inflicted on cattle. Cattle drivers disliked it because it got in the way of the drives. When those groups opposed to the use of barbed wire were refused help by the government, they turned to vandalism and violence. By 1882, the "fence cutter wars" were raging across the prairie, causing not only property damage and financial loss, but loss of life. Ranchers murdered fence cutters, fence cutters murdered ranchers. The wars ended in 1884 when a law was passed making cutting fences a felony.

Now that the West had a railroad, immigrants could realize the American Dream, one of great hope of prosperity and riches. European immigrants entered America mainly at Ellis Island in New York. Beginning in 1869, however, they now had the option of leaving the East and heading West, where land was more plentiful. The federal government knew there was a demand for land, since immigrant populations continued to rise throughout the last half of the nineteenth century. Beginning in the early 1800s, the government began giving grants (money that did not need to be repaid) to various groups, such as those who wanted to build homes in the West, before railroads made life on the prairies easier. As railroads were being built, these grants were extended to include the financing of railroad construction.

The plan was simple. The government designated strips of land in areas it wanted people to settle. It designated alternating strips of land to railroad construction and gave that land to railroad companies that promised to build. The railroads then sold the settlement land to settlers, most of them European immigrants, and used the money to pay for railroad construction. Figures released by the American government in 1943 show that a total of 131,350,534 acres of land were granted to all railroads under the program. About 18,738 miles of railroad track were built using funds from the land grants, a figure that represents 8 percent of all U.S. railroad construction.

Historians look at the land grant program with mixed reaction. One of the clauses in the land grant program required the railroads to transport government troops and property at half the normal rate for passengers and freights. In 1945, a congressional committee determined that the government had received more than $900 million worth of transportation in return for lands that would have cost just $126 million to buy. Because those lands would have been worthless if the railroads could not settle them, the railroads were taking a risk. So although the program promoted settlement in the West and achieved that goal, scholars debate whether the means by which the goal was achieved were ethically pursued. The government seemed to get the better end of the deal, having, in essence, traded $126 million of land for $900 million worth of transportation.

A lesser known aspect of the Federal Land Grant Program was the promotion of the West by the railroads themselves. It is generally accepted that most immigrants left their homeland in search of a quality of life they knew they could never have at home. But American railroad companies fed on the immigrants' needs and desires by promoting their land in Europe. Many railroads hired clergy and prominent businessmen to help influence immigrants to come to the West. The railroads focused their efforts on the non-English-speaking countries of northern Europe. It was a common belief that these groups had better work ethics than others, and that they would work harder, complain less, and produce more. The railroads published promotional brochures and pamphlets in several languages. These advertisements promised wealth and success, many times to a degree not possible even for the hardest of workers. But Europeans desperate to find security and comfort believed what they read, and they headed west by the thousands.

When the data is considered, the importance of the railroads in settling the West becomes obvious. Between 1607 and 1870, 409 million acres of land in the West had been settled. The people who ventured west were mostly miners and ranchers. Between 1870 (the year after completion of the Transcontinental Railroad) and 1900, 430 million acres were settled. Most of the settlers in this time period were farmers, both American and immigrant.

So while the railroads brought change in the form of hope to millions of settlers, it forced change in the form of devastation and desperation on Native American tribes who had lived in the West for hundreds of years. The "Iron Horse," as the steam train was known among Native Americans, was something to fear.

The Wild, Wild West

Fear took other forms in the West as well. Towns seemed to appear out of nowhere once settlers began their westward journey. With such large numbers of people settling in a relatively short period of time, many of them from different backgrounds, lawlessness was unavoidable.

The days of the Wild, Wild West included some of the most famous outlaws in American history. Although many people romanticize the lives of people like Jesse James (1847–1882) and Billy the Kid (1859?–1881), in truth these men were hardened criminals.

Jesse James

Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847. He was a soldier in the Civil War, and some say it was cruel treatment from the Union soldiers that turned James into a killer. After the war, James and his brother, Frank James (1843–1915), pulled off the first daylight bank robbery in peace time. The James men robbed the Liberty Bank in their home state of Missouri. They managed to rob $60,000 and murder one man.

