Life on the Frontier
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!"
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
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
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
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