The History of the West

The Wild West

Home Page    -  Wild West Merchandise

The wild west, cowboys, red indians, native Americans, wagon trains and more......... plus wild west merchandise
The History of The Wild West

The History of The Wild West

Christopher Columbus's discovery of America in 1492 was responsible for the mass invasion of the American continent by the Spanyards.. In fact they were the first people to introduce the horse back to the American continent in 10,000 years.

Before the wars of Independence, which resulted in the 1776 formation of the United States of America, relations between the British and the 8 civilised native American Tribes from the South East, - Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokees, Chotaws, and Chickasaws were quite good. The Indians liked the British style and began to copy their clothing, farming methods, and even the housing.
During the War of Independence, most of the Forest Indians had taken up arms against the 13 colonies [i.e. the USA] and that meant when the war ended they found themselves on the losing side.

After the Great Shawnee leader was killed in 1813 the rest of his tribe were pushed off to an Indian Territory on some awful land, west of the Mississippi. Between 1820 and 1840 this land became a dumping ground for over 10,000 Redskins who were now unwanted.

In the early part of the 19th Century there was a massive move towards California and Oregon. People were moving because they heard the land was cheap but fertile. One of the ways to get to the West from the East was to travel west via the Oregon Trail. Wagons rolled along the trail from 1839, and were very rarely attacked by the Indians, particularly if they stuck to the trail. The only time they came under attack was if they tried to take the land belonging to the Indians away from them.

Between 1840 and 1890 the buffalo herds had shrunk from 40,000,000 to about 1,000. Most of them being killed by the railway construction crews and miners for food and then by the Europeans for fun and by hunters for their skins. This all culminated in the buffalo becoming off limits to the Indians.

Life could be hard on the 'trains' of wagons that travelled across the prairies and deserts. By the mid 1850's the deserts were littered with animal skeletons, wagons that were broken and human remains. When the wagon train reached Missouri river they rested at a little town of Independence and joined together to form long wagon trains, which seldom had less than 2,0 in them. Problems arose, as it was hard to keep the 'trains' together as they moved at different speeds.

By 1860 175,000 settlers had crossed the plains and mountains from the Mississippi to the land called California while thousands went to Oregon, which was further north. In 1848 pure gold was found on the fork of American river in the Sacramento valley California. , And this was spark off what we know as 'the Great American Gold Rush'.

In the middle of the States was a large area called.the 'Great Plains' where great herds of Buffalo and rangy longhorn cattle lived, and of course the people who lived off them-the Native American Indian. In I830 when the cattle industry began were over 100,000 animals in Texas alone, most of them were running wild after the Texas Revolution, when the Texans took , what is now Texas from the Mexicans. The cattle were claimed by the stronger of the two, who happened to be the first real cowboys many of them were from British descent. They drove the herds, which were vast down to New Orleans or across to Californian where they were sold.

After the Civil War of 1862-65 the defeated Texans crawled home where they found their ranches wrecked and their cattle running all over the place. Whilst they had been away at war the cattle industry had collapsed. 100's of cowboys were drafted in to drive the running wild cattle Northwards where there was a shortage of quality beef. Some of the cattle went to the Northeast to Sedalia where they met the newly laid eastbound railway. The long journey North was very dangerous as there were bands of 'red legs' and not to mention savage Indians all with the intent of stealing the cattle.

In 1862 the controversial Homestead Act made land very cheap. Settlers were allowed to farm 160 acres free of charge on the proviso that they stuck it out for 5 yrs, and then it legally became theirs. The only problem was that the fertile land went immediately to the railroad companies or to the Government leaving what was left to the rest. In 1873 families were offered another 160 acres of land on the provision that they planted at least 1 acre of trees.

The first mail service began in April 1860 when 49 letters and 3 Newspapers were carried 1,980 miles from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento, California. Because it was such a long way horses and their riders were changed every 12 miles. This service was soon replaced by the telegraph.

In 1864 life for the Native American Indian was not very pleasant. There patience was pushed to the extreme and they began to attack the paleface camps and settlements. A Colonel John Chivington took revenge and charged on 2 peaceful tribes. Out of the 133 resident Indians he slaughtered 105 of them including women and children. All the bodies were scalped and mutilated.

As the railroad stretched further and further cow towns started to emerge, to break the journey and service the needs of the cowboys. All was going well for the cattlemen until around 1885 when there were far too many animals around for the prairies that were now beginning to look barren. The weather was inclement and the beasts found it hard to survive. The new homesteaders decided to fence in their land to keep out the starving cattle. Fights broke out and cattlemen were even hanging the homesteaders, and troops had to be brought in. The last great cattle drives were-all over by 1895.

The answer to all the hardships came when the railways arrived, bringing food,clothing and most important of all 'timber'. Equally important were the newlydeveloped seeds and specially invented farm implements and tools, like the steelplough. But best of all along came the steam powered agricultural machines which increased the area that a man could cultivate by well over 1,0 times. Between 1866 and 1898 the output of wheat rose from 152 million bushels to 675 million, and this is where the railways came into their own. Grain was transported to the coast from and then shipped to marketplaces all over the world.

The next big confrontation was won by the Indians who were completely fed up with the constant stream of miners on the Bozeman Trail. The Sioux [who were now armed with rifles], under Red Cloud, attacked the forts that the soldiers were trying to build to protect the travellers and killed 81 of them. The Government in 1868 decided to close the Bozeman Trail and allowed the Sioux to hang onto their land. Despite all this Red Cloud was talked into settling onto a 'Reservation' where he was told that his people would be given housing, food clothing and taught how to farm.

Some of the Indians didn't want to farm and refused to go and in 1874 a 'George Armstrong Custer', who was nicknamed 'Yellow hair' led a group of soldiers into the Black hills of Dakota which was still home to some of the Indians. These soldiers on crossing the Black Hills stumbled across what the Indians call 'yellow Metal' and when they returned with the news, people flocked to these hills. These lands had been given up to the Sioux the 1868 treaty, but this did not seem to stop them. Because of this more and more Sioux refused point blank to go to the Reservation and many who had gone earlier left to join up with the likes of 'Sitting Bull, and 'Crazy Horse'. The army ordered them to all be on the Reservation by 31st of Jan 1876 or else! By then Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull had had more than enough and alone with the might of the Cheyenne nation, got out their bows, spears, tomahawks, you name it and prepared themsplves for a showdown. At this very famous battle, - the 'Battle of Bighorn' Custer and his 225 men were cut to shreds The American people were furiousclaiming that it was a massacre and demanded revenge against the Indians. Despite winning the battle, the Sioux lost the overall war and they were escorted back to the Reservation

In 1883 William Frederick Cody otherwise known as 'Buffalo Bill' headed the first Wild West Show, funnily enough he had never been a cowboy! The shows staged huge battles between the cowboys and the Indians, and these were loved by people all over

In 1893 Sitting Bull was shot dead after having been wrongly accused of heading the 'Ghost Dances (The Indians started to leap about oddly at night, singing squeaky, spooky songs-these sounds called be heard drifting across the reservations and the local people thought they were either mad or preparing for war).

Now that we have given you a brief overview, it is time to look in depth for all you Western fanatics.

Native American Peoples Of the Plains - Wagon Trains - Gold Fever - Ranches on the Plains - Cowboys - Homesteaders - The Railroad - Justice in the Wild West - War Between The Settlers and The Native American Indians



Other Useful Sites



web mistress Kate Price