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Essential Questions
1. What national issues emerged in
the process of closing the
western frontier?
2. Why does the West hold such an
important place in the American
3. In what ways is the West
romanticized in American culture?
American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze's famous painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way
(1861). The title of the painting, from a 1726 poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase often quoted in the era of Manifest Destiny,
expressing a widely held belief that civilization had steadily moved westward throughout history.
Farming the Plains
The Main Idea
The government promoted the settlement of the West, offering free
or cheap land to those willing to put in the hard work of turning
the land into productive farms.
Reading Focus
• What incentives encouraged farmers to settle in the
• Which groups of people moved into the West, and why
did they do so?
• What new ways of farming evolved in the West?
Incentives for Settlement
Railroads Encourage Settlement
Railroads reaped profits by selling some of their land
to settlers. They placed ads to lure homesteaders to
the West. The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 opened
unassigned Indian land to settlers. Over 50,000 people
took part in the rush to stake a claim on these 2
million acres of land.
Closing of the Frontier
In 1890 the Census Bureau issued a report, “there can
hardly be said to be a frontier line.” Historian
Frederick Jackson Turner stated in a famous essay
that the existence of the frontier made the United
States distinctive.
Incentives for Settlement
New Legislation Promotes Westward Expansion
In 1862, Congress passed three acts to turn public lands into private property.
1. The Homestead Act gave 160 acres of land to heads of
2. The Pacific Railway Act gave land to the railroad
companies to build lines.
3. The Morrill Act gave lands to states for colleges for
agriculture and the mechanic arts.
Incentives for Settlement
The Homestead Act (1862):
For a small fee, settlers could have 160 acres of
land (1/4 mile) if they met the following
1. They were at least 21 years old OR the head of
2. They were American citizens or immigrants filing
for citizenship
3. They built a house of a certain minimum size on
their claims and lives in it at least 6 months a
4. They had to farm the land for 5 years in a row
before claiming ownership
Incentives for Settlement
The Pacific Railways Acts (1862 & 1864):
U.S. government gave large land grants to the
Union Pacific & Central Pacific railroads
Between 1850-1871: railroads received more than
175 million acres of public land (larger than the
state of Texas)
Railroads provides new avenues of migration into
the American interior
Made transportation of goods & people easier and
Railroad Construction
“The Big Four” Railroad Magnates
Charles Crocker
Collis Huntington
Mark Hopkins
Leland Stanford
The Purpose of the First
Transcontinental Railroad
Purpose of the Transcontinental Railroad
•The building of the railroad was motivated in
part to bind the Union together during the strife
of the American Civil War.
•Link the Eastern half of the country with the
Western half.
•Provide a faster way to move people & goods
across the nation
The Building of the First
Transcontinental Railroad
•Authorized by the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 and
heavily backed by the federal government, it was the
culmination of a decades-long movement to build such
a line and was one of the crowning achievements of
the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, completed four
years after his death.
•The building of the railway required enormous feats of
engineering and labor in the crossing of plains and high
mountains by the Union Pacific Railroad and, the
two privately chartered federally backed Central
Pacific Railroad enterprises that built the line
westward and eastward respectively.
Who Built the Building of the First
Transcontinental Railroad?
•The majority of the Union Pacific track was built
•Irish laborers
•Veterans of both the Union and Confederate
•Mormons who wished to see the railroad pass
through Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah.
•Mostly Chinese built the Central Pacific track.
Who Built the Building of the First
Transcontinental Railroad?
•Initially Chinese workers believed to be “too
weak or fragile” to do this type of work.
•Decision was made to hire as many as could be found
in California (where most were gold miners or in
service industries such as laundries and kitchens)
•Many more workers were imported from China.
•Most workers received between one and three
dollars per day, but the workers from China
received much less.
•Eventually, they went on strike and gained a small
increase in salary.
Chinese Railroad Workers
Chinese railroad workers transported dirt by the cartload to fill in this
Secrettown Trestle in the Sierra Nevada Mountain.
Chinese railroad workers perform their duties in the snow.
Chinese Railroad Workers
Chinese Street Doctor (Right)
Similar to the physician depicted, Fong Dun Shing
administered tothe Chinese laborers' needs. Hewas hired
by railroad contractors, because the Chinese did not trust
western doctors and medicine.
Who Built the Building of the First
Transcontinental Railroad?
In addition to track laying (which employed
approximately 25% of the labor force), the
operation also required the efforts of
hundreds of:
The Completion of the First
Transcontinental Railroad
•The First Transcontinental Railroad in the United
States was built across North America in the 1860s,
linking the railway network of the Eastern United
States with California on the Pacific coast.
•Ceremonially completed on May 10, 1869, at the
famous "golden spike" event at Promontory Summit,
Utah, it created a nation-wide mechanized
transportation network that revolutionized the
population and economy of the American West.
•This network caused the wagon trains of previous
decades to become obsolete, exchanging it for a
modern transportation system.
