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Transformations of the American West

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Brittany Exam 3 Essay 9 Dec 2012 Transformations of the American West The three most important transformations of the American West were the completion of the railway system, economically, the diversity of the people, socially, and the conservation of land, politically. All of these transformations have made an unmistakable impact of the American West and what it is today. The largest economic transformation in American Western history was the building of the railroad systems. It was the key factor in united the East and West. The railroads were by far the biggest, most impressive technological achievement ever for that time period.

The pace at which goods, people, livestock, etc. changed from the steady speed of a horse, ox, or mule to the most powerful driving force the country had ever seen. The United States would finally be a united continental nation. Barren fields that flowed as far as the eye could see were turned into boon towns like Wichita, Abilene and Dodge. People of an enormous diversity traveled to the West. Civil War veterans, former European peasants, poor families all wanted to own land and start farms. And so they did, fields that had once been nothing but grass became rolling fields of wheat.

Railroads carried hundreds of thousands of western longhorn cattle to markets in the east for sale. This was the key to making the “cowboy” much more famous than just a young, dusty, man with nothing but a saddle and a horse. Buffalo hunters also traveled by railroad. So many people traveled to hunt the animal, that it almost became extinct. The building of these railroads was no easy feat. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada were a big slow-down for the production by the Central Pacific railroad company. Making that even more difficult, was the fact that the companies had a hard time holding onto workers.

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About 3 out of 5 used the company for a free ride to the West and then disappeared. The plans called for about 5,000 workers, but only about 600 were showing up. That’s when the Chinese immigrants came into play. A large part of their population was making a living looking for leftover gold and silver. At first, they were thought to be incapable due to their size and inexperience, but they proved that to be untrue. Before long, nearly 11,000 Chinese were employed by the Central Pacific and there were advertisements in China offering employment for immigrants.

This large work force in addition to lots of black powder gave them what they needed to make it through the mountains in about 3 years. Beef prices were low due to the amount of cattle in the West so, to compensate cattle needed to be sold in eastern marketplaces where they weren’t as present. In less than 20 years, 6 million steers and cows were moved along cattle trails to railheads for shipping. As the railroads were being laid in the Great Plains, people were flocking to the west. People who had never before seen a buffalo. They shot the bison for sport, even organizing hunting excursions.

People enjoyed it. So when word got out that people were being paid to kill bison because of their interference with the railroads, their meat, and their hides, they were slaughtered extremely quickly. The government even provided free ammunition. The bison population dropped from about 25 million to almost 100, nearly causing extinction. All of these aspects not only created many jobs, but also drew enormous profits, while moving crowds of people to the west. The railroad was an economic machine and absolutely transformed the west.

The biggest social transformation of the American West was the amount of diversity in the people moving west. The West represented a lot of the same qualities that the original new America represented. Anyone could be a land owner, have a fresh start, escape racial inequality, find a job, etc. People of all races and religions were pursuing the same dream. The Homestead Act played a large part in attracting people to move to the west, by way of railroad, and work the land in order for nearly free ownership rights. The population skyrocketed in the west.

States even competed to get the most people to move to their state. Immigrants moving to those states included Scottish, European Jews, German-Russian Mennonites, Swedish, Dutch, French, Bohemian, Norwegian, and many Americans from the East. Cowboys also came in an array of ethnicities. They were confederate veterans, assimilated Indians, freed slaves, and white men, and they all rode the long dusty trails together just trying to make a buck. After the civil war, many freed slaves and former buffalo soldiers moved to the West and worked the land in peace from racial inequality.

All these people played a part in settling and transforming to West, making it the diverse place it is today. The biggest political transformation of American Western history was that of the environmental/conservation politics. The country had never had such a need for land conservation because before, we had so much unsettled land, but as people moved westward, things changed. Land was being destroyed to build railroads, trees were being cleared, animals were being hunted, land was being settled very quickly, and natural resources we diminishing.

The frontier was being lost, and it would take government and political action to help preserve some of the land that was remaining. Lumber and coal companies wanted to do anything and everything they could to maximize jobs, growth, and profits. Conservationists, scientists, and outdoorsmen wanted to reduce waste, emphasize beauty for tourists, and protect wildlife. Theodore Roosevelt was an avid hunter, and he fought for the conservation movement when he saw the destruction of the natural animal habitat in the West.

Roosevelt used his entire career to make this a national agenda, and it is still present in politics today. The Newlands Reclamation Act in 1902 created dams to help irrigate and preserve 230 million acres of farm land. The Yellowstone Act set aside a large portion of land in the Wyoming/Montana area to be a park. It was created to preserve timber, mineral deposits, and natural wonders, like the geysers in the park. It was enacted by the Senate and Congress in 1872. It was the first national park.

In 1889 preservationist started organizing a movement to save the sequoia trees in the Yosemite Valley of Californian, eventually leading to the creating of Yosemite National Park. In 1891 Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act. This allowed the President of the United States to set aside forests which cannot be destructed. There became political groups, conservationist and preservationists, that had really never before existed. Conservation and preservation were political transformations that still hold true to be extremely important in American politics today.

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