How did settlers change the Great Plains?

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aklass eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Settlers moving onto the Great Plains of North America changed the landscape significantly upon arrival. Most of the settlers on the Plains set out to make a living as farmers. Miners and trappers were also common, but these folks did less of the homesteading that is generally associated with Westward expansion. Homesteaders would build structures. Homes, barns, and stables were all vital to the farm lifestyle. They cleared large areas of grassland and tilled the ground for planting. They also dug irrigation canals to bring water from nearby rivers and streams to their crops. In many places, the wind was a constant feature of the landscape, and they planted trees to tame the winds that whipped across their properties. The homesteaders interacted with indigenous peoples both friendly and hostile. Sometimes the homesteads and towns displaced whole Plains tribes. The military helped protect the settlers from hostile Indians and built a network of forts throughout the American West. The American bison, which remains a symbol of the frontier, was hunted nearly to extinction by settlers, and since many of the indigenous cultures relied on the bison for food, clothing, and other materials, those cultures were forced to move elsewhere to survive.

Homesteading changed the indigenous cultures, the landscape, the plant life and animal habitats, and introduced the first vestiges of what we would consider modern infrastructure to the Great Plains.

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