The brothers spent the next fifteen years robbing banks and trains. Both finally settled into married life and had children. Jesse assumed the name Tom Howard and moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1881 with his family. Therewasa$10,000rewardonhishead, so James lived a quiet life. Although he did not work for a living, he did attend church regularly. By all accounts, he was a loving father and husband.

James bought a small farm in Nebraska in the winter of 1882. By April, he was in need of money. Most of his old gang was dead, so he recruited two brothers, Bob and Charlie Ford, to help him rob a Nebraska bank. Plans fell through when Bob Ford could not resist the chance to collect the reward money. As James stood on a chair in his living room while hanging a picture on a wall, Ford shot him in the back of the head through the window. James was dead.

Ford never collected the reward money but was sentenced to hang instead on charges of murder. He was pardoned (forgiven and set free) before his sentence was carried out, and he later died in a bar room brawl in Colorado. His brother Charlie killed himself.

Jesse James's legend still lives on in American history. Some say he was a Robin Hood who took from the rich to give to the poor. No evidence has ever surfaced to prove that theory, and the fact that James never held a job but still managed to live a comfortable life suggests there is no truth in it. Settlers lived both in fear and awe of James, hoping never to run into him, while at the same time hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous bandit.

Billy the Kid

Another of the most famous outlaws from the West was William Henry Bonney (or McCarty), better known as Billy the Kid. What set Billy the Kid apart from other outlaws was his age. He was killed before his twenty-first birthday.

The birth date and place of Billy the Kid is not certain. The same is true about much of his early life. No one knows for sure if he ever knew his father, but there was no father figure in the Kid's early life. His mother died in 1874, when the Kid was probably thirteen or fourteen years old. His stepfather placed him in foster care and was never heard from again. Within a year, the Kid got involved in theft and was arrested. He escaped jail and began life on the run.

He learned how to steal horses in Arizona but left quickly after killing a man who was bullying him. He joined a gang of rustlers (cattle thieves) and gunfighters called The Boys in New Mexico. The Kid did not stay with The Boys for long but joined the "enemy" side. He ran for a time with a group of deputized (authorized by the law) gunmen called The Regulators, but again, that stint did not last long. The Regulators broke up, but some of them—Billy the Kid included—maintained a life of crime. He was arrested for rustling in 1880 and sentenced to death. The Kid killed two prison guards in 1881 and escaped but was hunted down by Sheriff Pat Garrett (1850–1908). Garrett shot and killed the Kid in the dark on July 14, 1881. It is believed he was only about nineteen or twenty years old.

Remembering the women

While most Wild West outlaws were men, there were plenty of women involved in crime as well. One of the most famous was Belle Starr (1848–1889), who rode with the Jesse James Gang for a while before marrying a horse thief named Jim Reed. After Reed was killed in a gunfight, Starr moved to Indian Territory where she entered into her second marriage, this time with a Cherokee named Sam Starr. The Starrs formed their own rustling and horse-thieving gang; Belle was the brains of the operation.

The Starrs made a lot of money stealing and making bootleg (illegal) whiskey. They were good at what they did and left behind no evidence to link them to their crimes. Belle's luck ran out in 1882 when she was caught stealing a neighbor's horse. She was sentenced to a year in prison but was released after nine months for good behavior. Immediately, she returned to her husband and their life of crime. Sam was soon killed at a party, and Belle got involved with an outlaw named Blue Duck. They never married, however. Her third marriage was to a much younger bandit named Jim July.

The marriage was violent, and Belle Starr died at the age of forty-one. She was ambushed (surprise attacked) while riding her horse along a country road. The attack came just days after July publicly promised to kill her.

The end of the outlaw era came in 1901, when another famous pair of outlaws, Butch Cassidy (1866–1908) and the Sundance Kid (1867–1908), fled to South America after a life of bank and train robberies.

Birth of a genre

In addition to the legends of the outlaws who terrorized the Wild West, the Frontier culture produced another phenomenon: Western literature.

Oral tradition

The oldest Western literature did not begin with white settlers but with Native Americans. Each tribe had its unique stories, traditions, and legends, all of which were passed down through stories told during ceremonies and in songs. Each region—West, Northwest, Southwest—had its own common threads that were woven throughout the stories.

