Midterm Long Essay

Development of the western frontier 1864-1900

Perhaps the most significant event during this period was the development of the railroads. This helped to open up the west from a transport, communications and trading. The railroads were able to transport troops, people, raw materials, cattle and grain.  The railroads displaced the natural environment of the bison in the mid-west. Prior to the civil war it was estimated that more than 20 million bison roamed the plains of the mid-west.

Other significant developments of this period revolved around the Indian wars and the opening up of the West. 1875 saw the Sioux Wars and the iconic name of Chief Sitting Bull. In 1876 General Custer was defeated by the Sioux at the Battle of the little big horn.  The tide eventually turned against the Sioux because of advancements in technology like repeater rifles and the Gatling gun. Other famous Indians included the apache chiefs Cochise and Geronimo. Geronimo committed a reign of terror in the far west between 1870-1880.

Cattle became an important industry in the open ranges of the mid-west. Historically the cattle were fattened up and then taken on long cattle drives to market. This was often a hazardous business having to go through hostile terrain, castle rustlers and hostile Indians.  The railways helped to overcome this by providing important railheads were the cattle could be loaded into trucks and shipped to market by rail.

After the civil war ended Congress ordered 10 divisions of cavalry to be based in the west in the push towards opening up the western frontiers. This included the building of 59 forts and the start of extensive hostile campaigns with the Indians. After the close of the Indian wars the cavalry outposts languished for a long period of time.

How America became a strong economic power between 1866-1900

It was after the civil war the American economy went through a gilded age of prosperity. Much of this was due to the railroads that linked the east to the west coast and opened up vital communication and trading routes providing improved access to raw materials.  Between 1865-1918 this ‘gilded age’ was a time of reconstruction, reconciliation and increased industrialization across the United States.  There was also a strong wave of immigration during this time providing much needed manpower to fuel this economic revival.

During the late 19th century the US had become an economic power house and this introduced the second industrial revolution.  New technologies included the telegraph and steel and an extensive rail network. The US discovered an abundance of natural resources on its land including oil, coal, timber and agricultural land.  The US also acquired additional land after defeating Spain in 1898.  This included the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii. Cuba was granted independence.

The expansion of industry in the second revolution was spurred on by the expansion of the rail network and the immigrants who worked in the steel factories.  The railroads opened up the conduit to the raw materials in the west and these in turn created farms, towns and increased settlements along these routes.  The labor wages in the steel sector were double those being offered in Europe and it was this that attracted some 27.5 million immigrants during this period.  There was some criticism about the exploitation of child labour and excessive work hours but this finally ended in the 1930’s.  Much of this was attributed to no labor legislation and in many regards the legal system was playing ‘catch up’ here.