The American West GCSE

The American West GCSE - 1840 -1895. 
The Plains Indians, The Settlers. 


The Sioux- Tipis.

the tipi:   the home of each Indian family. 

structure: made from ten to twenty buffalo skins, these were sewn together and supported by a frame of wooden poles arranged in a circle. 
At the top there were two flaps that could be moved to direct the wind so that the smoke from the fire inside could escape. 

women: in charge and responsible for the tipi, they put it up and moved it. 
They also made it and owned it. 

nomadic lifestyle: It was easily taken down and packed up in 10 minutes, ready for transport, it was perfect for people who were frequently on the move.

weather conditions:
 it was a conical shape, this made it strong enough to
resist the strong winds.

summer: the bottom of the tipi could be rolled up to let air in.
winter:  it could be banked with earth to keep the tipi warm. 

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Roles within the tribe

men: responsible for hunting, looking after the horses and protecting the band. 
they were judged by their skills as hunters, warriors and horsemen. 

women: responsible for the tipi, preparing food, collecting water and making clothes and other items. 
they were judged by their skill at crafts and as homemakers

polygamy:  having more than one wife. Althought, this was only the case for richer men. 

old people: were able to give advice in council and pass on the history of the people, they also had an involvement when helping to bring up the children.  
when they became to old and weak to keep up with the rest of the band, they were often left behind. The survival of the band was of greater importance than any individual.  

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Organisation of the tribe

Sioux Nation 
this was never led by any one individual alone. 
Sitting Bull once had a great influence upon it. 

The Sioux Nation consisted of many tribes. (Oglala, Hunkpapa)
These tribes were led by chiefs of bands. Such as Crazy Horse, advised by leading councillors from bands. 

The tribes consisted of many bands. 
Each band was: 

  • led by a chief
  • advised by a council of all men
  • influenced by a warrior society
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Role of chiefs, councils and warrior societies

people became chiefs because of their wisdom, their spiritual power or 'medicine' and also because of their skills as hunters/warriors.

  • were not elected or inherited any power
  • may not remain a chief for all of their life

Important decisions were discussed here. The advice from the medicine man, chiefs and elders would be given. 
A ceremonial pipe would be smoked as they talked. The Indians believed that the smoke would inform the spirit world and help them make good decisions. 

Warrior Societies: 
They were responsible for supervising hunting and travelling and for protecting the village from attack. 

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Hunting the buffalo

Buffalo Dances:
Before a hunt they would hold a ceremonial buffalo dance. This dance could last for many days. This would involve the Indians dressing up as buffalo and copying their movements. 
They believed that this dance would call upon the spirit world for help in their hunting and to call the buffalo herd closer to them. They believed this would bring them good luck and ensure a successful hunt. 
The Hunt: 
Before the introduction of horses the Indians hunted the buffalo by foot in two different ways. 
Indians often disguised themselves as wolves and crept up on grazing buffalo and shot them with arrows. 
Indians also hunted buffalo but stampeding a herd into 'buffalo jumps' so that they were trapped narrow valley in s or driven over a cliff and killed. 

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These are important as they show your previous acts of bravery. 

Coup stick
Little Bear carries this to touch his enemies in battle. It is decorated with buffalo fur and feathers. It is braver to touch an enemy in the fighting with a coup stick, or to get even closer and touch him wit a hand, than it is to kill him.

You always wear this around your neck. Its strong medicine (spiritual power) protects you.

Taking scalps
Evidence of their successes in battle. The scalps were dried out and hung as trophies outside their tipis. If they lost their scalp they believed they would not go into the afterlife. So you scalped your enemy to ensure he would not be in the afterlife to fight you.

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Manifest Destiny

: United States was destined to dominate the entire continent.

The people of the United States saw their country as a shining example to freedom-loving people everywhere. Their government was the perfect form of government. It must therefore be the God-given duty of the United States to spread these blessings across the whole of the continent of North America. As it was the will of God, anyone carrying it out was doing God's will, and anyone who opposed it was a traitor to the United States and to God.

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The Settlers

Push and pull factors:

In 1837, the United States was hit by an economic depression. In the East banks collapsed and people lost their savings, wages were cut by 40 per cent and unemployment grew.  

The situation was no better in the Midwest. Farmers in Mississippi valley faced ruin because the price of wheat and corn they grew had collapsed.

Some of the farmers in the Mississippi Valley were beginning to feel 'crowded'.  

The West offered land in enormous quantities. In 1832, the government passed a pre-emption bill which applied to the land in Oregon. This said that a farmer who squatted on a piece of land, built a house and cleared the trees could buy the land at a minimum price without being outbid by speculators. 

In the early 1840's reports began to make their way back east and how wonderful the far West was. Some of these reports were from missionaries who wanted more people to come and help them convert the Indians to Christianity; others came from people who were hoping to make money from the new settlers.

