The last frontier of the United States was a great time period where Americans and immigrants from around the world came and settled for new land. It was a time where the federal government encouraged western settlement and economic exploitation. The United States of America came of age after the civil war. In a period of less than fifty years, it was transformed from a rural republic to an urban state. The frontier had vanished.
Great factories and steel mills, transcontinental railroad lines, flourishing cities, vast agricultural holdings marked the land. And in them came accompanying evils: monopolies tended to develop, factory working conditions were poor, cities developed so quickly that they could not properly house or govern their teeming populations, factory production sometimes outran practical consumption. The American frontier was an escape and a place of hope for those willing and able to take their futures into their own hands. In the United States the frontier moved in stages, beginning with the Eastern settlements, the original 13 colonies. After the American Revolution, the pioneers gradually crossed the Appalachians and went into the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, then, in the mid-19th century, across the Mississippi.
Settlement did not proceed directly across the continent, however. Most of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain regions were temporarily bypassed in the rush to get to California. The rush was for gold, and the Mexican War had given California, along with the whole Southwest, to the United States. Settlement was spurred by the Homestead Act of 1862 which granted free farms of 160 acres to citizens who would occupy and improve the land. By 1880, nearly 56,000,000 acres was and found their way into private hands. Going to the west was a very hard thing to do since people didnt know what was out there.
Since the beginning of white settlement in America, the Indians had given way before the advancing cabins of the pioneer farmers. The states wanted the Indians removed from their borders. White farmers and land speculators demanded their land. White communities feared having Indian tribes as neighbors. Under the Removal Act of 1830, Congress offered to buy the lands of tribes living in the settled states east of the Mississippi and to give them new land in the West.
The Indians of the Plains were persuaded to admit the tribes moved from the East. An Indian Bureau was established to look after their needs. Troops were sent to guard the frontier. The government made treaties with the tribes as sovereign nations. It granted them land forever as long as the grass shall grow and the waters run. These promises were not kept.
Once the notion of the American Desert was found to be largely a myth, white travelers, traders, and settlers began following the overland trails into the West. The government did not keep them out of the lands given to its Indian wards. Friction and warfare between the two peoples followed After the indian war was done miners had ranged over the whole of the mountain country, tunneling into the earth, establishing little communities in Nevada, Montana, and Colorado. Cattlemen, took advantage of these enormous grasslands, had laid claim to the vast region stretching from Texas to the upper Missouri River. Sheepmen, too, had found their way to the valleys and mountain slopes.
Then the farmers swarmed into the plains and valleys and closed the gap between the east and west. By 1890, the frontier had disappeared. Five or six million men and women now farmed where buffalo had roamed only two decades before. Speeding the process of colonization were the railroads. In 1862, Congress voted a charter to the Union Pacific Railroad, which pushed its track westward from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
At the same time, the Central Pacific began to build eastward from Sacramento, California, toward an undetermined junction point. The whole country was stirred as the two lines steadily approached each other, finally meeting on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point in Utah. The transportation between East and West was improved when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in Utah. The importance of the wagon trails soon began to diminish. Twenty years later irrigation ditches were making the dry lands bloom. More railroads were crossing the once desolate desert.
The Indians were becoming almost a forgotten people. The high plains had entered upon their last phase ascow country. Cowboys and cattle trails. Vast herds of cattle were bred in Texas and driven northward into the Great Plains. The month of laborious travel hitherto separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was now cut to a fraction of that time. The continental rail network grew steadily, and by 1884 four great lines joined the central Mississippi Valley area with the Pacific.
The first great rush of population to the far west was drawn to the mountainous regions. Gold was found in California in 1848, in Colorado and Nevada ten years later, in Montana and Wyoming in the sixties, and in the Black Hills of the Dakota country in the seventies. Throughout these areas, miners opened up the country, established communities, and laid the foundations for more permanent settlements. Yet even while they were digging in the hills, some settlers perceived the farming and stock-raising possibilities of the region. Some few communities continued to be devoted almost exclusively to mining but the real wealth of Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho as of California was ultimately proved to be in the grass and in the soil. Cattle raising had long been an important industry in Texas.
After the war, enterprising men began to drive their Texas longhorns north across the unfenced public domain. Feeding as they went, the cattle arrived at railway shipping points in Kansas larger and fatter than when they started. Soon this Long Drive became a regular event and, for hundreds of miles, trails were dotted with herds of cattle moving northwards. Cattle raising spread rapidly into the trans-Missouri region, and immense ranches appeared in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakota territory. Western cities flourished as centers for the slaughter and dressing of meat. Ranching introduced a colorful mode of existence with the picturesque cowboy as its central figure.
Altogether some six million cattle were driven up from Texas to winter on the high plains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana between 1866 and 1888. The cattle boom, in fact, reached its peak in about 1885. By then, the range had become too heavily pastured to support the long drive and it was beginning to be criss-crossed by railroads. Not far behind the rancher creaked the prairie schooner of the farmers bringing their womenfolk and children, their draft horses, cows, and pigs. Under the Homestead Act they staked off their claims and fenced them in with barbed wire, ousting the ranch men from lands they had possessed without legal title.
During the two terrible winters of 1886 and 1887, herds were annihilated in the open ranges by the freezing weather. The movement further more advanced America making it bigger and better. Thanks to the hard work of the many settlers from the U.S. to the immigrants that came here for a dream and the many that dead for their land. Also the many technologies such as the train that brought the country together.