Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Search
MENU

America's History in the Making

Taming the American West

Theme 2

Landscapes in the arid West challenged newcomers' assumptions about an endless, bountiful frontier.

Westward expansion created encounters with arid lands and breathtaking landscapes. More and more Americans recognized that their country's natural resources were not infinite, sparking an emerging environmental consciousness. The federal government became directly involved in the preservation of land and protecting the endangered bison. In 1871, Congress established Yellowstone as the world's first national park, to be forever "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

At the same time, scientists and government officials hoped that "rain will follow the plow" into the arid West; farmers eagerly headed west in hopes of making the desert bloom. But it soon became apparent that traditional agricultural methods could not succeed on arid lands, and tens of thousands of homesteaders suffered drought, low crop prices, hardship, and homelessness. By the 1880s and 1890s, farmers and ranchers drawn west by the Homestead Act and other incentives needed government assistance due to harsher conditions than expected.

Federal officials believed in providing indirect government assistance that created opportunities for success. Instead of subsidizing the railroad companies, farmers and ranchers wanted the government to provide direct assistance in the form of low-interest loans and regulation or take over of railroad and telegraph lines. Without government assistance, corporations took over farming, ranching, and mining because they had the capital needed to manage the new lands and resources.

Primary Sources

Texts

Text Artifact

"Rain Will Follow the Plow"

Charles Dana Wilber, The Great Valleys and Prairies of Nebraska and the Northwest (Omaha: Daily Republican Printing, 1881), reprinted in Wilber Republican (August 2, 2000), page 15s.

Text Artifact

The Land of Little Rain

Mary Hunter Austin, The Land of Little Rain (New York: Ballantine Books, reprint 1971), selected pages.


Artifacts

Agriculture — The Old and the New

George Grantham Bain, AGRICULTURE — THE OLD AND THE NEW (n.d.). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Czech Language Land Promotion Booklet

Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, CZECH LANGUAGE LAND PROMOTION BOOKLET (1870s). Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collection.

German Language Land Promotion Booklet

Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, GERMAN LANGUAGE LAND PROMOTION BOOKLET (1870s). Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Photo Collection.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Thomas Moran, GRAND CANYON OF THE YELLOWSTONE (n.d.). Courtesy Yellowstone National Park.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone

William Henry Jackson, LOWER FALL OF THE YELLOWSTONE (1871). Courtesy Yellowstone National Park.

Postcard of a Tourist Feeding a Bear

F. Jay and Jack Haynes, POSTCARD A TOURIST FEEDING A BEAR (n.d.). Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Postcard of Old Faithful Geyser

F. Jay and Jack Haynes, POSTCARD OF OLD FAITHFUL GEYSER (ca. 1920). Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Postcard of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

F. Jay and Jack Haynes, POSTCARD OF THE GRAND CANYON OF THE YELLOWSTONE (n.d.). Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Tower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Thomas Moran, TOWER FALLS, YELLOWSTONE (n.d.). Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Next Go to Theme 3

© Annenberg Foundation 2014. All rights reserved. Legal Policy