L. Diane Barnes and Mark D. Bowles
The American Story: Perspectives and Encounters from 1877
Editor in Chief, AVP: Steve Wainwright
Sponsoring Editor: Cheryl Cechvala
Development Editor: Greg Brueck
Assistant Editor: Amanda Nixon
Senior Editorial Assistant: Nicole Sanchez-Sullivan
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Media Editor: Lindsay Serra
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About the Authors
L. Diane Barnes
Dr. L. Diane Barnes is a professor of history at Youngstown State University
and a consulting associate editor for the Frederick Douglass Papers. At
Youngstown State, she teaches courses on American history with an emphasis
on slavery, race, and the antislavery movement. She earned her PhD from
West Virginia University.
In addition to teaching, Dr. Barnes edits the scholarly journal Ohio History
and, with Paul Finkelman, edits the Ohio University Press monograph series
Law, Politics, and Society in the Midwest. She has written or edited four
books: Frederick Douglass: A Life in Documents, published by the University
of Virginia Press (2013); Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman in
Routledge’s Historical Americans series (2012); the coedited volume The Old
South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress,
which was published in 2011 by Oxford University Press; and Artisan Workers
in the Upper South: Petersburg, Virginia, 1820–1865, which was published by
Louisiana State University Press in 2008.
Dr. Barnes lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with her husband, Ben Barnes, and several furry children, including Henry Clay
Kitty, Jackson the wire fox terrier, and two retired greyhounds, Webster and Darby.
Mark D. Bowles
Mark D. Bowles is a professor of history at the American Public University System, the founder of History Feed
(http://historyfeed.org/) , and the author of 14 books on the history of science and technology.
Dr. Bowles earned his PhD from Case Western Reserve University in 1999. He also has an MA in history, an MBA in
technology management, and a BA in psychology. He is a former Tomash Fellow at the University of Minnesota.
The authors would like to acknowledge the many people who were involved in the development of this text. Special
thanks are due to Cheryl Cechvala, sponsoring editor; Greg Brueck, development editor; Amanda Nixon, assistant
editor; Nicole Sanchez-Sullivan, senior editorial assistant; Lindsay Serra, media editor; Lauren LePera, production
editor; and Lauri Scherer, copyeditor. Thanks also to the following Ashford faculty and advisors for their helpful advice
and suggestions: Max Fassnacht, Holly Heatley, Jean Gabriel Jolivet, Matt Laubacher, Cheryl Lemus, and Victoria
Finally, the author would like to thank the following reviewers for their valuable feedback and insight:
Al Berger, University of North Dakota
Blaine Brown, Broward College
Tom Devine, California State University–Northridge
Richard Filipink, Western Illinois University
Jill Horohoe, Arizona State University
Jason Newman, Cosumnes River College
Jonathan Rees, Colorado State University–Pueblo
James Ross-Nazzal, Houston Community College
Tim Thurber, Virginia Commonwealth University
Elwood Watson, East Tennessee University
The American Story: Perspectives and Encounters from 1877 examines the history of the post-Reconstruction United
States from a historical, cultural, and social perspective. Readers will not only learn about key historical events and
ﬁgures but also gain a crucial perspective on how these events and ﬁgures affected the lives of everyday individuals.
To enhance, enrich, and enliven student learning, The American Story: Perspectives and Encounters from 1877 includes
American Lives features open each chapter and ask students to examine and think critically about the lives
of key ﬁgures in American history.
American Experience features explore important experiences and events in post-1877 American history and
how they impacted daily life.
Technology in America features provide insight on technological innovations that altered the everyday lives
Historian’s Craft guides students in interpreting sources and understanding historiography and historical
interpretation. This feature, found in the appendix, prompts students to critically examine the information
presented in each chapter and apply their knowledge.
Interactive Timelines help students investigate key historical events.
Analyzing Primary Sources media features provide students with an interactive format to explore various
types of primary source documents such as diary entries, letters, and autobiographies.
Stories and Perspectives media features provide an interactive format to help students gain perspective on
the life and point of view of everyday individuals throughout post-1877 American history.
Pretests and Posttests prompt students to answer multiple-choice questions that provide real-time feedback
on their understanding of chapter concepts.
Examining History through Film media features require students
to view video clips and think critically
about key topics throughout the text.
Mapping History media features provide opportunities for readers to explore visual elements, such as maps
and ﬁgures, in a dynamic format.
