Schools History Project - American West Notes

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American West Revision Exam ­ 7th June 2011
The Great Plains
The Great Plains are in the centre of the USA, the first name given to them by the whites was
The Great American Desert this was because they are flat and have no trees growing on
them. Consequently the Plains could not be used by the early whites for farming and so they
left them to the inhabitants whose real name is Native Americans these people had arrived in
North America from Siberia. The Native Americans learned to live on the Great Plains by
hunting, their lifestyle became dependant on buffalo and consequently they became nomads.
In early times, Plains Indians hunted on foot, this was not very effective and the food supply
stayed low, the number of Plains Indians stayed low as a result. Hunting became easier after
the arrival of the Whites who brought horses they began to sell guns to the Plains Indians. By
1840, there were about 2 million Plains Indians, they lived in small groups of up to 50 families,
their lives depended completely on the buffalo. Each band belonged to a tribe, these were
then part of a nation, the chief gave advice but did not force others to follow it. Buffalo was the
main source of food, when dried it was known as pemmican buffalo skins were the main
source of clothing. Hide was also used for tipis, these were moved from place to place on a
travois, bones were used for arrows heads and needles. Men looked after the horses and
hunted buffalo, women prepared food, collected water and made clothing, the elderly or sick
were respected but sometimes left behind. Because the Plains Indians lived in small groups,
they had no laws, they relied on tradition and decisions were taken by the whole group. The
Plains Indians believed that everything had a spirit, the circle was very important to them as a
symbol of life and death ­ they believed they could contact the spirit world through visions.
Early Whites and the West
In 1845, John O'Sullivan wrote about manifest destiny for the first time, this was the belief that
whites should control the whole continent many whites believed that Indians were inferior.
The first whites to explore the West was the mountain men, they hunted animals for their fur
with the most valuable being beaver. The interests of mountain men were not in conflict with
the Indians, consequently they lived together but from the 1840s the mountain men began to
become guides for wagon trails. The first wagon trains began to cross the Plains in the
1840s they were heading for California and Oregon, they broke up the herds of buffalo and
disrupted the Indian way of life. The wagon trails were 3,800km long, the journey could take
up to 18 months, they had to cross the Rockies between April and November. Many wagon
trains did not survive the journey, 1000s died on the way, disease was very dangerous
because of the lack of fresh water. In 1848 the number of wagon trains increased
dramatically because gold was found in California, the gold rush to whites to parts of America
where only mountain men had lived before.
The Mormons
The Mormons were founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, he claimed to have seen an angel who
told him about buried plates, he was told to found a new church. Mormons gave part of their
income to the church and supported others who were in need, this meant their community
was strong, they became richer than other groups. Consequently, the Mormons were driven
from places in the east ­ in 1844 Joseph Smith declared that Mormons could be
polygamous, this made him very unpopular and he was murdered. The new leader Brigham
Young, decided to go West and settled near the Great Salt Lake ­ this involved a journey of
2,000km with 15,000 people in the wagon train. The journey was especially difficult because
of the large numbers, animals had to be led away to find grass, they wanted to be self
sufficient so they carried more than other travellers. They chose the Great Salt Lake because

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American West Revision Exam ­ 7th June 2011
they wanted to avoid persecution, the land was poor and there was very little water so it did
not attract other settlers. Land was distributed by the church, large families received 80 acres
whilst craftsmen received less. At first life was very hard because they arrived in Autumn,
they tried to plant crops but some of their ploughs broke, they also had to dig wells if crops
were to grow.…read more

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American West Revision Exam ­ 7th June 2011
was on the flanks. Ranching began to become unprofitable in the 1880s, the summer of 1886
was hot and dry and the grass was of poor quality consequently, cattle were undernourished
for the winter. The winter of 18867 was very cold, thousands of cattle died, some herds lost
15%. Many ranches went bankrupt, after this there were fewer smaller ranches, they were
fenced off using barbed wire to conserve grazing.…read more

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American West Revision Exam ­ 7th June 2011
the ranchers invaded Johnson County and there was a shoot out in which several people
were killed. News of the violence reached the president, troops were sent in and both sides
were disarmed gradually law and order was extended to all of the west.…read more

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American West Revision Exam ­ 7th June 2011…read more


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