How did mining change the trans-Mississippi West between 1860 and 1900?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The transformation of the West due to mining greatly impacted the traditional Native American lifestyle between 1860 and 1900. As white Americans flooded westward, Native populations increasingly found that their own lands were shrinking. Reservations became a common means of restraining Native tribes from impacting what was seen as "progress," and Native populations continued to decline in number throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Additionally, miners taxed the resources which sustained Native populations. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, for example, is known for killing thousands of buffalo, at least in part to feed growing railroad construction crews. Hunters killed nine million buffalo between 1872 and 1875 alone, devastating many Native tribes' traditions, disrupting their spiritual connections, and decimating a dependable food source.

The nation also turned to immigrants to supply cheap labor in order to construct railroads for mining purposes. Chinese, Irish, Mexican, and Black workers were paid little and worked long hours to lay track and blast beds out of solid rock. Young males flooded West to search for the gold which was discovered in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Mining camps were not segregated ethnically; instead, they looked more like a great "melting pot" of dreamers who all sought to find incredible wealth in a "paradise" of opportunity. Mining towns began emerging around these locations, and some became quite prosperous. Places like Virginia City, Nevada boasted mansions, hotels, an opera house, and as many as 131 saloons. Women were often outnumbered by as much as three to one in these mining towns.

This burst of mining activity had devastating effects on the environment, which suffered from polluted rivers and a landscape that became scarred with evidence of hydraulic mining. Mercury and cyanide penetrated these areas, further preventing the land from growing new life, and many became sick because of the carcinogenic chemicals used in the mining process.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial