Economic Development of the West in the Late 19th Century

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
7:00–8:30 p.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Elliott West
Alumni Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas

About the Seminar

Between 1845 and 1848 the United States acquired 1.2 million square miles of western territory. This expansion aggravated old tensions between the North and the South over the institution of slavery, and those tensions eventually tore the nation apart. But when the War ended, the United States found itself transformed. Not only was it united once again, but it was free of slavery and in possession of vast new lands, rich in mineral wealth and promise.

How did Americans exploit this new territory? How did the West remake and redefine the nation? Using Primary Resource Sets from the Library of Congress and primary source collections from the National Humanities Center, this seminar will address these and other questions.

Suggested Additional Resources

  1. From the American Memory Timeline from the Library of Congress: The American West, 1865-1900.
    1. The Architecture of the West
    2. As Some Things Appear on the Plains and Among the Rockies in Mid-Summer
    3. Beef and Beans
    4. California: For Health, Pleasure and Residence
    5. The Extermination of the American Bison
    6. Frontier Justice
    7. I Will Go West
    8. American Indian and Oklahoma Territories
  2. From the American Memory Timeline from the Library of Congress: Railroads in the Late 19th Century.
    1. David L. Phillips, "What California Railroads Have Done"
    2. The Great Railroad Strike of 1894
    3. Railroad Building in Texas
    4. Working on the Central Missouri Pacific Railroad
    5. Railroad Land Grants
    6. Building the Transcontinental Railroad
    7. Spanning the Nation
  3. The Library of Congress also offers these primary source materials: Westward Expansion: Encounters at a Cultural Crossroads.

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Assigned Readings

    1. The Homestead Act, 1862.
    2. Daniel Freeman, first to file for homestead. Photo
    3. Diary of Luna E. Warner, teenager on a homestead, 1871–72.

    Transcontinental Railroads
    1. Speeches of Senators on 1867 excursion.
    2. Cartoon suggesting unification.
    3. North American railroads in 1879, 1885, 1893. Maps

    The Rise of the Cattle Kingdom
    1. Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade, Joseph G. McCoy, 1874.
    2. Cattle Trails. Map. See p. 1.
    3. The Recollections of an American Cowboy: Reflections Upon the Life on the Range, George Martin, c.1880.

    The Industrial West
    1. US gold and silver production (chart); Global copper deposits (map); Gigantic tree, ox team pulling cut timber (photos). See pp. 2-4.
    2. Hydraulic mining. Photo. See p. 5.
    3. “A Day at Dutch Flat," Albert F. Webster.

    “The World’s Convention”: The Polyglot West
    1. The Shirley Letters from the California Mines, 1851-52.
    2. “La Californie.” Poster. See p. 6.
    3. States with highest percentage of foreign born. Table. See p. 7.

    Dealing with the “Indian problem”
    1. Report of the Secretary of War, 1868.
    2. “Custer’s Last Fight.” Battle of the Little Big Horn.
    3. Drawing by Kicking Bear. See p. 8.
    4. “The Future of the Red Man,” Simon Pokagon.
    5. Chiricahua Apaches at Carlisle Indian School, before and after. Photos. See p. 9.
    6. “Ishi: The ‘Last Wild Indian.’” Photos. See p. 10 and video.

    The Mythic West
    1. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Frederick Jackson Turner.
    2. The Virginian. Owen Wister.
    3. Cattle branding. Thomas Edison. Film, 1898.
    4. “Cripple Creek Bar-room Scene.” The first "western" movie. Thomas Edison. 1899.
    5. “The Coming and Going of the Pony Express,” Frederic Remington. 1900. See p. 11.