The American West Timeline 1830-1892

American West

This pages details the events that happened in the American West 1830 – 1892


It is thought that the first people came to the North American continent from Asia. It is believed that they crossed when the sea level was very low and there was land between the two continents.
The first Spanish invaders arrived. They introduced horses and cattle to the continent but they also brought western diseases that the native peoples had no resistance to.
The first British settlers arrived in New England. They too brought contagious diseases, the worst being smallpox.
1680 (during)
Pope’s Revolt
The Pueblo Indians in Mexico revolted against the Spanish invaders and drove them out of the province of New Mexico. They captured many of the Spanish horses.
1680 (after)
The Pueblo Indians of Mexico bred the Spanish horses and traded them with other Indian tribes on the North American continent.
1775 (to 1782)
A smallpox epidemic claimed the lives of thousands of American settlers and Native Indians
1795 (during)
An outbreak of smallpox reduced the population of the Arikara Indians from 32 to just 2.
1800 (around)
The Native Americans living in America could be broadly divided into two groups. Those that led a nomadic life following herds of bison and living in tepees, and those that had settled in the Eastern Plains and farmed the land.
1820 (during)
Joseph Smith, aged 14 years, had a vision in which he was told to prepare himself for great work.
1823 (during)
Jed Smith, a fur trapper employed by the fur seller William Henry Ashley, discovered a new route through the Rocky Mountains which was wide enough for a wagon to pass through.
1823 (during)
The angel Moroni told Joseph Smith to go and find the book written on gold plates. However, the angel did not reveal the location.
1824 (11th March)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established. It was responsible for dealing with all laws and policies relating to Native Americans.
1827 (during)
The angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith the location of the book written on gold plates. Smith claimed that he dug the book up on a hill near Manchester, New York. He told no one about his find as he had been told to keep them secret. He began to translate the symbols written on the plates.
1827 (January 17th)
Joseph Smith married Emma Hale
1830s (during)
Colonel Richard Irving Dodge served with the US army on the Great Plains. His writings are a major primary source for the American West period.
1830s (during)
The artist and writer George Catlin travelled to the American West several times to paint the Native Indians in their natural habitat. His paintings and writings are major primary sources for the Indian way of life in this period.
1830 (during)
A smallpox epidemic killed half of the Indian population of the Mississippi region.
1830 (April 6th)
Joseph Smith finished translating the gold plates that he found in 1827 and founded the Mormon religion based on the teachings of the plates. He said that he had returned the plates to the location they had been found.
1830 (May 28th)
Indian Removal Act
This Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson. It determined the removal and resettlement of Indians beyond the Mississippi which became a permanent frontier.
1831 (during)
The Mormon religion, founded by Joseph Smith, now had 1,000 members. The Mormons faced abuse and prejudice from outsiders who were suspicious of them and their practices.
1832 (during)
The fur companies began using steamboats on the river Missouri as a means of transportation.
1836 (during)
Beaver fur hats were no longer fashionable and demand had fallen. Consequently the numbers of mountain men and fur trappers had reduced.
1837 (during)
A smallpox outbreak killed large numbers of Native Indians. The outbreak was blamed on a group of fur trappers that had arrived by steamboat. After this the Natives, who had been friendly, no longer welcomed the fur trappers.
1837 (during)
There was an economic depression and a number of banks collapsed causing people to lose their savings. The Mormon bank was one of the banks that collapsed.
1837 (during)
Joseph Smith and the Mormons moved to Missouri, however, the Missouri people were no more welcoming than those in New York.
1838 (during)
Trail of Tears
President Martin van Buren sent the army to remove those Eastern Indian nations that had not yet left the region. They were moved to reservations on the Great Plains. The 1,200 mile journey, which most had to make on foot, was known as the ‘Trail of Tears’.
1838 (Winter)
Joseph Smith moved the Mormons to Commerce in Illinois.
1839 (during)
The economic depression continued. More than 20,000 people were unemployed in Philadelphia alone and in the Midwest farmers faced ruin as the price of grain and livestock fell. These poor conditions pushed some people to move to the West.
1839 (May)
The Mormon town of Commerce was renamed Nauvoo and Smith ran the town as a city state, making its own laws.
1840s (during)
Seth Eastman was a US army officer who created more than 300 paintings of Native Indians between 1820 and 1850. His paintings are a primary source for the Indian way of life in the 1840s.
1840 (during)
As the number of people living in the Eastern states increased people found themselves living in more cramped conditions. The population of many towns had grown by 20 or 30 times since 1830. More people began to move West in search of a better life pulled by tales of the American West where the sun always shone and fruit could be picked from the trees.
1841 (during)
George Catlin published his book ‘Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians’. This book offered a sympathetic look at the lives of the Native Indians.
1841 (5th April)
Joseph Smith married Louisa Beaman, his first plural wife, in a secret ceremony.
1841 (4th September)
Pre-emption Act
This act stated that any farmer that took land in Oregon, built a house and cleared trees could buy that land at a minimum price.
1843 (during)
The Great Migration
For the first time, more than 1000 people made the journey from the east of America to Oregon. They made the journey along the Oregon Trail in long wagon trains.
1843 (Spring)
Jim Bridger, a former mountain man, built Fort Bridger on the Oregon Trail. He used his knowledge as a former mountain man to guide travellers on the Oregon Trail and also sell them provisions for their journey.
1843 (August 12th)
Joseph Smith, who had secretly married around 30 women, announced to the Mormon Council that he had received a new revelation and had been told that polygamy was acceptable. Several people objected to this idea on the grounds of morality.
1844 (during)
Joseph Smith, leader of the Mormons, announced that he intended to run for President of the United States.
1844 (April)
Henry Sagar decided to move his wife Naomi and 6 children to Oregon. They were part of a group of 300 travellers in 72 wagons who left Missouri following the Oregon Trail.
1844 (April 7th)
Joseph Smith preached a sermon in which he told his followers that there was more than one God.
1844 (May 30th)
Naomi Sagar gave birth to her seventh child while travelling along the Oregon Trail.
1844 (June 7th)
A paper, the Nauvoo Expositer, was published denouncing Joseph Smith for his views on polygamy and plurality of Gods.
1844 (June 10th)
Joseph Smith ordered that the offices of the Nauvoo Expositer be destroyed. City Marshall John Greene set light to the offices and they were destroyed. The owners of the Nauvoo Expositer reported Smith to the authorities in Hancock and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
1844 (June 12th)
The case against Joseph Smith was held in Nauvoo where the jury dismissed all charges.
1844 (June 13th)
The owners of the Nauvoo Expositer and the Hancock council complained about the behaviour of Joseph Smith,
1844 (June 18th)
Anticipating trouble, Joseph Smith put Nauvoo under martial law, stationing the Mormons’ private militia around the town.
1844 (June 25th)
Joseph and his brother, Hyrum Smith gave themselves up to the authorities. They were imprisoned.
1844 (June 27th)
While in prison, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed when a mob attacked the prison.
1844 (after June 27th)
Brigham Young became leader of the Mormons.
1844 (July)
Shortly after celebrating Independence day with her fellow travellers, Naomi Sagar was badly injured when the wagon she was travelling in overturned in the shallow water of the River Platte.
1844 (August)
Catherine Sagar, eldest daughter of Henry and Naomi Sagar, had her leg broken when it was run over by a wagon. Luckily a doctor was travelling in the party and he splinted her leg ensuring her survival.
1844 (August 23rd)
Henry Sagar died from an outbreak of ‘camp fever’.
1844 (Late August)
Naomi Sagar died from the same outbreak of ‘camp fever’ that had killed her husband.
1844 (October)
The Whitman family who ran a mission in Oregon agreed to take the Sagar children.
1845 (during)
A book entitled ‘The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California’ was published. The book gave advice to those making the journey West.
1845 (during)
Around 5000 people made the journey from the East to Oregon.
1845 (July)
Manifest Destiny
John O’Sullivan first used the term Manifest Destiny in the New York paper ‘The Morning Post’. He wrote “(it is) our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty.”
1845 (September)
Brigham Young decided to take the Mormons West. He decided that Utah would be the best place for them because it was not under the government of the United States which meant that they could live how they chose and make their own rules and regulations.
