Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century

By John E. Findling; Frank W. Thackeray | Go to book overview

9
The Closing of the
Frontier, c. 1890s

INTRODUCTION

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, settlement of the West proceeded rather slowly until midcentury, when the Oregon Treaty ( 1846) and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ( 1848) completed the territorial expansion of the United States, with the minor exception of the Gadsden Purchase ( 1853). The additional territory opened up new frontiers that stretched to the Pacific Ocean, and the discovery of gold, silver, and copper, especially in the lands acquired from Mexico, caused a rush across the Plains to the West that changed that region and the lives of its indigenous people permanently.

The settlement of the West that led to the closing of the frontier occurred in three stages. Between 1849 and the 1860s, mining was predominant, with the dream of striking it rich drawing thousands of people to the areas that are now California, Nevada, Colorado, and Montana. From the 1860s to the 1880s, conflicts with Indians were the major concerns of those interested in western settlement. And as the Indians were subdued, an influx of farmers and ranchers into the Plains region between 1870 and 1890 completed the process of western settlement.

The mining phase of western settlement began with the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s that brought enough people to the

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