History of the Old West
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History of the Old West

The American frontier comprises the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the forward wave of American westward expansion that began with English colonial settlements in the early 17th century and ended with the admission of the last mainland territories as states in the early 20th century. Enormous popular attention in the media focuses on the Western United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, a period sometimes called the Old West, or the Wild West.History of the Old West

As defined by Hine and Faragher, "frontier history tells the story of the creation and defense of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states." They explain, "It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America." Through treaties with foreign nations and native tribes, political compromise, military conquest, establishment of law and order, building farms, ranches and towns, marking trails and digging mines, and pulling in great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast fulfilling the dreams of Manifest Destiny. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his "Frontier thesis" (1893) theorized that the frontier was a process that transformed Europeans into a new people, the Americans, whose values focused on equality, democracy, and optimism, as well as individualism, self-reliance, and even violence.

As the American frontier passed into history, the myths of the West in fiction and film took firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike. America is exceptional in choosing its iconic self-image. "No other nation," says David Murdoch, "has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America’s creation of the West."

  • The terms "West" and "Frontier"

  • Colonial Frontier

  • 3 The Antebellum West

    • 3.1 Democracy in the Midwest

    • 3.2 Southwest

    • 3.3 Manifest Destiny

    • 3.4 Mexico and Texas

    • 3.5 The Mexican–American War

    • 3.6 The California Gold Rush

    • 3.7 The Oregon Trail

    • 3.8 Mormons and Utah

    • 3.9 The Pony Express and the telegraph

    • 3.10 Bleeding Kansas

  • 4 Civil War in the West

    • 4.1 The Trans-Mississippi theater

    • 4.2 Wartime Indian fighting

  • 5 The Postbellum West

    • 5.1 Territorial governance after the Civil War

    • 5.2 Federal land system

    • 5.3 Transcontinental railroads

    • 5.4 Migration after the Civil War

      • 5.4.1 Oklahoma Land Rush

  • 6 American Indian Wars

    • 6.1 Indian wars east of the Mississippi

      • 6.1.1 The Trail of Tears

    • 6.2 Indian wars west of the Mississippi

    • 6.3 Forts and outposts

    • 6.4 Indian reservations

  • 7 Social history

    • 7.1 Democratic society

    • 7.2 Urban frontier

    • 7.3 Race and ethnicity

      • 7.3.1 European immigrants

      • 7.3.2 African-Americans

      • 7.3.3 Asians

      • 7.3.4 Hispanics

    • 7.4 Family life

      • 7.4.1 Childhood

    • 7.5 Prostitution

    • 7.6 Law and order

      • 7.6.1 Banditry

      • 7.6.2 Range wars

    • 7.7 Buffalo

    • 7.8 Cattle

      • 7.8.1 Cowboys

      • 7.8.2 Cowtowns

  • 8 Conservation and environmentalism

  • 9 The American frontier in popular culture

    • 9.1 Show business

    • 9.2 Cowboy images

  • 10 End of the frontier

  • 11 Historiography

The terms "West" and "Frontier"

The frontier line was the outer line of settlement. It moved steadily westward from the 1630s to the 1880s (with occasional movements north into Maine and Vermont, south into Florida, and east from California into Nevada). Turner himself favored the Census Bureau definition of the "frontier line" as a settlement density of two people per square mile. The "West" was the recently settled area near that boundary. In the 21st century, however, the term "American West" is most often used for the area west of the Mississippi River. Thus, parts of the Midwest and American South, though no longer considered "western", have a frontier heritage along with the modern western states.

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