1845 (29th December)
Texas became the 28th State of America. The state had declared independence from Mexico in 1836.
1846 (Spring)
Brigham Young and the Mormons began their journey West.
1846 (May)
The Donner party left Independence, Missouri, to travel to California. They decided not to follow the usual route but to take a short cut and travel with Lansford Hastings from Fort Bridger.
1846 (June)
Brigham Young and the first group of Mormons reached the Missouri River. Here they established a camp where they would spend the Winter months and prepare to complete their journey the following year.
1846 (June 15th)
The Oregon Treaty
This treaty settled the dispute between the Americans and British over land in Oregon. It was agreed that the region would be jointly administered for ten years.
1846 (July)
The Donner party reached Little Sandy River and split from their main group to travel to Fort Bridger where they would meet Lansford Hastings.
1846 (August)
The Donner party reached Fort Bridger where they learned that Lansford Hastings had already left with another group but would leave markers for them to follow. After a few days travelling they found a note asking them to wait for further instructions. They waited for eight days then a note came describing an alternative route. The alternative route was very difficult but they eventually reached Salt Lake Desert.
1846 (September)
The Donner party struggled across the desert taking a week to cross to the other side. In the process they lost four wagons and most of their cattle. Lacking supplies they sent two men to Sutter’s Fort for provisions.
1846 (October 19th)
The Donner Party’s provisions arrived along with two Indian guides.
1846 (October 23rd)
The Donner Party began to make their way over the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Although it was quite late in the season to make the crossing, they believed they had time to reach California before the snows came.
1846 (October 28th)
The Donner Party woke to find it was snowing and 15cm (6 inches) of snow had already fallen. The snow meant they could not continue their journey. They made shelters and tried to survive as best they could.
1846 (December 15th)
A member of the Donner Party died from starvation.
1846 (December 16th)
Fifteen members of the Donner Party (The Forlorn Hope) agreed to try to make the crossing and get help. They had meagre food supplies.
1846 (December 27th)
Four of the Forlorn Hope Group from the Donner Party died. The surviving eleven agreed that they should eat those that had died.
1847 (January 10th)
The surviving members of the Forlorn Hope Group from the Donner Party reached Johnson’s Ranch.
1847 (February 19th)
A rescue party reached the Donner Party in the Mountains. Half of the party had died and the others were suffering from mental illness – driven crazy by their experience. Those that were fit enough were led out of the mountains.
1847 (late February)
The surviving members of the Donner Party were rescued. They had had to resort to cannibalism to survive.
1847 (April)
Brigham Young and a group of 148 Mormons left their Winter Camp to continue the journey West. This advance group of strong and healthy men, women and children were chosen to lead the way to the Great Salt Lake, select the site for their new town and begin building.
1847 (July 24th)
Brigham Young and the advance party of 148 Mormons reached Salt Lake in Utah.
1847 (Autumn)
An outbreak of measles reached the Whitman mission and killed a number of Native Indians. Tension between the whites and the natives increased when the Indians realised that more Indians were dying from measles than white people.
1847 (November 29th)
A group of Cayuse Indians attacked the Whitman mission. The Whitmans and two of the Sagar children were killed. The other Sagar children, along with a number of other white people, were captured by the Indians. Another Sagar child died from measles while in captivity.
1847 (December)
Following the advance party, more than 2,000 Mormons now reached Utah.
1847 (December 29th)
A deal was struck with the Cayuse Indians and those captured in November 1847 were released. The surviving Sagar children were split up and brought up by different families.
1848 (January 24th)
California Gold Rush
Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill California by James Marshall who was building a new sawmill for the owner, John Sutter.
1848 (February 2nd)
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
This treaty ended the Mexican American war. California was ceded to America by Mexico.
1848 (February 2nd)
The terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo meant that Salt Lake was now under the jurisdiction of the American government. This was not what Brigham Young wanted for the Mormons and requested that the US government allow him to establish an independent Mormon state to be named Deseret. The US government refused this request but allowed him to have a smaller area, which would be called Utah and named him as governor with full control over the new territory.
