Homesteaders and the Railways

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  • Homesteaders and the Railway
    • The Railway companies encouraged Homesteading
      • Politicians and railway companies exaggerated claims about the good life on the Plains
        • 'Booster' (promotional) railways were built by companies trusting that their existence would help create communities and customers
          • Politicians wanted 60000 residents so their territory could become a state, giving them more power
      • Rail companies were granted huge areas of land in 1862 by the government to fund the railways
        • Sold land cheap to settlers
      • Huge geographical, economic and engineering problems were overcome to construct the transcontinental railroad
        • Government supplied loans
        • Labour shortages in the West were overcome by employing Chinese workers.
        • Steep gradients were risked when crossing the Rockies
        • Army defended railway gangs against attacks by Plain Indian tribes
      • Lines built from the East to West met at Promontory, Utah in May 1869
        • Made westward migration, and communication with the East easier
    • More Government Acts and new technology helped
      • Homestead Act of 1862- each settler was given 160 acres of free land, if they agreed to farm on it for 5 years
        • Was meant to discourage speculators- people aiming to make a short-term profit
      • New crops tried, better machinery was developed including John Deere's 'Sodbuster' plough
        • Wind pumps increased water supply
      • New techniques allowed settlement on the High Plains
        • Farmer learnt 'dry farming' using techniques such as turning the soil after rain to retain the moisture
      • In ;less fertile areas farmers needed more than 160 acres of land
        • The Timber Culture Act (1873) and the Desert Land Act (1877) gave them more land for free or at a low cost
    • Homesteading was hard  but eventually successful
      • Failure rate for new farms was high. Frequent droughts and problems caused by over grazing
      • Railways made a boom possible by linking producers to wider markets
      • 10 million immigrants to America during 1865-90
      • Some African-Americans moved west after Civil War (1861-5) had ended slavery
      • Homestead Act failed to discourage speculators and drain poverty from Eastern cities
        • Did achieve settlements in the West. By 1900 there were 500000 farms on the Plains

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