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The Expanding West
Art Resource, NY
Appearing in western travel guidebooks, this lithograph of John Gast’s
painting American Progress depicts the press of westward settlement and
the passage of time. It embodies the themes in Frederick Jackson
Turner’s essay outlining the importance of the frontier in American
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
Compare and contrast the diversity of settlement across the Great Plains and Southwest.
Explain how the growth of the western economy and technologies such as the railroad affected
business opportunities and settlers’ livelihoods.
Describe the source of settler and Native American conﬂicts and explain why the encroachment of
White settlement was so devastating to Native American cultures.
Explain the ways that the concept of the western frontier has ﬁgured into American culture.
American Lives: Sitting Bull and the American West
Sitting Bull was born on the northern Great Plains (in present-day South Dakota) in about 1831. He distinguished
himself as an accomplished buffalo hunter and warrior among the Hunkpapa, part of the seven-tribe confederacy that
made up the Western Sioux, or Lakota, and his brave record and high rank among his people led to his designation as a
war chief. Also a holy man responsible for his people’s spiritual well-being, Sitting Bull initially encouraged the Lakota
to interact with White Americans who sought to trade and barter with Native Americans at various trading posts
established along the Missouri River.
However, as increasingly more White traders, and the U.S. Army, moved into
the region, relations between the Lakota and the Americans worsened.
Discovery of gold in the Dakota Territory and western Montana in 1874, and
the gold rush that followed, led to a series of battles that resulted in the
cession of many Native American lands and the conﬁnement of Native
Americans onto designated reservations on the Great Plains. Sitting Bull
emerged as the leader of all the tribes and bands who refused to sign treaties
with the U.S. government. He became a symbol of Native Americans’ ﬁnal
resistance to the encroachment of White settlement.
Sitting Bull and his followers adopted a defensive strategy and experienced
signiﬁcant victories in keeping the army at bay. In June 1876 he oversaw the
warriors who decimated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his cavalry
regiment at the Battle of Little Big Horn, in eastern Montana territory, in
which Custer and 262 of his men died. In the aftermath, however, the army
gained the upper hand in the conﬂict. Sitting Bull ﬂed to Canada with many of
his followers, but when he returned to the United States, he was arrested and
jailed for 2 years.
Universal Images Group/SuperStock
Hunkpapa Lakota spiritual and
war leader Sitting Bull is best
remembered for his role overseeing
the defeat of the U.S. Army at the
Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.
An advocate of the peaceful Ghost
Dance movement, he nevertheless
came to symbolize hostility in the
eyes of Whites.
Upon his release, Sitting Bull tried to comply with the government’s
assimilation program by brieﬂy becoming a farmer. The arid plains
environment made farming without irrigation nearly impossible, however, and
his crops failed. Despondent that the traditional Native American lifestyle was
no longer an option, Sitting Bull grasped for any opportunity to earn a living.
He traveled for a season as a performer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West
Show, reenacting his peoples’ defeat for White audiences in the eastern United
States and Europe. Although the experience proved painful and humiliating,
he endured multiple performances before crowds who came to see an authentic
When a new religious movement known as the Ghost Dance gained popularity among the Lakota, Sitting Bull once
again became a target of government concern. Ofﬁcials saw him as an apostle of the movement, which envisioned
Native American sovereignty and prosperity and strove for the decline of White control, and they issued orders for his
arrest. On December 15, 1890, a conﬂict erupted between police and Sitting Bull’s supporters, resulting in the death of
one of the arresting ofﬁcers and Sitting Bull himself (Anderson, 1996).
Sitting Bull’s death signaled that Native American resistance was near its end. The lands that Sitting Bull and other
Native American tribes sought to defend embodied “the West,” that vast space in which industrialization, adventurism,
discrimination, and technology coalesced to forever change the United States.
For further thought:
1. Why did some among the Lakota continue to resist the incursion of Americans in the West even after many of
their people had moved to reservations?
2. Why did the American government perceive Sitting Bull as a threat?
1.1 Western Settlement
When European settlement began on the Atlantic coast in the 17th and 18th centuries, the western frontier was Ohio
and the Old Northwest. For the Spanish explorers arriving in the South and West, the frontier was not the west but the
northern region of Native American cultures and French and English settlement. Beyond the colonial period, as
American settlement moved to ﬁll up the land beyond the Atlantic coast, the West moved as well. The Old Northwest
became the Midwest and the frontier pushed on to the Great Plains, to the lands that Sitting Bull and other Native
Americans called home.
