Cowboys and Sodbusters

Cowboys and Sodbusters
Overall main idea: Between 1863 and 1890, U.S. Americans settled the West through the cattle and
agriculture businesses, eventually become integrated into and dependent on the overall U.S. industrial
market economy.
Exploiting the Grass: The Cattle Kingdom
Main idea: The development of the range cattle industry reflected many trends that occurred in the United States in the late
Cattle Drives and Cow Towns
Main idea: Towns developed in the West around the cattle industry, where cattle trails met railroad stations.
Longhorn cattle that adapted to the Plains were originally from South Texas, developed from Mexican and Spanish
Industrial, urban and railroad growth provided and allowed a larger market for meat
Joseph McCoy, in 1867, was one of the first to establish the western cattle industry; he developed Abilene,
Kansas, into a cow town by creating a stockyard and other facilities to round up cattle driven north and put them on the
railroad to be shipped east; other famous cow towns: Wichita, Dodge City, Cheyenne
One famous cattle trail was the Chisholm Trail, which ran through the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma)
Cow towns had a reputation for violence but it was often exaggerated; Wichita actually encouraged settlement
because of its revenue made from “sin taxes” on prostitutes, gamblers, and liquor
Rise and Fall of Open-Range Ranching
Main idea: Large-scale ranching developed and fell apart quickly on the open range due to overgrazing.
More land was open for ranching after Indians were removed to reservations and the railroad spread
Since the “open range” was not privately owned land, but mostly public government land, ranchers had little
limitations in how much land to use; they also had few costs; often they could own simply a water source and control much
of the area
Large companies moved in once high profits and a larger market developed; some companies even used their
power to fence off large tracts of ranching land
Overgrazing replaced nutritious grasses with unpalatable brush and plants, requiring ten times as much land to
nourish cattle than previously; droughts and blizzards hit in the mid-1880s, killing millions of cattle on the Plains
Cowhands and Capitalists
Main idea: Though cowboy work was originally a chance for economic independence, it later became dominated by
corporate capitalism occurring throughout the U.S. in the late 1800s.
Cowboys were often ex-Southerners/Confederates, Mexicans, and African-Americans (some 25%); later many
rural westerners were cowboys
Originally, cowboys were hired seasonally by ranchers for the “long drive” from the ranch to the railroad; they
expected to become stockowners themselves and could brand “maverick” cattle as their own, as a chance at economic
Large corporations invested in cattle and reduced cowboys to wage workers as in other industries, limiting their
pay, instituting stricter rules, and restricting “maverick” rights
Cowboys attempted to form unions and strikes but were limited by isolated and expansive geography
The idea of the rugged, independent cowboy ended up being more myth than reality after corporations got
involved: “Out in the fabled West, the life of the ‘free’ cowboy is as much that of a slave [to the capitalist] as is the life of
his Eastern brother, the Massachusetts mill-hand.”
Exploiting the Earth: Homesteaders and Agricultural Expansion
Main idea: The growth of Western agriculture was influenced by a number of factors.
Settling the Land
Main idea: United States migrants to the West established agricultural settlements on formerly Native American or
government-owned land in the late 1800s.
Homestead Act of 1862 – gave 160 acres of free land to anyone who settled and agriculturally improved the land
in 5 years; not as much land as expected as much of CA, TX, and SW U.S. was already settled and the railroads owned
much of it also; a lot of the land available for the Homestead Act was remote and not as valuable as other; finally,
homesteading was very difficult without capital to invest in large-scale farming techniques, machinery, buildings, livestock,
fencing, etc.
Land companies and railroad companies often advertised land to those in the East and even overseas; railroads
hoped to profit from land sales, new markets, and increased shipment of goods
A large amount of U.S. settlers did move out West, and quickly; Oklahoma land rush (from which we get the
musical “Oklahoma!” and the “Sooners” athletic team) settled former Native-American lands of Oklahoma in virtually a
single day
Exodusters – African-Americans who moved out West to Kansas and Nebraska during the 1800s in an “exodus”
from Southern racism and discrimination
Many European immigrants also settled in the West
U.S. settlers pushed out not only Native Americans, but also Hispanic Americans, seizing commonly-held lands in
the Southwest; Las Goras Blancas (the White Caps) conducted guerilla tactics to resist this domination, but was overall not
very successful; Hispanic villagers often ended up as seasonal wage laborers on Anglo farms and corporations
Home on the Range
Main idea: Settlers on the frontier struggled with a lack of lumber, water, and social company.
Because of the scarcity of trees on the Great Plains, many settlers made sod houses and burned buffalo and cattle
“chips” (dried dung) for fuel; there was also difficulty in finding water
Some women were independent farmers and claimants under the Homestead Act – around 18% of total claims;
also many married women ran the farm while their husband was working a job elsewhere
Settlers, especially women, often suffered from isolation and loneliness; sometimes settlers would carry a canary
in their belongings to keep them company and break the silence
Farming the Land
Main idea: Advances in technology resulting from U.S. industrialization allowed settlers to more easily farm the western
frontier, while also drawing them further into the industrial, international market that they later denounced.
Barbed wire (developed in the 1870s) was the answer to fencing problems due to a lack of lumber
“Dry farming” techniques helped with scarcity of water for frontier farming – irrigation, windmills to pump water
from underground wells, drought-resistant varieties of crops, grain elevators for storage, seed drills for pushing a seed
farther in the ground to reach deeper moisture, the steel plow (developed by John Deere) to break tough soil
The mechanical harvester/reaper and other farming machinery greatly increased agricultural productivity – 18x
more efficient than hand methods of farming by 1890
This new technology was a result of and often dependent on industrialization occurring in the rest of the country –
railroads for transportation of crops and goods, machinery, loans for credit and capital from banks, and other businesses
who participated in the market
Farmers prospered under good conditions—good weather, crops, and high prices—but struggled otherwise. Bad
weather, crop turnout, and international production that lowered grain prices made many western farmers struggle and
Farmers responded to their dire straights by lashing out at those involved in the industrial market economy:
railroads, grain elevators, Eastern bankers and lenders, etc.
Overall main idea: Between 1863 and 1890, U.S. Americans settled the West through the cattle and
agriculture businesses, eventually become integrated into and dependent on the overall U.S. industrial
market economy.
Key terms from Ch. 19 on the Transformation of the West:
Transcontinental Railroad
Great Plains/“Great American Desert”
Sand Creek Massacre
Second Treaty of Fort Laramie
Battle of Little Bighorn
George Custer
Crazy Horse
Sitting Bull
Geronimo, Apache
Wounded Knee Massacre
Dawes Act of 1887
Gold rushes (1849, etc.)
Corporate mining
Long drive
Cattle trails
Open range
Homestead Act of 1862
Life on the homestead
Barbed wire
“Dry farming” technology
Mechanical (“McCormick”) reaper