Settlers also had their own oral tradition. Like Native American tribes, each group had stories, jokes, and songs shared only within its boundaries. Settlement doctors had their own; cowboys had theirs. Immigrant groups from Europe brought with them their own traditions and cultural stories, and those, too, were passed along to each new generation. What ties these various traditions of folklore together is that as the West was settled, new "facts" were added into the stories to reflect the changing landscape. Much of today's information about the West of yesterday comes through this folklore.

Travel journals

Historians value the travel journals of explorers that give firsthand accounts of life in the West. One famous example of this genre comes from the journals of the explorations of Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838). Lewis and Clark were hired by President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) to explore and map a route by land from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s. Those journals give detailed accounts of many Native American tribes in the Northwest as well as glimpses into the lives of specific individuals like Sacagawea (1786–1812), the teenaged female Shoshone interpreter who helped make Lewis and Clark's expedition possible. Those same journals describe various and new plants, animals, and even medicines. As historical documents, travel narratives such as these are an indispensable contribution to Western history.

Women in the West

Although life in the West was dangerous and uncertain, it held an appeal to some women in the nineteenth century. During that era, there were two distinct cultures: The one in the East was established and refined. Women were expected to adhere to very specific codes of conduct and value systems. Their "place" was in the home, and they were expected to marry young and raise a family. The culture in the West was the opposite of that in the East. Women were not considered "bad girls" if they smoked, danced, used foul language, or engaged in behavior traditionally reserved for men.

Women in the West found a freedom not available to them in the East. The ratio of men to women on the prairies was 10 to 1. Men were appreciative of women just because there were so few of them. Behavior and attitudes that were not tolerated among society in the East did not make women of the West less desirable in any way. Many women who moved to the West did so to build new lives. They left behind them bad reputations and unsuitable pasts. Many changed their names and enjoyed a life in a place where background and family ties meant very little. Since most settlers in the West were not native to the area, no one cared about family history.

The Western novel

Arguably the most popular genre of Western literature is the novel. Most scholars agree that one writer can be considered the Father of the Western novel. James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) was unique in that his novels explored two contrasting sets of values and cultures, the civilized notions of the East and the wilderness of the West. Though full of action scenes, Cooper's novels were also intended to make the reader reflect on prejudices and assumptions that formed his concept of right and wrong. One of his most famous novels, The Last of the Mohicans, was made into a motion picture in 1992.

Tall tales and legends

Tall tales (fictitious stories involving superhuman characters and exaggerated events) were passed down mostly through oral tradition but found their way to paper with writers like Mark Twain (1835–1910). Although Twain (real name Samuel Clemens) is most famous in many circles for his tales involving Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, his earlier writings were more fantastic in nature and earned him a reputation as a master of the tall tale.

European westerns

Some of the most influential writing about the West actually came from Europe. Karl May (1842–1912) was one of the most famous European writers of Western literature at the end of the nineteenth century. His novels (sixty in all) have sold more than one hundred million copies around the world. This German author had intended to write stories for children, but his novels became popular among adults. Most of his stories involve a noble chief named Winnetou and his German bloodbrother, Old Shatterhand. May's novels gave his fellow Germans a place to dream about, and notable people such as physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and physician and musicologist Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) considered May among their favorite novelists.

Western poetry

Sharlot Hall (1870–1943) stands out in the archives of Western literature because she was a woman writing about life in what is considered a man's world. Hall's family moved west to Arizona in the early 1880s. During the trek, the young Hall was thrown from her horse and suffered a spinal injury that confined her to bed throughout the 1890s. During this time, she began writing poetry. She published her first volume of poetry in 1910 in Boston. The book sold out immediately. Hall used descriptive language and imagery to write about ordinary aspects of Western life, such as sheepherding. Some of her later poetry used cowboy dialect (vocabulary specific to cowboys). She is considered one of the finest Western poets in American history.