1848 (May)
Sam Brannan, a Mormon businessman from San Francisco, visited Sutter’s Mill and learned of the discovery of gold. He opened a shop near the sawmill selling shovels, picks and sieves as well as other merchandise. He then told everyone in San Francisco about the gold discovery. People from Oregon and California flocked to the area to look for gold. They shopped at Sam Brannan’s store.
1848 (August 14th)
The south west region of Oregon was admitted to the Union as the state of Oregon.
1848 (December)
The newspapers in the East began to report stories of how people had become extremely wealthy by finding gold. It was reported that people could make $1,000 a day.
1849 (during)
Francis Parkman published his book ‘The Oregon Trail’. Parkman was a wealthy Bostonian who had embarked on a tour of the West to view first hand the ‘primitive’ native peoples. His view of the Native Indians as a quaint, primitive race outlined in his book had a major influence on people with no first hand knowledge of the Native Indians and helped build a stereotypical image of the Natives as savage, backward people to be feared.
1849 (during)
80,000 49ers (those who made the journey to California in 1849) tripled the population of California. However, most were disappointed to find that the easy gold had gone and that the chances of discovering more were unlikely. Nevertheless, many purchased supplies and spent long hours digging and panning hoping to strike it lucky.
1850s (during)
Southern Texas had become a major centre for cattle ranching in the United States and beef was a popular food.
1850 (September 9th)
California became the 31st state of America.
1851 (September 17th)
Fort Laramie Treaty
This treaty redefined Indian lands. Each Indian nation was to have its own land and defined hunting grounds. A pathway was to be kept clear for travellers making their way to the West.
1852 (during)
The gold in California had gone and many of those who had arrived seeking a fortune had gone home. However, many remained in San Francisco, either because they lacked funds to return, or because they still believed they would make their fortune.
1852 (during)
Brigham Young publicly acknowledged the Mormon practice of polygamy.
1854 (29th August)
Daniel Halliday filed a patent for his water pumping windmill. His invention made a massive difference to the lives of those trying to farm on the Plains.
1856 (during)
The army had been expanded to 15,715 in order to deal with increasing hostility between the Indians and white Americans. They manned a total of 52 forts across the Plains.
1857 (June)
The Mormon War
Tensions had increased between Utah and the United States government, largely due to the Mormons isolationist policy and their practice of polygamy. The Mormons were also charging tolls to emigrants wishing to cross their land and had befriended the local Indian tribes. In a bid to bring Utah under US government law 2500 soldiers were sent to the city. The Mormons, believing that their lives and property were at risk set up a strong defence round Salt Lake City and successfully held the soldiers back.
1857 (September)
Mountain Meadow Massacre
A group of 140 emigrants were crossing Utah on their way to California. The emigrants disliked the Mormons and the Indians and shouted insults at both. They also allowed their cattle to graze in Mormon fields. The Indians were so enraged that they attacked the emigrants and killed seven. A group of 50 Mormons came to the aid of the Indians and decided that they should kill all of the emigrants to keep the deaths of the seven secret. The Mormons spread the story that the emigrants had been killed by Indians but the authorities did not believe the story. The story reached the press in the east and there were demands for the Mormons to be dealt with. More troops were sent to Utah. Many Mormons fearing for their lives left Utah. The newspapers published the story of the troops causing the Mormons to leave Utah and public opinion changed.
1858 (April)
There was still conflict between the United States government and the Mormons. The government now offered the Mormons a full pardon for their part in the Mountain Meadow Massacre on condition that Utah accepted the jurisdiction of the US government. The Mormons accepted the terms, Brigham Young stepped down as governor of Utah and a non-Mormon, government appointed governor, was installed.
1859 (during)
Gold was discovered at Pikes Peak in the Colorado mountains which were considered sacred by the Indians. As news of the discovery spread, miners poured into the area.
1859 (during)
John Iliff had made the journey west as part of the California gold rush, but had failed to find gold. Rather than return home, he decided to set up a store near Cheyenne, Wyoming on the Oregon trail. He began buying lame cattle from migrants and found they could survive on the land.
1859 (August 14th)
Oregon became the 33rd state of America.
1860 (During)
Catherine Sagar, one of the surviving Sagar children, wrote an account of her journey across the Plains entitled ‘Across The Plains in 1844’ but was unable to find a publisher for her story. It was eventually published in the twentieth century and is a valuable primary source for the journey across the plains.
