The American, the Wild West (Old West), or the American frontier, was a period that began after the Civil War in 1865 and ended around 1895.
It was an iconic era of legendary cowboys, Indians, pioneers, outlaws, saloon madam and legislators. Outlaws took advantage of banks, trains and stagecoaches and legendary figures like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickock, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley became larger than life. Famous Indians of the wild west include Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Geronimo. And there were the more famous boom towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, Deadwood and Abilene.
The Louisiana Purchase
“Let the earth rejoice, because you have bought Louisiana for a song.”
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 is associated with President Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to gain control of the crucial port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River for the future protection, expansion, and prosperity of the United States.
France received $ 15 million for the Louisiana Territory, which doubled the size of the United States and provided opportunities for westward expansion.
It was the largest real estate deal in history because the United States acquired nearly 828,000 square miles of land for just four hundred an acre. Another big real estate deal by the United States was the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $ 7.2 million in 1867.
President Thomas Jefferson encouraged mass migration and settlement after the Louisiana Purchase, which gave rise to the expansionist movement known as “Manifest Destiny.”
American President James K. Polk (1845-1849) is the leader most associated with Manifest Destiny
The term was coined in 1845 by publisher John L. O’Sullivan, who wrote in favor of the United States annexing Texas and expanding to the Pacific Ocean, as it was good for commerce and industry and for farmers and ranchers.
Manifest Destiny brought prosperity to the United States. It also led to the forcible expulsion of Native Americans from their lands and intensified slavery as new states were added to the Union, eventually sparking the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865).
“Go west, young man”
“Go west, young man” became one of the most quoted sayings of the 19th century. People with pioneering spirits forged paths through the wild wilderness of the untamed West first, in covered wagons and then by train to lay the foundation on which America now stands.
There was an opportunity for people willing to work hard to succeed. Some established ranches, farms, and businesses in the city, others engaged in trapping and the fur trade, and some labored and held out in the mines of the new American frontier.
The Oregon Trail
Between 1841 and 1866, some 350,000 people used the famous 2,000-mile Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, to migrate west.
The dangerous road was made by wagons through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and finally into Oregon.
The wagon trains would travel an average of ten miles per day and in good weather the journey would take about five months to reach its destination.
The Camino de Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Trail was about 800 miles long, stretching from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Trail originally started in Franklin, Missouri, but moved to Fort Osage and then, in 1827, to Independence. There were serious natural hazards along the route, and travelers were also invading lands inhabited by the Kiowa, Apache, Comanche, Arapaho, and Cheyenne tribes.
The Chisholm Trail
The Chisholm Trail was used in the post-Civil War era to drive overland cattle from ranches in Texas to Kansas.
From 1867 to 1872, more than three million head of Texas longhorn cattle were herded on the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene.
By 1890, some 10 million head of cattle were driven up Chisholm and other trails outside of Texas.
The Boomtowns used to be mining towns where gold, silver, or oil had been found. The California Gold Rush of 1849, for example, triggered the largest mass migration in American history after gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in early 1848. It peaked in 1852 with more than 300,000 people they reached the territory. These hopeful seekers were called “forty-nine.”
When an area ran out of gold, miners and companies left to find the next gold find, leaving the city empty and abandoned.
Boot Hill is the name of many cemeteries in the Wild West during the 19th and early 20th centuries for the cemeteries of gunmen, or those who “died with their boots on.” The graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury, who died during the famous OK Corral shooting, are located on Boot Hill in Tombstone.
Dodge City, Kansas
Dodge City began in 1847 and is famous for being a frontier cow town, its saloons, outlaws, and the Boot Hill Cemetery.
Many of the early settlers were buffalo hunters, railroad workers, gamblers, gunmen, ranchers, and soldiers.
Two legendary Wild West lawmen, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, served as sheriffs in Dodge City.
Dodge City became a booming city, with thousands of cattle passing through its pens annually.
Tombstone became one of the last booming cities on the American frontier. It was a large silver mining town and is famous for the OK Corral shooting that took place on October 26, 1881.
Founded in 1877 by prospector Ed Schieffelin, it was considered the most dangerous of all the cities in the Wild West.
The Tombstone Epitaph, a monthly publication covering the history and culture of the Old West, was founded in 1880 and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Arizona.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood was a lawless frontier settlement that grew into a thriving mining town.
In 1874, a band of American cavalry soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel. George Armstrong Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills that belonged to the Sioux Indian Reservation. Between 1874 and 1877, some 20,000 prospectors made the journey to Deadwood Gulch, including outlaws, gamers, and gunmen. Gambling and prostitution were big business, and many locals took the law into their own hands.
Two of the most famous Deadwood characters were Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, one of the best gunmen in the American West. He was assassinated in Deadwood on August 2, 1876. The Black Hills Gold Rush also brought Wyatt Earp and his brother, Morgan in 1876 to Deadwood.
Abilene was a railroad cow town of the Old West. Between 1866 and 1889, millions of Texas longhorn cattle headed there in search of a market.
Abilene was also a point for grains and other agricultural products.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower spent his childhood in Abilene and is buried at the Eisenhower Center Meditation Place in Abilene with his family.