Nature essays

As more people moved westward, more natural resources were being discovered. The beauty of the West became the subject of much writing toward the end of the nineteenth century. Although writers had been writing of nature long before the West was "tamed," nature writing truly came into its maturity with the writings of naturalist John Muir (1838–1914). Muir's earlier writings had focused more on the scientific aspects of nature, but as he spent more time outdoors, his appreciation for the natural beauty of what he saw developed. Muir was a key figure in the Conservation Movement that began in the late nineteenth century, and he would later be joined in the ranks of nature essayists by writers such as Aldo Leopold (1887–1948). Together with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), these men created a type of writing that brought the American West to light in a completely different way.

Although westward expansion increased America's interest in and appreciation of nature, it did not mark the beginning of the Conservation Movement. The movement had begun decades prior, in the late 1840s, when people began to realize that America's natural heritage must be protected if it was to be preserved. It must be acknowledged that even before then, Native Americans were practicing sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that preserves the long-term fertility of the soil. It maintains the ecological balance and avoids overuse of natural resources. Conservation as a concept was a concern of the Native Americans long before it became a movement in white society.

The Conservation Movement

Prior to the dawn of the Gilded Age, America's federal government had already begun to recognize, thanks to concerned citizens, conservationists, and scientists, that steps must be taken to preserve the nation's natural resources. In 1872, for example, Congress passed an act to set aside a tract of land at the headwaters of Yellowstone River in Wyoming, thereby establishing Yellowstone National Park. It was the first park of its kind in the United States. There were other apparent motives for establishing such an attraction. The Union Pacific Railroad hoped the park would attract tourists from all over the world who would ride their trains and stay in their hotels. The company hired artists to paint grand pictures of the geysers and wilderness of Yellowstone. That same year, Arbor Day was founded when future secretary of agriculture Julius S. Morton (1832–1902), a member of the Nebraska state board of agriculture, declared April 10 "tree planting day." (Other states individually followed suit through the years, until President Richard Nixon [1913–1994; served 1969–74] declared Arbor Day an official national "day" in 1970.) These acts marked the beginning of a collective thought of preserving nature for beauty's sake.

One of the most influential figures in the Conservation Movement was naturalist John Muir. Bornin Scotland, Muir emigrated to the United States at the age of eleven, where he spent his free time exploring the backwoods of Wisconsin. Muir worked long hours helping his family plow the land and dig wells. The work developed in him a strong sense of union with nature; he learned to respect and love the land.

Muir traveled to Yosemite in the late 1860s and took jobs that kept him close to nature. Even while working in the sawmills and the fields, he was studying his outdoor surroundings. He stayed in the mountains until 1880, at which time he married and moved to California. Though he traveled occasionally, Muir mostly stayed home, tending to his pear orchard and vineyard (grape crops). He acquired wealth through his farming, but as his riches increased, so did his discontentment. With each trip to the mountains, Muir realized something must be done to save the wilderness or it would not last.

Founding of the Sierra Club

In an effort to awaken the public and the government to the importance of preserving nature, Muir began writing papers and essays. His writing brought him in contact with Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937), editor of Century magazine, one of the most influential conservation publications of the era. Muir published two essays on Yosemite in which he called for the establishment of a national park. Johnson supported Muir's idea, and the two men approached Congress with the idea. On October 1, 1890, Yosemite National Park was established. This was the first time a major conservation reform had come about because of the efforts and actions of a private citizen.

The friendship between Johnson and Muir produced another lasting organization, the Sierra Club. The club was established in 1892 with Muir as president. Its purpose was to preserve and make accessible the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Sierra Club still thrives in the twenty-first century, and its efforts have extended to include conservation issues of all kinds.

Throughout the last two decades of the nineteenth century, other strides were made in the Conservation Movement. The first Audubon Society was formed in 1886 to protect birds (though it disbanded after two years and reformed in 1905 as the National Audubon Society). The following year, sportsmen concerned with conservation founded the Boone and Crockett Club. It was the first organization to include big-game (large animals) hunters in the Conservation Movement.

Other major changes included the passing of legislation in 1894 that prohibited hunting in national parks. The forest service shifted its focus from tree protection to scientific management of all forests. Scientific management was a policy that allowed natural resources (in this case, trees) to be used while protecting the resources in a way that allowed for timely regrowth and development. In 1898, President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) named conservationist Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946) as chief of the Division of Forestry (later called the Bureau of Forestry) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pinchot helped shift public awareness from saving trees to managing their growth.