1860 (April 3rd)
The Pony Express
This mail service was founded to deliver mail between the states of Missouri in the east and California in the west. Mail was transported by relay teams of riders.
1860 (Summer)
There had been no rainfall in Kansas for more than a year making growing crops very difficult for the homesteaders (those people who were trying to live off the land).
1861 (during)
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians began attacking miners, railway workers and travellers who were invading their land.
1861 (April 12th)
The American Civil War
This war between the Unionists in the North and the Confederates in the South began. The war was caused by differences between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery.
1861 (after April 12th)
US soldiers whose duty it had been to man the forts on the Plains and keep peace between the Indians and the white settlers and travellers, were withdrawn from their posts to fight in the Civil War. They were replaced by volunteers who lacked the discipline of regular soldiers and often provoked the Indians rather than keeping peace.
1861 (October 22nd)
The first telegraph message was sent across America.
1862 (during)
The government passed a bill making polygamy illegal. However the new law was ignored by the Mormons in Utah.
1862 (during)
Gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains near Montana. Prospectors rushed to the site. A new trail called the Bozeman Trail branched off the Oregon trail to reach the gold area. The Bozeman Trail passed through land that had been given to the Sioux Indians and the Natives attacked travellers who used the route.
1862 (May 20th)
The Homestead Act
This act gave 160 acres of land free to homesteaders provided they farmed on it and lived there for 5 years.
1862 (June)
The Santee Sioux Indians lived on a reservation. Their crops had been destroyed by disease the previous summer so they had to buy food. They were given credit by the local government store on condition their bill be paid when their annual government subsidy arrived. However, the subsidy failed to arrive and their credit was stopped. This left them unable to buy food.
1862 (August 17th)
Little Crow’s War
This conflict began when four Santee Sioux Indians killed five settlers in their bid to find food.
1862 (August 18th)
Little Crow led his Indians in an attack on the Indian Agency. Their aim was to take food from the stores there and prevent their people from starving. Twenty agency workers were killed in the attack.
1862 (September)
Little Crow led an attack on the soldiers stationed at Fort Ridgely but was unable to capture Fort. He tried to recruit other Indian groups to join him but was unsuccessful. Eventually, realising he could not win Little Crow and a few Indians decided to go West while the others surrendered.
1862 (November 5th)
300 Santee Sioux were sentenced to death for their part in Little Crow’s War. President Lincoln intervened and reduced the number to 38.
1862 (December)
The 38 Santee Sioux who had been sentenced to death in November were hanged.
1863 (during)
The remaining Santee Sioux Indians were moved to Crow Creek reservation on the Missouri River. Conditions at this reservation were bad. The land was unfit for growing and there was little clean drinking water.
1863 (June)
Little Crow was shot by a farmer who found him picking raspberries in a field. The farmer was given a reward of $500.
1864 (November 29th)
Sand Creek Massacre
A group of volunteer soldiers under Colonel Chivington attacked a Cheyenne village in Sand Creek. 133 Indians including 105 women and children were killed by the soldiers. Although the massacre was condemned in the eastern states, the Cheyenne were unforgiving and turned hostile towards white settlers and travellers.
1865 (May 9th)
The American Civil War ended in victory for the Union. Regular soldiers returned to manning forts on the Plains. Thousands of other soldiers were demobilised and were looking for work. Also freed slaves were looking to build themselves a new life. Many of these two groups became homesteaders, cowboys, miners and railroad builders.
In Texas cattle had been left to their own devices when ranchers had gone to fight for the Confederacy. When those men who survived returned to Texas they found that the numbers of cattle had dramatically increased. The Texans had more cattle than they needed for themselves and decided they needed to find new markets for beef.
1866 (During)
John Ilif who now farmed cattle at Cheyenne, Wyoming, began buying cows and bulls from Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, cattle ranchers in Texas.
1866 (February 13th)
Jesse James committed his first bank robbery.
1866 (Spring)
First cattle drive
The cattle ranchers Goodnight and Loving drove a herd of cattle to Fort Sumner in New Mexico and sold them to feed the soldiers.
