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History of the Old West
Frontier Begins
Settling the West
Before the Civil War
Civil War in the West
After the Civil War
Frontier Life
Frontier Warfare
American Cowboy
People of the Old West

Life on the Frontier

After the Civil War, many from the East Coast and Europe were lured west by reports from relatives and by extensive advertising campaigns promising "the Best Prairie Lands", "Low Prices", "Large Discounts For Cash", and "Better Terms Than Ever!" A False Front building in Chesaw, Washington.

Most migrants, however, put those concerns aside. Their chief motivation to move west was to find a better economic life than the one they had. Farmers sought larger and more fertile areas; merchants and tradesman new customers and less competitive markets; laborers higher paying work and better conditions.

The California Gold Rush set off large migrations of Hispanic and Asian people which continued after the Civil War. Chinese migrants, many of whom were impoverished peasants, provided the major part of the workforce for the building of Central Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad.

Many Hispanics who had been living in the former territories of New Spain, lost their land rights to fraud and governmental action when Texas, New Mexico, and California were formed. In some cases, Hispanics were simply driven off their land.

Among the first African-Americans to arrive in the West were deserting sailors and slaves of white prospectors who came during the California Gold Rush, numbering about four thousand by 1860.

The rise of the cattle industry and the cowboy is directly tied to the demise of the huge bison herds of the Great Plains.  Once numbering over 25 million, bison were a vital resource animal for the Plains Indians, providing food, hides for clothing and shelter, and bones for implements.

A new code of behavior was becoming acceptable in the West. People no longer had a duty to retreat when threatened. This was a departure from British common law that said you must have your back to the wall before you could protect yourself with deadly force.

Central to the myth and the reality of the West is the American cowboy. His real life was a hard one and revolved around two annual roundups, spring and fall, the subsequent drives to market, and the time off in the cattle towns spending his hard earned money on food, clothing, gambling, and prostitution.

More Stories of Life on the Frontier

Migration after the Civil War
Bison versus cattle
Code of the West


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