New Perspectives on THE WEST
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Events of the West (1870 - 1880)


Buffalo hunters begin moving onto the plains, brought there by the expanding railroads and the growing market for hides and meat back east. In little more than a decade, they reduce the once numberless herd to an endangered species.

Swedish immigrants on the American PlainsRailroad companies begin massive advertising campaigns to attract settlers to their land grants in the West, sending agents to rural areas in the eastern states and throughout Europe to distribute handbills, posters and pamphlets that tout the rich soil and favorable climate of the region. But the higher costs of railroad land compared to public lands, and the fact that railroads pay no taxes on their lands, soon stirs charges of extortion, leading to state laws controlling railroad rates and land sale practices by the decade's end.

1870 With Brigham Young's support, the Utah territorial legislature grants women the right to vote, providing the Mormons with an added margin of political power.
1870 A California court rules in White vs. Flood that a black child may not attend a white school, setting the legal precedent for school segregation.
1870 The Union Pacific in Wyoming hires Chinese laborers for $32.50 a month rather than pay $52.00 a month to whites. From incidents like this one, white laborers across the West develop the opinion that Chinese immigrants are competing unfairly for jobs, a feeling that will lead to violent racial conflict and labor unrest in years to come.
1870 Bret Harte publishes The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches, a collection of stories based on his years as a San Francisco journalist, which offers a sentimental and humorous view of "uncouth" frontier characters, establishing a set of stereotypes that will remain an important part of the myth of the American West.
1871 More than 100 Apaches -- most of them women and children -- are murdered outside Camp Grant, Arizona, where they had been given asylum, when members of the Tucson Committee of Public Safety arrive with a force of Papago Indians, the Apaches' long-time enemies. The committee members claim they acted in retaliation for raids by various Apache bands at distant points across the region, but public opinion, particularly in the East, links the event to the recently investigated Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 as further evidence of Westerners' deep-seated hatred for Indians.
1871 Congress approves the Indian Appropriations Act, which ends the practice of treating Indian tribes as sovereign nations by directing that all Indians be treated as individuals and legally designated "wards" of the federal government. The act is justified as a way to avoid further misunderstandings in treaty negotiations, where whites have too often wrongly assumed that a tribal chief is also that tribe's chief of state. In effect, however, the act is another step toward dismantling the tribal structure of Native American life.
1871 Federal judge James B. McKean, seeking to break the alliance between church and state in Utah, orders the arrest of Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders on charges of polygamy. Federal prosecutors also charge John D. Lee and others with murder for the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857.
1871 A quarrel over a woman between two Chinese men in Los Angeles escalates into a city-wide anti-Chinese riot, ending in the murder of at least 23 of the city's 200 Chinese residents.
1871 Cochise, the Apache chief who led a decade-long guerilla war against whites in Arizona, surrenders to General George Crook but escapes back to his mountain stronghold rather than let his people be sent to a New Mexico reservation. General Otis Howard finally makes peace with Cochise the next year, agreeing to establish an Apache reservation in Arizona.
1872 Arbor Day (April 10) is celebrated for the first time in near-treeless Nebraska.
1872 Mark Twain publishes Roughing It, a humorous account of his adventures as a budding journalist in the West, which adds a self-conscious depth to the entertaining Western myth pioneered by Twain's one-time mentor, Bret Harte.
1872 Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot SpringsThe Yellowstone Act sets aside more than 2 million acres in northwest Wyoming as a public "pleasuring-ground" for the "preservation... of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders... and their retention in their natural condition." It marks the first time any national government has set aside public lands to preserve their natural beauties and sets a precedent later followed in countries around the world. Much of the impetus for establishing the park can be traced to William H. Jackson's photographs of its natural wonders, taken when he traveled there with the Hayden expedition of 1871.
1872 "Buffalo Bill" Cody is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service as a scout in General Philip Sheridan's four-year campaign against the Cheyenne. The same year Cody begins his theatrical career, appearing as "Buffalo Bill" in Ned Buntline's The Scouts of the Plains.
1873 Cable cars are introduced in San Francisco.
1873 Although federal authorities estimate that hunters are killing buffalo at a rate of three million per year, President Grant vetoes a law protecting the herd from extermination.
1874 Mennonite immigrants from Russia arrive in Kansas with drought-resistant "Turkey Red" wheat, which will help turn the one-time "Great American Desert" into the nation's breadbasket.

Joseph Glidden receives a patent for barbed wire, an inexpensive, durable and effective fencing material which, with the destruction of the buffalo, will open the plains to more efficient agriculture and ranching.

George Armstrong Custer consults with a Crow scoutGeorge Armstrong Custer announces the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota, setting off a stampede of fortune-hunters into this most sacred part of Lakota territory. Although the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty requires the government to protect Lakota lands from white intruders, federal authorities work instead to protect the miners already crowding along the path Custer blazed for them, which they call "Freedom's Trail" and the Lakota call "Thieve's Road."

1874 William H. Jackson discovers and photographs the centuries-old Anasazi cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado.
1875 Pinkerton agents fire-bomb the James family farm in Missouri in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the notorious outlaws. The incident stirs widespread sympathy for the James Gang, who are seen as populist enemies of the banks and railroads who "rob" the common man.
1875 Deadwood, soon to be one of the wildest towns in the West, springs into existence when Black Hills miners find gold on Deadwood Creek. Within a year, the legendary gunfighter "Wild Bill" Hickock will be murdered here while holding aces and eights -- the dead man's hand -- in a game of poker.

A Senate commission meeting with Red Cloud and other Lakota chiefs to negotiate legal access for the miners rushing to the Black Hills offers to buy the region for $6 million. But the Lakota refuse to alter the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, and declare they will protect their lands from intruders if the government won't.