In 1900, the Lacey Act was passed. Named for U.S. representative John F. Lacey (1841–1913) of Iowa, the act outlawed the interstate shipment of wild animals and birds that had been killed or obtained illegally. That year also marked a milestone in women's activism in the Conservation Movement. The California Club, a San Francisco women's organization, urged Congress to pass an act allowing the government to purchase two endangered groves of giant sequoia trees (redwoods). Although the measure failed, it was evidence of the public's growing awareness of the importance of preserving and protecting resources as well as of the increased influence of women in politics.

The conservationist

When Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) took over the presidency in 1901 following the assassination of President McKinley, he made conservation a cornerstone of his administration. Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and big-game hunter. Under his leadership, five national parks were established, as were four big-game refuges (protected areas), fifty-one national bird refuges, and the National Forest Service (in 1905).

Conservation was more than just a way to preserve America's resources and landscape for Roosevelt. He believed big-game hunting was an elite, or upper-class, sport; he did not want game-animal stock depleted by subsistence hunters (those who hunted to feed their families, rather than for sport). So part of Roosevelt's motivation was to protect the leisure activities of he and his wealthy friends.

But there was more to it than that. For the president, conservation was directly related to American manhood. His idea of masculinity involved self-reliance, courage, and hard work. In his eyes, hunting taught these values better than any other endeavor. To lose the ability to hunt, Roosevelt believed, meant to lose the essence of masculinity. Conservation was the only sure way to keep that from happening.

Roosevelt also considered conservation a tool for maintaining democracy. With an eye on the future, he considered it morally irresponsible to exploit natural resources for immediate gain and chose instead to develop policies that would insure future generations the same benefits as what the present generation enjoyed. Conservation, then, was inherently democratic to Theodore Roosevelt's way of thinking.

Nature was an essential part of America's history for Roosevelt. Since the nation lacked the historic and cultural traditions of European countries, the land took on a greater significance in its relation to America's identity. The country's many monuments and diverse wildlife were a source of great national pride, worthy of preservation and protection. As noted by Daniel Filler in the Internet article "Theodore Roosevelt: Conservation as the Guardian of Democracy," the former president wrote in a 1916 essay titled "Bird Reserves at the Mouth of the Mississippi," "Birds should be saved because of utilitarian [practical] reasons; and, moreover, they should be saved because of reasons unconnected with any return in dollars and cents. A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral."

Regardless of his motives and personal opinions, Theodore Roosevelt had a major impact on the Conservation Movement, greater than any president before or since.

With a look to the future

Under Roosevelt's administration, Pinchot added millions of acres of land to the national forests. The government controlled these forests and determined how they would be used. Both Pinchot and Roosevelt agreed that public lands should never be used for private gain. Congress began caving in to pressure from the private sector, though, and in 1907, they refused to allow Roosevelt to purchase forest reserves in the Western states. When William Howard Taft (1857–1930; served 1909–13) took over the presidency in 1909, Pinchot lost much of his authority and was fired by the new president in 1910.

Taft was not against conservation; the issue simply was not one of his priorities. He did continue to establish national parks. In 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act, named after U.S. representative John W. Weeks (1860–1926) of Massachusetts, which authorized states to work together to protect their water and forest supplies. The Act also provided funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use with states in a cooperative effort for providing fire protection of watersheds of navigable streams (streams able to be traveled by boat).

The Conservation Movement would continue to grow. It remains an active movement throughout the United States in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

For More Information


Calhoun, Charles W., ed. The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1996.

Commire, Anne. "Helen Hunt Jackson." In Historic World Leaders. Detroit: Gale, 1994.

Furbee, Mary Rodd. Outrageous Women of the American Frontier. New York: Wiley, 2002.

Galbreath, Lester. Campfire Tales: True Stories from the Western Frontier. Albany, TX: Bright Sky Press, 2005.

Marker, Sherry. Plains Indian Wars. New York: Facts on File, 2003.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987.

Streissguth, Thomas. Wounded Knee, 1890: The End of the Plains Indian Wars. New York: Facts on File, 1998.

Torr, James D., ed. The American Frontier. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.


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