The Jupiter, which carried Leland Stanford (one of the "Big Four" owners of the
Central Pacific) and other railway officials to the Golden Spike Ceremony.
Promontory Point, UT
(May 10, 1869)
Route of the first American transcontinental railroad
from Sacramento, California, to Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The Effects of the First
Transcontinental Railroad
Effects of the Transcontinental Railroad:
•It substantially accelerated the populating of the
West by white homesteaders, while contributing
to the decline of the Native Americans in these
•It served as a vital link for trade, commerce and
travel that joined the eastern and western halves
of late 19th century United States.
The Effects of the First
Transcontinental Railroad
Effects of the Transcontinental Railroad:
•The transcontinental railroad quickly ended the
romantic yet far slower and more hazardous Pony
Express and stagecoach lines that had preceded
•The subsequent march of "Manifest Destiny" and
proliferation of the so-called "Iron Horse" across
Native American land greatly accelerated the
demise of Great Plains Indian culture.
Incentives for Settlement
The Morrill Land-Grant Act (1862):
U.S. government gave state governments millions
of acres of western lands
States would sell land to raise money for the
creation of “land grant” colleges that specialized
in agriculture and the mechanical arts
States also sold land to land speculators, people
who bought large tracts of land who would later
sell it at a higher price to make a profit
U.S. government encourages development of new
farming technology & the creation of colleges
Agriculture colleges attracts settlers to the West
Homesteads From Public Lands
Frontier Settlements: 1870-1890
1887 Land
Promotion Poster
for the
Migrating West
White settlers
Middle-class businesspeople or
farmers from the Mississippi
Valley moved west.
They could afford money for
supplies and transportation.
African American
Benjamin Singleton urged his own
people to build communities.
Some fled the violent South.
Rumors of land in Kansas brought
15,000 Exodusters who also
settled in Missouri, Indiana, and
European settlers
• Lured by economic opportunity,
they came from Scandinavia,
Ireland, Russia, and Germany.
• They brought their farming
experience with them.
Chinese settlers
• Initially came for the gold rush or to
build railroads
• They turned to farming, especially
in California, establishing the fruit
industry there.
• Most Chinese were farm laborers
because they were not allowed to
own land.
Europeans Flock to the American West
Cheap land and new jobs attracted immigrants to the American West.
• German
• Irish, Italians,
European Jews:
– Arrived in the American
West in last half of the
– Sought land to farm
– Built tight-knit communities
from Texas to the upper
Missouri River
– Brought Lutheran religion
and traditional emphasis of
hard work
•Scandinavian Lutherans:
– Settled in concentrated
– Initially settled in cities on
the Pacific Coast
– Gradually moved to the
American interior
– Took jobs in mining, farm
labor, and ranching
Settled in northern plains from Iowa to Minnesota to the
Dakotas to pursue dairy farming
Mexican & Chinese Immigrants Flock
to the American West
Cheap land and new jobs attracted immigrants to the American West.
• Mexican
– Settled in concentrated
– Gradually moved to the
American interior
– Took jobs in mining, farm
labor, and ranching,
– Mexicans & MexicanAmericans contributed to
the growth of ranching
– Met with racial prejudice &
• Chinese
– Settled in concentrated
– Initially settled in cities on
the Pacific Coast
– Gradually moved to the
American interior
– Took jobs in mining, farm
labor, and ranching,
– Met with racial prejudice &
The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
• Following the completion of the Transcontinental
Railroad, Americans pressured the U.S. government to
limit immigration from China because:
– Chinese laborers took jobs away from American workers
– Belief that the Chinese were culturally and racially “inferior”
• The Chinese Exclusion Act:
– excluded Chinese "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese
employed in mining" from entering the country for ten years
under penalty of imprisonment and deportation.
– The few Chinese non-laborers who wished to immigrate had to
obtain certification from the Chinese government that they
were qualified to immigrate, which tended to be difficult to
– The Act also affected Chinese who were already in the United
States. Any Chinese who left the United States had to obtain
certifications for reentry, and the Act made Chinese immigrants
permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship.
The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
• The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant
restriction on free immigration in U.S. history.
• Reinforced the American idea of “white supremacy”
and the preservation of the “white race”
• After the Act's passage, Chinese men in the U.S.
had little chance of ever reuniting with their wives,
or of starting families in their new home.
Regional Population Distribution
by Race: 1900
Exodusters waiting for a steamboat to carry them westward in the late 1870's.
Blacks Moving West
Review Questions:
1. How did the U.S. government provide
incentives for Americans to settle the
American West?
2. Where did the western settlers come
3. What were the positive and negative
effects of the completion of the
Transcontinental Railroad?
Review Questions:
4. How did the American frontier shift
5. How were non-white settlers treated?
Were they treated the same as white
immigrants of European descent? Why?
6. Make a Prediction: What foreseeable
issues do you think will arise as settlers
push further west?