Urged forward by new technologies such as the railroad, mechanized farming equipment, and barbed wire, and
supported by entrepreneurs and industrialists, Americans ﬁlled in the frontier, that region of territory stretching west of
the Mississippi River to the Paciﬁc Ocean, by the end of the 19th century. The Lakota and other Plains tribes had ﬁrst
encountered American settlers as they pushed west in wagons on overland trails, but after the Civil War a rapid boom in
railroad construction accelerated the process that exchanged Native American villages and hunting grounds for
American farms, ranches, and towns.
The rapid western population growth that ﬁlled in the frontier could not have happened without the railroad. Only about
50,000 Americans migrated to the Southwest after westward trails were opened in the 1840s, but the ﬂoodgates opened
when a westward railroad connection was completed in 1869 and migrants could ride the railroad westward (Hine &
Faragher, 2007). In the 19th century the railroad symbolized American commercial and technological development. It
was an icon of a new way of life and became a focus of some of the most eloquent writers of the day. In 1855 Walt
Whitman, in Leaves of Grass, made this observation about the railroad in America:
I see over my own continent the Paciﬁc railroad surmounting every barrier. I see continual trains of cars
winding along the Platte carrying freight and passengers. I hear locomotives rushing and roaring, the shrill
steam-whistle. I hear the echoes reverberate through the grandest scenery in the world. (Whitman, 2012)
The railroad also symbolized the new connectedness in America,
since it united various parts of the nation like never before. The
Transcontinental Railroad, constructed between 1863 and 1869,
linked two major railroad construction projects, ﬁnally connecting
the nation from east to west. Newly arrived immigrants, Chinese
workers moving out of the mining ﬁelds, and large numbers of
Mormons provided the bulk of the arduous labor required to clear
land, lay track, and tunnel through mountains. By 1900 there were
200,000 miles of railroad track in the United States (White, 2012).
Railroad construction was difﬁcult and exhausting, but many
immigrant workers found it provided an opportunity to earn
enough money to return to their homeland and live richly. Chinese
railroad laborer We Wen Tan helped construct the railroad that
moved eastward from California to Utah. He was present at the Coal-ﬁred steam engines powered late 19thsymbolic moment on May 10, 1869, when the Union Paciﬁc and century railroads across America.
the Central Paciﬁc Railroads met at Promontory Point in Utah.
Upon its completion, he returned to his home village in China with the equivalent of $10,000, considered a fortune at
the time. He built a large home and eventually sent his son to the United States (Chinese Railroad Workers in North
America Project, 2014).
Homesteaders and Immigrant Farmers on the Great Plains
Another factor contributing to westward expansion was the Homestead Act. Passed by Congress in 1862 in the midst
of the Civil War, the Homestead Act granted 160 acres of land in the public domain to any settler who lived on it for 5
years and improved it by building a house and plowing. The law reinforced the 19th-century belief in free labor (the
notion that one could make free employment choice), and that the ownership of land deﬁned American success.
Proponents of the free labor ideology linked property ownership and hard work to independence and the rights of
citizenship, and the terms of the Homestead Act enabled thousands of Americans to pursue these values.
The ﬁrst settlers to take advantage of the Homestead Act had settled in the central and upper Midwest, where soil was
rich and farming relatively easy. But by the late 1870s and 1880s, those seeking land were forced to look to the Great
Plains, where arid soil, native grasses, and a harsh climate made earning a living off the land more difﬁcult. In the short
term the struggles of homesteading the Plains were eased by a multiyear wet cycle in the climate during these years.
Above-average rainfall attracted thousands
of farmers to settle in the region that had been called “The Great American
Desert” just a generation before. In 1886, though, the cycle suddenly reversed. Drought lasted through the mid-1890s,
driving half the populations of western Kansas and Nebraska to abandon their farms and move back east (Hine &
Some homesteaders did succeed on the Plains, however. John Bakken, the son of Norwegian immigrants, moved with
his family to Milton, North Dakota, to claim a plot of land. There he met and married Marget Axvig, a Norwegian
immigrant, who helped him settle a homestead in Silvesta Township, North Dakota. Indeed, although western
settlement and farming is often described as a male activity, women were essential to the success of homesteads and
ranches. In addition to domestic work, western women often became entrepreneurs or worked for wages, providing
capital needed for their own and their families’ survival. Women also played key roles in community building in the
West, founding …
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