1866 (June)
Red Cloud’s War
Red Cloud was chief of the Sioux Indians in Montana. The Indians had been attacking travellers and miners using the Bozeman Trail that passed through their lands. The government had requested peace talks and Red Cloud had agreed. However, while the talks were going on the government ordered a number of forts to be built along the Bozeman Trail. Red Cloud broke off talks and tensions were high.
1866 (October 6th)
The first train robbery was carried out by the Reno brothers. The gang stole $13,000 from the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.
1866 (December 21st)
Fetterman’s Massacre
The Indians were still trying to beat the government by maintaining a strong presence along the Bozeman Trail. They managed to keep large numbers of soldiers confined to their forts but were not able to capture any of them. However, they did managed to trap a group of 81 soldiers under the command of Captain Fetterman and kill them.
1866 (after)
Cattle drives became standard practice for ranchers wishing to sell their cattle. However, the drives were fraught with dangers from homesteaders and Indians who resented their destructive presence on the land and also feared stampedes. Ranchers also faced the loss of cattle on the drives from disease, injury, stampede or getting lost.
1867 (during)
Oliver Loving, the cattle rancher partner of Charles Goodnight, died after being injured on a cattle drive by Comanche Indians.
1867 (October)
The Medicine Lodge Treaty brought Red Cloud’s War to an end. The Indian tribes were to be resettled on reservations away from the white Americans.
1867 (Autumn)
Joseph McCoy founded Abilene, a cow town. McCoy’s new town was situated on the railroad and he advertised for cattle. Cowboys drove cattle to Abilene and sold them to McCoy. McCoy then shipped the cattle East where they were slaughtered and sold at a huge profit.
1868 (During)
John Iliff began selling beef to railroad builders and also secured a government contract to supply the Sioux reservations.
1868 (March 17th)
The Fort Laramie Treaty
The government, unable to defeat the Indians in the Bozeman Trail area, was forced to admit defeat and by the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty gave the Sioux tribe the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountains. This area was to be known as the Great Sioux Reservation and was closed to non-Indians.
1869 (May 10th)
The Golden Spike ceremony marked the completion of the trans-American railway.
1870 (During)
Charles Goodnight bought land in Colorado and began farming Texas longhorn cattle.
1871 (During)
A plague of grasshoppers devastated crops across the Plains. The line of grasshoppers stretched 240 metres (787 feet) by 160 metres (524 feet).
1871 (During)
The cattle barons wanted grazing land on the Plains for their cattle and began hunting and killing the buffalo that roamed freely on the Plains. At the same time a method of tanning buffalo hides was discovered in the East. The price of buffalo hides increased dramatically encouraging people to embark on buffalo hunts.
1871 (November 5th)
James Butler (Wild Bill Hickok) became Marshall of Abilene.
1872 (During)
The townspeople of Abilene decided they no longer wanted cattle to pass through the town. The cattle were driven to different locations and James Butler’s contract as Marshall of Abilene was not renewed.
1873 (During)
James Butler (Wild Bill Hickock) toured with Buffalo Bill.
1873 (March)
Timber Culture Act
This act offered 160 acres of free land on condition that 40 acres of trees were planted on that land.
1874 (During)
Another plague of grasshoppers devastated crops across the Plains.
1874 (During)
Daniel Halliday invented a windmill that could be used to pump water from underground. This invention would revolutionise farming on the Plains.
1874 (During)
Joseph Glidden invented barbed wire. This invention meant that homesteaders could fence off their land and protect their crops.
1874 (Summer)
The Indians were aware that the destruction of the buffalo by hunters would mean the destruction of their traditional way of life. Around 700 Indians began attacking buffalo hunters to try to stop the extinction of the buffalo. However, the Indians quickly realised that they were no match for the hunters who were expert marksmen with their rifles.
1874 (June)
General George Custer was given orders by the military to take an expedition into the Black Hills to see if there was gold in the Hills. Gold was duly discovered in the Black Hills, the land that had been given to the Sioux Indians by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
1874 (after June)
Thousands of non-Indians began flooding into the Black Hills in search of gold.
1875 (During)
The US army were unable to stop the numbers of people entering the Black Hills in search of gold. The government took no action. The Sioux began to attack the miners who were in their sacred lands.
