A.P. U.S. History
9 February 2011
Through various popular movies and television shows many people have developed ideas and beliefs about the American West that are not necessarily historically accurate. The American West, in the period between 1865 and 1900, is often thought to be a time, and place, of dry barren landscapes, wild unruly Native Americans, and fearless heroic cowboys; however, this romanticized fantasy is only true to some extent. The vast little-explored American territory west of the Mississippi river all the way to the Pacific Ocean was often referred by to people in the late 1800’s as the Frontier or the Wild West. The Frontier was a place where people sometimes traveled to start a new life or just merely seek new opportunities. Over time the History of these people living in the West and the Frontier itself has become skewed from actuality by the romanticized version of The West.
The West in the late 1800’s is often thought of as a place of vast, dry, dusty, deserts, due to the way it is depicted in popular Western movies; although, this depiction of the West is not entirely accurate to what it was actually like. While some of the territory in the West was dry and desert-like, especially beyond the 100th meridian, the majority of it was extremely lush and fertile, covered in forests and even rivers (Document A). Many settlers moved west in order to start a new life and either farmed and raised animals, or mined for precious metals to make a living. Hundreds of farmers flocked west when the government offered as much as 160 acres for $30 through the to anyone willing to move west and live there, while improving the land, for five years. Areas in the Mississippi basin proved easily farmable with its well watered soil from the Mississippi River, but that was not the only area good for farming in the West. The Great Plains, while they didn’t appear farmable at first due to their tough prairie sod, turned out to be one of the best places in the entire United States to farm thanks to their incredibly fertile soil. Even farmers beyond the 100th meridian, where there was less than ten inches of rainfall annually, managed to farm the land by developing methods of dry farming and irrigation by damming up rivers located throughout the West and diverting them to help irrigate their crops. Clearly, the romanticized view of the dry dusty Western landscape was not entirely true, but rather the West was very lush and fertile, much unlike its depiction in traditional Western movies.
The romanticized depiction of wild unruly Native Americans running around the West and constantly and savagely fighting with White settlers in the late 1800’s was only true to some extent. Native Americans had inhabited the West and called it their home for far longer than White settlers had even inhabited America. Then, White settlers came along and laid claim to this land that Native Americans had inhabited for centuries. Naturally, this lead to some disputes and confrontations over the land because both groups of people claimed that it was their own. The Native Americans tried, on some accounts, to reach a peace with the White settlers through numerous treaties and attempts at developing reservations, lands that would belong to the Natives where they could live peacefully. However, the White settlers often broke the treaties and proceeded to brutally massacre many of the Natives (Document B). This lead to multiple wars between the Native Americans and the White Settlers in which there was much violent fighting and death. While it was true that the Native Americans did often engage in conflicts, as depicted in popular Western movies, the Native Americans were fighting only to defend something that rightfully belonged to them, and the true story behind this fighting is not properly depicted in the romanticized view of the American West.
The rugged heroic cowboys of the...