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The Gold Rush

In January 1848, a group of men were building a sawmill in the Sierra foothills when one of them, James Marshall, noticed a glint of yellow at the bottom of the ditch. He collected some samples, which responded to every test for gold he knew. Marshall and his fellow workers, finished the sawmill and then began to mine what became known as the Mormon Diggings.

In May, they were visited by Sam Brannan, a Mormon who owned businesses in San Francisco. He quickly opened a store right next to the sawmill and returned to San Francisco to tell everyone about the gold. 

By 1852, the surface gold in California had gone. The gold that was left had to be reached by deep shafts or blasted out of hillsides. Big machinery was needed for this. Many headed home. 

In the California mining towns big businesses moved in. Miners brought their families out west and permanent towns began to develop.  

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Law and Order

With no US government law officers to protect them, people had to make their own arrangements. Each town held a mass meeting where a chairman and officers were chosen. 

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The Mormons

The beginning of this story starts in 1820 in Palmyra, New York State. Here, a great religious revival was taking place. There were dozens of preachers making claims and counter claims about their own teachings. One fourteen year old boy, Joseph Smith, found all this confusing, and in a grove behind his fathers house e prayed for guidance. According to Joseph, a pillar of light appeared before him. He was told not to join any religious sect but to prepare himself for a great work. 

As he grew up on his father's farm he experienced further visitations. In one, an angel appeared to him and told him that there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates. 

In 1827, the angel told Smith where the book was to be found. Smith claimed he dug it up on a hillside near Manchester, New York.

Smith claimed that no one else was allowed to see the plates. He said he returned the plates to the hillside. However, when Smith's translation of the plates was published in 1830, 'The Book Of Mormons'; it contained statements by eight people, including his father and two of his brothers, claiming they had seen the plates.   

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The Mormons #2

The plates told a rather different story fro the one you will find in the Bible. According to the plates, the lost tribes of Israel migrated to America long before Christ was born. They had fought each other until Christ appeared in America to establish his church there. Later, the fighting started again.
One of the few survivors was a man called Mormon who spent the rest of his life recording the story of his people on plates. The person who found the plates was to restore the true Church of Christ in America, before Christ appeared to begin his thousand-year reign.

Smith started with only five followers but by the end of 1830, his energy and his charismatic public speaking had turned his numbers into several hundred. 
They were very unpopular in New York State. People claimed he was a fraud and just out to make money for himself. People claimed 'The Book of Mormons' as blasphemous. His house was attacked by mobs and he and his followers were shot at in streets. After praying for guidance he took his followers to the village of Kirtland, in Ohio, where he planned to set up a City of God.  

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1831 - 1837. 

At Kirtland the Mormon movement went from strength to strength. They worked hard and soon owned a mill, a store, a bank and a printing press. The Mormons soon outnumbered non-Mormons, and envy and hatred of the Mormons grew as they were taking over everything. 
In 1837, there was an economic crisis and many banks collapsed. Many non-Mormons had put their money into the Mormon bank, and when it collapsed all their money was lost. 
Of course, many other banks collapsed as well. It was clearly not the Mormons fault but as far as non-Mormons were concerned it was the last straw. The Mormons were chased out of Kirtland.  

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1837- 1838. 

As soon as the Mormons arrived in Missouri attempts were made to stop them from voting in elections. The local settlers rioted and destroyed property (not just property belonging to the Mormons).  
The governor of Missouri had to send troops to restore order. The Mormons were held responsible for all their trouble and their leaders, including Smith, were imprisoned and condemned to death.
As rumours spread that the Mormons were stirring up the Indians and freeing slaves, the governor declared that they were 'public enemies'.

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1839 - 1946

Next they went to the tiny town of Commerce in Illinois. Smith renamed it Nauvoo and was allowed to develop it as an independent city. They could even make their own laws.
Trouble came in 1844,  when Joseph said he received a revelation from God, which he said, allowed certain Mormons to practise polygamy
Some of the Mormons thought this was wrong and denounced Smith as a false prophet. They set up a newspaper and criticised him in it which led Smith to destroy the presses of the newspaper. This lead to claims that he had turned into a dictator. He was soon arrested and taken to jail in nearby Carthage. 

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Brigham Young

Great Salt Lake City: isolated and unwanted; good soil and grass.

Still belonged to Mexico, so they would be outside the control of the US government.

Preparation went on all winter. Wagons had to be built, oxen bought, and equipment and food collected.
In February, a pioneer band crossed the Mississippi to establish the first way-station, called Camp of Israel. The rest of the Mormons had to follow before they were properly prepared because mobs began looting their homes.

At Camp Israel Young explained how the journey would be organised. They would be split into a number of separate wagon trains, each made up of a hundred wagons. A captain would be in charge of each wagon train and the wagon train would in turn be subdivided into 'tens', each supervised by a lieutenant.

Young left with the first wagon train. Every now and then they built a rest camp for those following. At each point some Mormons stayed behind to plant crops and set up workshops for carpenters and blacksmiths.  