1875 (During)
Another plague of grasshoppers devastated crops across the Plains.
1875 (During)
The buffalo herds on the southern Plains had been completely wiped out.
1875 (Summer)
Relations between the Indians and the government were worsening. The government, desperate to find a solution, offered the Sioux Indians money for the Black Hills. This only served to further anger the Sioux who saw the land as sacred and not for sale at any price.
1875 (December)
The government ordered that all Sioux Indians should be on reservations. There were around 7,000 Indians off the reservations in the Black Hills area and many refused this order. Among those that were refused were chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
1876 (February)
The US army were instructed to treat all Indians outside reservations as hostile. General Sheridan organised his men into three columns led by General Crook, Colonel Gibbon and General Terry and General Custer with the aim of trapping the Indians between them.
1876 (June 17th)
General Crook’s column of soldiers were resting on the banks of Rosebud Creek when they were attacked by 1500 Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians led by Crazy Horse. The Battle of the Rosebud was a victory for the Indians as General Crook was forced to retreat.
1876 (June 24th)
Colonel Gibbon joined up with General Terry and they planned the attack. General Terry divided his men ordering General Custer to approach the Little Bighorn from the South. Custer refused Terry’s offer of extra men. Custer decided to disobey his orders and go straight across the Wolf Mountains rather than go round them. His idea was to reach the Little Bighorn a day earlier than expected, surprise the Indians and defeat them himself.
1876 (June 25th)
The Battle of the Little Bighorn
General Custer reached the Little Bighorn in the afternoon. His scouts advised him to wait for the other columns but he decided to attack. Custer split his forces into four groups. Major Reno with 125 men were sent to attack the southern end of the camp, Captain Benteen with 125 men was to stay in the south, Captain McDougal with B company were to remain with the pack train while Custer took 263 men to attack the north of the camp. At some point the forces under General George Custer were defeated by an Indian force of up to 2000 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho led by Crazy Horse. Custer had asked for Reno and Benteen to support him but they did not. The battle was a decisive victory for the Indians and left all 263 soldiers including General Custer dead. The exact events of the battle have been the source of much controversy since no soldiers survived to tell the story of what actually happened. At the time though, Custer was hailed as a hero dying for his country.
1876 (July 4th)
News of General Custer’s defeat reached white America on Independence Day. The reaction was extreme shock and the government determined that no expense would be spared in forcing the Indians onto reservations.
1876 (August 2nd)
James Marshall, Wild Bill Hickock, was shot dead while in a saloon playing a game of poker. It is told that he was holding two aces and two eights at the time of his death, this combination is now called dead man’s hand.
1876 (Autumn)
The Indians split up into bands to try to evade the army, nevertheless the army pursued them relentlessly and most returned to the reservations.
1877 (During)
Charles Goodnight’s Texas ranch had become very successful and had 100,000 cattle
1877 (During)
The last of the Sioux Indians surrendered.
1877 (During)
Colonel Richard Dodge published his book ‘Hunting Grounds of the Great West’. Dodge’s account offers a unique insight into the lives of the native peoples. However, as it is written from a military perspective, one of an army officer trying to maintain peace between the Indians and the white man. While his observations are honest and real his comparison of Indian habits and customs to those of wild animals and savages contributed to the stereotypical view held by the majority of non-native Americans of the day.
1877 (March 3rd)
The Desert Land Act offered 640 acres of land in areas where there was very little rainfall at a very cheap price.
1877 (May 4th)
Sitting Bull and his band of Indians managed to out run their pursuers and escape to Canada.
1877 (May 5th)
Crazy Horse and his band of Indians were unable to escape their army pursuers and returned to the Great Sioux Reservation where Crazy Horse surrendered.
1877 (August)
The US army began recruiting Sioux from the reservations to fight against the Nez Perce Indians. Crazy Horse was opposed to this practice.
1877 (September 6th)
Crazy Horse was arrested for inciting unrest among the Indians. He was taken to Fort Robinson where it became apparent that the authorities intended to imprison him in chains. Crazy Horse struggled and resisted being imprisoned. He was bayoneted in the back by one of the soldiers and died later that night from his injuries.
1879 (during)
This year saw 40,000 people migrate to the American West.
