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Events of the West (1860 - 1870)

   
1860 A Homestead Bill, providing federal land grants to Western settlers, is vetoed by President Buchanan under pressure from the South. The veto divides Buchanan's Democratic party, clearing the way for Abraham Lincoln's election in a three-way race.
1860 Pony Express rider Frank E. WebnerThe Pony Express completes its inaugural delivery, bringing mail over the 1,966 miles from St. Louis to Sacramento in 11 days. Organized by William H. Russell and Alexander Majors, the service depends on a string of 119 stations, about 12 miles apart, where the young riders -- "skinny, expert . . . willing to risk death daily" -- exchange horses to keep advancing at top speed.
1860 Severe drought leads to an exodus of 30,000 settlers from Kansas.
1860 Lincoln is elected President, pledging to pass homestead legislation and to oppose the spread of slavery. His victory provokes South Carolina to secede.
1861 Kansas enters the Union as a free state.
1861 Colorado and Nevada Territories are organized as Congress begins to consolidate federal control over the West, establishing strong local governments loyal to the Union across the region.
1861 Texas joins the Confederacy, forcing its legendary Unionist governor, Sam Houston, out of office.
1861 Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, unleashing the Civil War.
1861 California declares for the Union when news of the Civil War reaches the far West more than a month after the attack on Fort Sumter.
1861 Crews working to complete a coast-to-coast telegraph line meet at Fort Bridger in Utah Territory. The first transcontinental telegram, transmitted from Sacramento to Washington, carries a message from the state's Chief Justice to President Lincoln. Completion of a transcontinental telegraph line signals the end for the Pony Express.
1861 The Kansas Jayhawkers, a supposedly pro-Union guerrilla band organized by Charles J. Jennison, begin marauding across the Missouri border. In December, they attack and occupy Independence, Missouri, burning much of the city and killing many citizens.
1862 Congress passes the Pacific Railroad Act, which authorizes the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Companies to build a transcontinental rail line along the 42nd parallel and provides public lands and subsidies for every mile of track laid.
1862 Idaho Territory organized.
1862 Congress passes the Homestead Act, which allows citizens to settle on up to 160 acres of surveyed but unclaimed public land and receive title to it after making improvements and residing there for five years.
1862 The Civil War divides the Five Civilized Tribes, who brought slaves west with them when they were forced from their homelands in the South. Most side at once with the Confederacy, contributing a brigade to the cause. But the Creek Nation splits into pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions, who battle against one another throughout the war.
1862 Glorietta Pass todaySibley's Brigade, an army of Texas Confederates commanded by General Henry J. Sibley, invade New Mexico, moving up the Rio Grande. They defeat a Union force at Valverde, advance through Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and then turn north toward Colorado's gold fields. But at Apache Canyon they are ambushed by a squad of Colorado volunteers commanded by the "Fighting Parson," John M. Chivington, and two days later they are defeated by a Union force at Glorietta Pass, where Chivington's irregulars rappel down a cliff face to destroy their supply wagons. The Texans retreat in disarray, their hopes of conquest shattered at "the Gettysburg of the West."
1862 Congress passes the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which targets the Mormon community by prohibiting polygamy in United States territories. The law is ignored in Utah.
1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
1863 Union forces prevail at the Battle of Gettysburg.
1863 Congress organizes the Arizona Territory.
1863 Quantrill's Raiders, a Confederate guerrilla band operating out of Missouri, terrorize Lawrence, Kansas, killing 150 residents and burning much of the town. Among the Raiders are Frank and Jesse James, and Cole and Jim Younger, who will use the hit-and-run tactics taught by their leader, William Clarke Quantrill, to create vicious outlaw gangs in the post-war West.
1864 Congress organizes the Montana Territory and admits Nevada into the union, completing the political organization of the West under local governments loyal to the Union.
1864 A second Pacific Railroad Act is passed by Congress, one that aims to stimulate investment in the enterprise by doubling the size of the land grants and improving the subsidies offered for every mile of track laid.
1864 Sent to punish Navajo raiding parties in northwest New Mexico, Colonel Kit Carson leads a campaign of destruction through their villages, burning crops and killing livestock. When the Navajo surrender, he marches 8,000 of the tribe on a grueling "Long Walk" across New Mexico to a parched reservation near Fort Sumner on the Pecos River, where they are held as prisoners of war until 1868.
1864 Black KettleMeeting with army officers at Fort Weld outside Denver, the Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, agrees to lead his people back to their Sand Creek reservation in order to restore peace after Indian raids on ranches in the area. He is attacked there by a volunteer force led by John M. Chivington, the "Fighting Parson" of Glorietta Pass, which sweeps down on the Cheyenne encampment at dawn and massacres nearly two hundred men, women and children. Later Congressional and military investigations condemn the slaughter.
1865

The Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, brings an end to the Civil War.

Railroad building at Citadel RockThe Union Pacific Railroad begins moving westward, laying track at an average rate of one mile per day. In California, Chinese laborers join the Central Pacific work gangs, providing the strength, organization and persistence needed to break through the mountains.

1865 Mark Twain publishes "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," a tall tale set in a boisterous California mining camp which brings the Western experience into the mainstream of American literature.
1866 General Philip H. Sheridan takes command of U.S. forces in the West, proposing to bring peace to the plains by exterminating the herds of buffalo that support the Indians' way of life: "Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians," he says.
1866 A Lakota war party led by Chief Red Cloud attacks a wagon train bringing supplies to newly-constructed Fort Phil Kearny on the Powder River in northern Wyoming. The Lakota see the fort, situated to protect travel to Montana mining country along the Bozeman Trail, as a threat to their territory. When a patrol led by Captain William J. Fetterman rides out to drive off the war party, it is lured far from the fort and destroyed to the last man.
1866 Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blaze the first cattle trail, driving a herd of 2,000 longhorns from Texas to New Mexico in what will become an annual tradition across the southern plains.
1866 Jesse and Frank James, veterans of Quantrill's Raiders, launch their legendary criminal career with a bank robbery at Liberty, Missouri.
1867 Nebraska enters the Union.
1867 The United States purchases Alaska from Russia.
1867 The first cattle drive from Texas up the Chisholm Trail arrives at the railyards of Abilene, Kansas.
1867 The United States and representatives of the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other southern Plains tribes sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty, intended to remove Indians from the path of white settlement. The treaty marks the end of the era in which federal policymakers saw the Plains as "one big reservation" to be divided up among various tribes. Instead, the treaty establishes reservations for each tribe in the western part of present-day Oklahoma and requires them to give up their traditional lands elsewhere. In exchange, the government pledges to establish reservation schools and to provide resident farmers who will teach the Indians agriculture. This same principle of restricting the Plains tribes to reservations will help shape the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. In both cases, the tribes' refusal to give up their free-ranging traditions and remain confined within the territory assigned to them leads to devastating warfare.
1868 Congress organizes the Wyoming Territory.
1868 The Senate approves a treaty permitting unrestricted immigration from China.
1868 The Chinese railbuilders of the Central Pacific finally break out of the High Sierras.
1868 Chief Red Cloud and General William Tecumseh Sherman sign the Fort Laramie Treaty, which brings an end to war along the Bozeman Trail. Under terms of the treaty, the United States agrees to abandon its forts along the Bozeman Trail and grant enormous parts of the Wyoming, Montana and Dakota Territories, including the Black Hills area, to the Lakota people as their exclusive territory.
1868 General Philip Sheridan sends Colonel George Armstrong Custer against the Cheyenne, with a plan to attack them during the winter when they are most vulnerable. Custer's troops locate a Cheyenne village on the Washita River in present-day Oklahoma. By a cruel coincidence, the village is home to Black Kettle and his people, the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. Custer's cavalry attacks at dawn, killing more than 100 men, women and children, including Black Kettle.
1869

John Wesley Powell, a veteran of the Civil War who lost part of his right arm at Shiloh and a self-taught expert on mountain geology, leads the first recorded voyage through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, winning national acclaim and setting the stage for government funded scientific study of the West.

Meeting of the rails at Promontory Point, UtahA Golden Spike completes the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah.

1869 Wyoming becomes the first place in the United States where women have the right to vote.

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