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American West Timeline

This America West Timeline lists the critical years of the Western American territory’s discovery, colonization, and settlement.






6th April
Mormons founded Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion. Smith claimed that, after seeing a vision of an angel called Moroni, he discovered some hidden gold plates bearing inscriptions. The translation of the inscriptions was published in 1830 in the ‘Book of Mormon’. The official name of the religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints but they are more commonly known as Mormons.
26th May 1830 Indian Removal Act The US Government decreed that the Indian tribes could freely inhabit the Great Plains. A Permanent Indian Frontier was established on the eastern edge of the Great Plains.
Spring 1837 Economic Depression An economic depression caused the collapse of many banks in the East. People lost their savings, wages fell and unemployment rose.
1839 Nauvoo founded The Mormons built their ‘holy city’ in Illinois. They called their city Nauvoo
Spring 1843 Fort Bridger established Jim Bridger, a former mountain man, built Fort Bridger on the Oregon Trail. Fort Bridger contained a store where travellers could purchase supplies as well as a workshop and forge where wagons could be repaired.
1843 Great Migration About a thousand people made the journey West to Oregon. This was the highest number of migrants to make the journey west in one year so far and became known as the Great Migration.
27th June 1844 Joseph Smith Killed Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed while imprisoned for destroying a printing press.
July 1845 Manifest Destiny John O’Sullivan, editor of the New York newspaper ‘The Morning Post’, first used this phrase to express the long held belief that white Americans had a God-given right to occupy the entire North American continent.
1846 – 1847 Mormons move to Salt Lake Following the death of the Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young decided to take the Mormons away from the persecution they faced in the East and to build a new life for them at the Great Salt Lake.
24th January 1848 Gold discovered in California James Marshall, a carpenter employed by John Sutter to build a mill at Sutter’s Fort, discovered gold. Initially news of the discovery was kept secret but once it became known people from the East flocked to California hoping to find gold and make their fortune. Those who arrived in 1849 became known as the ‘Forty-niners’.
1850 Stagecoach Wells Fargo established the stagecoach which allowed travellers to pay to be transported by stagecoach.
17th September 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty This treaty between the US Government and the Indian tribes redefined the Indian homelands. The treaty stated that these lands would belong to the Indians and that they would not be entered by white settlers. The Indians were to be given provisions for a period of ten years as compensation for the loss of land.
1854 Homesteaders The first homesteaders began to move onto the Great Plains.
3rd April 1860 Pony Express founded The Waddell and Russell freight company established the Pony Express. Relay stations were set up across north America and riders carried mail from one station to the next.
1861 Fort Wise Treaty This treaty established the Sand Creek Reservation for the Cheyenne tribe.
22nd October 1861 Telegraph The first telegraph message was sent across America
1862 Pacific Railways Act This Act established two companies whose purpose was to construct a railway across America. The Union Pacific Railway was established in the East to build the railway to Missouri and then continue west. The Central Pacific Railway would build the railway from Sacramento and then continue east.
20th May 1862 The Homestead Act This Act offered anyone prepared to settle in the West 160 acres of land for free provided they built a home and farmed the land for five years.
August 1862 Little Crow’s War This was a revolt by the Santee Sioux led by chief Little Crow in protest against the reservations.

The Santee Sioux had moved onto a reservation that had poor land and their crops failed. Compensation payments that had been promised by the government had not been delivered and the tribe faced starvation.

In August 1862 the Santee Sioux warriors attacked the government Agency. They continued to attack white settlers and the army for three months before being defeated by the army.

1863 Cheyenne Uprising The Cheyenne had agreed by the terms of the Fort Wise Treaty 1861 to move onto the Sand Creek Reservation. However, the land was very poor and survival for the Indians was virtually impossible. In 1863 faced with starvation, they began to attack wagon trains and steal food.
29th November 1864 Sand Creek Massacre An armed force, led by Colonel Chivington, attacked Black Kettle’s Cheyenne camp at Sand Creek. The motive for the attack was punishment for the raids on wagon trains. 163 Indians, including women and children, were killed and mutilated.
1866 The Long Drive Texas cattlemen used cowboys to drive cattle to the northern states.
Summer 1867 Red Cloud’s War The Sioux chief, Red Cloud, was furious when white settlers began using the Bozeman Trail which passed through the Sioux hunting grounds and began attacking travellers. Red Cloud was further angered when a line of forts was constructed to protect the travellers and increased the attacks. By spring of 1868 the government were forced to withdraw the army and abandon the forts.
Autumn 1867 Abilene founded Joseph McCoy, a Chicago cattle dealer, founded the ‘cow town’ of Abilene.
1868 The Winter Campaign Realising that the Indians never fought during the Winter months, the army decided to mount a Winter Campaign to try to catch them by surprise and force them into submission.
17th March 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty This treaty defined the territory of the Sioux Indians. It gave them the Black Hills of Dakota and the Bighorn mountains.
10th May 1869 Completion of the Railway  The transcontinental railway was completed. A ceremony, known as the ‘golden spike ceremony’ because a golden spike was used to join the East and West railways, was held at Promontory Point in Utah.
April 1871 Wild Bill Hickok Wild Bill Hickok (Buffalo Bill) was employed as Marshall of Abilene.
March 1873 Timber Culture Act This Act was an extension to the Homestead Act offering 160 acres of land for free provided that at least 40 acres was planted with trees.
June 1874 Gold in the Black Hills Gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota.
1874 Barbed wire invented F Glidden invented barbed wire. This invention meant that large areas of land could be fenced relatively cheaply.
25th June 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn The army decided to attack the Indians camped in the valley of the Little Bighorn. The attack was to be made from three sides. General George Armstrong Custer who led one of the attacking forces decided to attack without waiting for the other two forces to arrive. Custer split his force into three and advanced on the Indians. At some point Custer’s group were attacked. Custer and all his men were killed.
3rd March 1877 Desert Land Act This Act allowed farmers to buy 640 acres of land at a cheap price in areas where there was little rainfall and irrigation schemes were needed to farm the land
1881 Billy the Kid Shot Notorious outlaw, Billy the Kid, was shot by lawman Pat Garratt
February 1887 General Allotments Act (Dawes Act) This Act split up most of the remaining Indian land into 160 acre plots. Some of the plots were given to Indians but much of the land was allocated to white settlers.
29th December 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre A group of soldiers opened fire on a group of Sioux at the Pine Ridge reservation in Wounded Knee Creek killing 153 Indian men, women and children.
1892 Johnson County War The Johnson County war was a range war fought by rival ranchers over cattle and land.

Cattle ranching had been firmly established in Johnson County since the 1870s and many ranch owners had become wealthy and influential. During the 1880s they wanted more land and tried to buy-out small time ranchers and farmers. Those small-time ranchers and farmers who resisted were accused of cattle-rustling and some were hanged.

In 1892 the cattle barons had hired a vigilante group to get rid of the ‘rustlers’. The small time ranchers and farmers formed their own army to counter the vigilante group. The army of small time ranchers and farmers managed to force the vigilante group back to their base and hold them under siege. The situation had to be resolved by the intervention of the US cavalry to free the vigilantes.

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