What are some of the most important ways in which the trans-Mississippi West changed from 1860 to 1900?

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The trans-Mississippi West is generally defined as the territories west of the Mississippi River, and these lands changed drastically in the decades during and following the Civil War through the arrival of more and more settlers, the spread of the railroads, and the forcing of Native Americans onto reservations. These...

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The trans-Mississippi West is generally defined as the territories west of the Mississippi River, and these lands changed drastically in the decades during and following the Civil War through the arrival of more and more settlers, the spread of the railroads, and the forcing of Native Americans onto reservations. These are, of course, connected to each other, but let's look at each one in turn.

Settlers flocked toward the West, especially after the Civil War, looking to escape the remnants of North/South tensions and the ravages of war. They also wanted land, and land was readily available. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered free government-owned land (160 acres) to any settler who cared to claim it as long as he (or sometimes she) lived on that land for five years and improved it. The government was trying to expand the country's agricultural wealth, and it worked. About four million land claims were made although only 1.6 million deeds were eventually issued for successful claims in thirty states. Think about how this changed the face of the West as settlers moved in, established farms, and built towns.

These settlers often traveled by covered wagon to get to their new lands, but railroads soon began stretching out across the West as the government provided railroad companies with land grants. The government also encouraged railroad building with the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, that allowed for a transcontinental railroad that was finished in 1869. Other railroads also laid tracks far and wide, and soon the West was covered in rail lines. This made for ease of transportation of both agricultural and manufactured goods as well as of communication as telegraph lines often followed the railroads. The West became less and less wild as the years went by, and thousands of miles of track connected the country.

Finally, we cannot neglect to mention an unsettling and devastating change that occurred in the West during this period, and that is the removal of Native Americans from their homelands onto reservations. Many Native Americans, understandably, resisted, leading to conflicts like the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, but eventually, they would be forced onto reservations, changing their lives forever.

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