Federal authorities order the Lakota chiefs to report to their reservations by January 31. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others defiant of the American government refuse.

Custer's Crow scouts return to Little BighornGeneral Philip Sheridan orders General George Crook, General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon to drive Sitting Bull and the other chiefs onto the reservation through a combined assault. On June 17, Crazy Horse and 500 warriors surprise General Crook's troops on the Rosebud River, forcing them to retreat. On June 25, George Armstrong Custer, part of General Terry's force, discovers Sitting Bull's encampment on the Little Bighorn River. Terry had ordered Custer to drive the enemy down the Little Bighorn toward Gibbon's forces, who were waiting at its mouth, but when he charges the village Custer discovers that he is outnumbered four-to-one. Hundreds of Lakota warriors overwhelm his troops, killing them to the last man, in a battle later called Custer's Last Stand. News of the massacre shocks the nation, and Sheridan floods the region with troops who methodically hunt down the Lakota and force them to surrender. Sitting Bull, however, eludes capture by leading his band to safety in Canada.

1876 Colorado enters the Union.
1877 Crazy Horse finally surrenders to General George Crook at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, having received assurances that he and his followers will be permitted to settle in the Powder River country of Montana. Defiant even in defeat, Crazy Horse arrives with a band of 800 warriors, all brandishing weapons and chanting songs of war. By late summer, there are rumors that Crazy Horse is planning a return to battle, and on September 5 he is arrested and brought back to Fort Robinson, where, when he resists being jailed, he is held by an Indian guard and killed by a bayonet thrust from a soldier.
1877 Congress votes to repeal the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and take back the Black Hills, along with 40 million more acres of Lakota land.
1877 With the threat of Indian attack removed, mining camps and boom towns -- French Creek, Whitewood Gulch, Black Tail Gulch -- crowd the Black Hills.
1877 John D. Lee is brought to trial for the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, but Mormon loyalty to one of their own leads to a hung jury. The national outcry at this result persuades Mormon leaders to withdraw their support for Lee, and in a second trial he is convicted by an all-Mormon jury. On March 23 he is executed by firing squad at the site of the massacre, after denouncing Brigham Young for abandoning him. His last words are for his executioners: "Center my heart, boys. Don't mangle my body."

On August 29, Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who built a prosperous community and a vigorous church in a seeming wasteland, dies at age 76.

Chief Joseph of the Nez PerceChief Joseph, leader of the Nez Percé, surrenders to General Oliver Howard, bringing to an end his four-month-long circuitous retreat from the Wallowa Valley in eastern Oregon toward Sitting Bull’s encampment in Canada -- one of the most remarkable military feats of the Indian Wars. Eluding or defeating army troops at every turn, Joseph and a band of fewer than 200 warriors bring nearly 500 women and children over 1,500 miles of mountainous terrain to within forty miles of the border before they are finally stopped by a force of 500 troopers led by Colonel Nelson A. Miles. Reduced by this time to just 87 men, Joseph still holds out for five days in a pitiless snowstorm, and then surrenders only because his people have no food or blankets and will soon die of cold and starvation. "I am tired of fighting," he declares as he holds out his rifle to General Howard. "I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

1877 John Wesley Hardin, a Texas gunfighter who claims to have killed more than 40 men, is sentenced to 25 years in the Texas State Prison for the murder of a deputy sheriff. "I take no sass but sasparilla," he once said, explaining his deadly disposition.
1877 Congress passes the Desert Land Act, which permits settlers to purchase up to 640 acres of public land at 25˘ per acre in areas where the arid climate requires large-scale farming, provided they irrigate the land.
1877 The last Federal troops withdraw from the South, bringing the Reconstruction era to an end.
1878 Exodusters await steamboat for trip to KansasWith racial discrimination on the rise in the post-Reconstruction South, an estimated 40,000 African Americans begin to migrate from the former slave states into Kansas. Many of these so-called Exodusters answer the call of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a land speculator with a vision of establishing independent black communities across the state.
1879 The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of anti-polygamy laws, denying Mormon arguments that plural marriage is protected under the First Amendent guarantee of religious freedom and giving federal authorities the weapon they have hoped for in their efforts to break the alliance between church and state in Utah.
1879 At the urging of John Wesley Powell and others, Congress creates the United States Geological Survey to coordinate the many independent survey projects it has funded since army surveyors first charted potential routes for a transcontinental railroad in the 1850s. Under Powell's direction beginning in 1881, the USGS expands its focus beyond mineral resources and geological formations to include study of the potential for irrigating the West's arid lands and the selection of suitable sites for dams and reservoirs. This pioneering work eventually bears fruit with passage of the Newlands Reclamation Act in 1902.

To complete its consolidation of federally-funded scientific exploration in the West, Congress creates the United States Bureau of Ethnology to coordinate study of the region's native peoples and complete a record of their cultures before they vanish under the pressure of expanding white settlement. Directed by John Wesley Powell, the Bureau of Ethnology launches an ambitious program to document the culture and society of Native Americans, sending one of its first field teams to Zuni Pueblo, where ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing anticipates the methods of 20th century anthropology by becoming a member of the Zuni community.

3 Lakota boys after enrollment in Carlisle Indian SchoolThe first students, a group of 84 Lakota children, arrive at the newly established United States Indian Training and Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a boarding school founded by former Indian-fighter Captain Richard Henry Pratt to remove young Indians from their native culture and refashion them as members of mainstream American society. Over the next two decades, twenty-four more schools on the Carlisle model will be established outside the reservations, along with 81 boarding schools and nearly 150 day schools on the Indians’ own land.

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