➢ Chapter 26. The Great West and the Agricultural Revolution, 1865-1896.
Theme 1: After the Civil War, whites overcame the Plains Indians’ fierce resistance and settled the Great West, bringing to a close the long frontier phase of American history.
Theme 2: The farmers who populated the West found themselves the victims of an economic revolution in agriculture. Trapped in a permanent debtor dependency, in the 1880s they finally turned to political action to protest their condition. Their efforts culminated in the Populist Party’s attempt to create an interracial farmer/labor coalition in the 1890s, but William Jennings Bryan’s defeat in the pivotal election of 1896 signaled the triumph of urbanism and the middle class.
I. Summary for Chapter.
Read this section as you are reading the text, as these are the main ideas and concepts of the reading. It is also very important to look over all text inserts, cartoons, pictures, maps, charts etc. that are in the reading. (33 pgs)
1. At the close of the Civil War, the Great Plains and Mountain West were still occupied by Indians who hunted buffalo on horseback and fiercely resisted white encroachment on their land and way of life. But as the whites’ livestock grazed the prairies and diseases undercut Indian strength and numbers, a cycle of environmental destruction and intertribal warfare soon threatened Native Americans’ existence. The federal government combined a misconceived “treaty” program with intermittent warfare to force the Indians into largely barren reservations.
2. Attempting to coerce Indians into adopting white ways, the government passed the Dawes Act, which eliminated tribal ownership of land while often insensitive “humanitarians” created a network of Indian boarding schools that further assaulted traditional Native American culture.
3. The mining and cattle frontiers created colorful chapters in western history. Farmers carried out the final phase of settlement, lured by free homesteads, railroads, and irrigation. The census declared the end of the frontier in 1890, concluding a formative phase of American history. The frontier was less a “safety valve” than many believed, but the growth of cities actually made the West the most urbanized region of the United States by the 1890s.
4. Beginning in the 1870s, farmers began pushing into the treeless prairies beyond the 100th meridian, using the techniques of dry farming that gradually contributed to soil loss. Irrigation projects, later financed by the federal government, allowed specialized farming in many areas of the arid West, including California. The “closing” of the frontier in 1890 signified the end of traditional westward expansion, but the Great West remained a unique social and environmental region.
5. As the farmers opened vast new lands, agriculture was becoming a mechanized business dependent on specialized production and international markets. Once declining prices and other woes doomed the farmers to permanent debt and dependency, they began to protest their lot, first through the Grange and then through Farmers’ Alliances, the prelude to the People’s (Populist) party.
6. The major depression of the 1890s accelerated farmer and labor strikes and unrest, leading to a growing sense of class conflict. In 1896 pro-silverite William Jennings Bryan captured the Democratic Party’s nomination, and led a fervent campaign against the “goldbug” Republicans and their candidate William McKinley. McKinley’s success in winning urban workers away from Bryan proved a turning point in American politics, signaling the triumph of the city, the middle class, and a new party system that turned away from monetary issues...