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

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The US West of the Mississippi was socially, economically, and politically transformed between 1860 and 1900. Spurred by the California Gold Rush that began in 1849, the quest for metals advanced rapidly. Beyond the precious metals of gold and silver, in the rapidly industrializing nation, lead, copper, and iron were needed for construction and transportation.

The American government supported the white, Euro-American control of lands rich in resources, which often included forcing Native American people off their lands. As white settlement expanded after the 1862 Homestead Act, numerous states and territories developed significantly, often because of mining. Colorado yielded gold, silver, and lead, while Nevada boasted the largest silver deposit at the Comstock Lode. In Idaho, Minnesota, and Arizona as well, mine-associated settlements mushroomed into boomtowns. Harsh conditions in the camps led to worker activism and union growth, which owners opposed and sometimes brutally quashed. A notable incident was the 1896–1897 Leadville, Colorado strike.

Along with the expansion of agriculture and ranching, mining was a critical component of economic expansion. The concentration of resources in the West accelerated the push to join the East and West Coast. The completion of the transcontinental railroad was a landmark achievement in this initiative. It was achieved by joining the eastern and western components with the Golden Spike in Utah in 1869. National and international trade in mined resources also was instrumental in expanding Pacific Coast ports, as well as supporting the initiative to create what would later be the Panama Canal.

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