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Brigham Young #2

By June 1846 Young and his wagon train had reached the Missouri River. Here they built Winter Quarters. This was where the Mormons would spend the winter. A thousand cabins were built to accommodate everyone. So good was Young's planning that the later wagon trains had little difficulty in reaching the Winter Quarters by autumn. 
In April 1847 Young led forth a 'Pioneer Band' of 143 men, three women and two children. All were carefully chosen for their endurance, and to ensure a balance of farmers and craftsmen. Their job was to lead the way to the Great Salt Lake, to select the site for the new Mormon settlement and to begin work there.  

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Homestead Act 1862. 
It was intended to encourage people to settle in the West by allowing each family 160 acres of land. This land was given to them for free, provided they lived on it and farmed it for five years. 

Two later Acts also encouraged settlers:

The Timber Culture Act, 1875. 
They gave settlers a further 160 acres of free land, provided they planted 40 acres with trees. 

The Desert Land Act, 1877.
This gave settlers the right to buy 640 acres cheaply in areas where lack of rainfall was a particular problem.  

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Homesteaders #2


Between the slave-owning southern states and the anti-slavery northern states. 
The end of the war marked a turning point in American history. Thousands of demobilised soldiers and their families were looking to rebuild their lives.
Thousands of newly freed black slaves were looking for a new life. The eastern states where they had grown up did not seem to be the best place to do this. One obvious place to look was the West, and that is what thousands of them did. They became the homesteaders, cowboys, miners, soldiers and railroad-builders who transformed the West.  

In the 1860's two companies started building a transcontinental railroad to link East and West. One started from the East, the other from the West. They eventually met in Utah.
This had two main effects. Now it was easy for homesteaders to get to the Plains; it was also cheap to buy land, as the railroad companies sold off the land on either side of the line at low prices.  

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Homesteaders survival

Problems they faced:
Dirt and disease: 
houses were difficult to clean. 

Building materials: 
blocks of earth (sod) 

Water shortages:

Extremes of weather



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Farming on the Plains

Water shortages
Extremes of weather -
 drought, cold
Ploughing -
 dense grass and tangled roots
Protecting crops -
no fencing 
Growing crops -
maize, soft winter, spring wheats
Natural Hazards -
fires, grass hoppers. 


Windmills: 1874; Daniel Halliday - invented a self-governing windmill: it always kept in line with the wild so that it did not get damaged by the strong winds. This windmill could be used to pump water from underground. First, a high-powered drill was used to get down to the water. Then the wind pump was fitted. It would pump water night and day for people to use in their homes and to irrigate their crops. 

Dry Farming: Farmers ploughed their land when there had been heavy rain or snow. This left a thin layer of dust over the surface, which trapped and preserved the moisture in the soil. The land was then left fallow ready for the following year's crop. 

Growing a surplus: Farmers would plough more land and grow more crop than needed. This would produce a surplus that they could sell. With this money they could buy better equipment and increase their surplus. 

Hard winter wheat: 

Barbed wire: in 1874, Joseph Glidden invented barbed wire. This provided a cheap and effective solution to the problem of fencing and protecting crops. 

Sod-buster: John Deere invented a particularly strong plough which could deal with the tough grass roots. 

Other machinery: From the 1880's. 

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Cattle Industry

Brought to America by the European invaders. 
By the 1850s southern Texas was the major centre of cattle ranching. 

Cattle drives
markets in the eastern states. 
Texas longhorns carried a disease called Texas fever, which was spread by the ticks that lived on cattle. 
Homesteaders would turn them back as they were afraid of the disease spreading to their animals.  

Charles Goodnight - drove a herd to Fort Summer, New Mexico. Cattle were sold to feed the army and Indians.  

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Law and Order

Geographical factors:
vast area; slow transport - difficult to enforce law and order

Economic factors: 
different economic groups; homesteaders and ranchers, ect.

Values and attitudes:
Settle things yourself.
Most Westerns carried guns.

Social factors:
different ethnic groups: blacks, Chinese, Europeans, Indians. 
unwilling to to forgive or forget what happened.

Political factors:
Politicians did not think the issue was important enough to spend money on employment and training. 

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The forces of law and order

US marshals: appointed by the President to oversee a state or territory. As this was such a large area the marshals appointed deputies who worked on a more local basis.  

Town marshals: appointed by the people of a town, often on a yearly basis.

Sheriffs: elected by the people of a county for a two year period of office. Often they had to cover too wide area to be effective

The Texas Rangers: small army of lawmen employed to enforce the law in the state of Texas.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency:  was a private company that was hired by banks and railroads and stage-coach companies to provide protection. Sometimes the agency was hired to catch particular outlwas. 

Judge: appointed by the president to try cases. There were three to supervise each state or territory, Prisoners had to be held for a long time before trail; sometimes they were lynched before a trail could take place. They were not enough of them. 

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