1880 (during)
Ranching on the plains continued to flourish with many seeing it as a surer way of making money than farming crops. The system used was that of the open range (without fences or fields) where cattle were free to graze where they chose. As the number of ranches increased so this form of ranching became more problematic because it was difficult to know which cattle belonged to who. There was a danger of cattle being taken (cattle rustling) or just wandering onto another ranch.
1880 (during)
In a bid to secure more land for ranching and homesteading killing of the northern Plains buffalo began.
1881 (July 14th)
Billy the Kid was killed by Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
1883 (during)
The northern herds of buffalo had been destroyed.
1883 (May 19th)
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened.
1885 (during)
All Indian nations were confined to reservations.
1886 (Winter)
Over the past few years there had been less demand for beef and the price had fallen which meant that ranchers had kept cattle on their land waiting for the price to rise. The winter of this 1886 was particularly harsh and thousands of cattle died in the icy weather. Many ranchers were facing huge financial problems. In order to cut costs they decided to abandon the open range, have smaller numbers of cattle and use barbed wire to fence in their cattle and wind pumps to get water. They now needed fewer cowboys since much of their work was done by the barbed wire.
1886 (Spring)
In Johnson County, Wyoming there were a number of cattle ranches. There were also an increasing number of homesteaders growing crops on the land. As in other places the severe winter had resulted in the loss of numbers of cattle. Cattle rustlers also took cattle but the cattle barons often mistakenly blamed the homesteaders. The cattle barons hired a gunman, Frank Canton, to find those responsible for stealing the cattle.
1887 (February 8th)
The Dawes Act divided Indian lands into individual allotments. This move was designed to drastically reduce the power of Indian chiefs in the reservations and also to encourage the Indians on the reservations to live more like the white Americans in smaller family units. Many Indian children were forced to attend boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their own language nor wear their traditional clothes.
1889 (January 1st)
A Paiute holy man, Wovoka, had a vision that an Indian saviour would come to save the Indians if they remained peaceful and danced the Ghost Dance.
1889 (April)
Jim Averill was a store owner in Johnson County, Wyoming who lived with a local prostitute, on land that one of the local cattle barons claimed was his. Averill wrote to the local paper complaining that the barons were land grabbers.
1889 (July)
Jim Averill, store owner in Johnson County, Wyoming and his partner Ella Watson were lynched outside their store. They were accused of cattle rustling.
1890 (During)
The Ghost Dance movement spread throughout the Indian nations
1890 (during)
The Mormons territory of Utah applied to join the United States. The government agreed on condition that the Mormons give up their practice of polygamy. The Mormons agreed and no new plural marriages were allowed. Those that were already in polygamous marriages were allowed to continue.
1890 (Summer)
A drought led to crop failures which meant severe hardship for the Indians. Many of them turned to the Ghost Dance Movement. However, the government was concerned about the spread of this movement and ordered that it be banned.
1890 (Autumn)
The government had been unable to stop the Ghost Dance movement and so called in the army to stop the movement.
1890 (December 15th)
Sitting Bull, who had returned to America to join the Ghost Dance movement, was shot dead while resisting arrest by the Indian Police.
1890 (December 29th)
Wounded Knee Massacre
An argument between soldiers and Indians on the banks of the Wounded Knee river turned into a fight with weapons which saw the deaths of 154 Indians – mostly women and children. This event marked the end of the Indian Wars.
1892 (April)
The Johnson County War
The cattle barons planned to invade Johnson County and deal with those who they claimed were cattle rustlers and/or living on land that belonged to the cattle barons. The Barons hired gunfighters to carry out the killing of around 70 people on their list. The invaders first cut telegraph wires so that help could not be summoned. Unfortunately the gunfighters met resistance in the form of Nate Champion who held the gunfighters off for nearly a day. Champion eventually died but by that time the invaders had been spotted by passers by and the alarm raised. The invaders were forced to retreat. Although the cattle barons faced trial they were not convicted but they were now less powerful and the homesteaders were able to farm in relative peace.


First published 2015; updated and republished Jan 2 2022 @ 7:52 pm – Updated –¬†[last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2015 – 2022). The American West 1830 – 1892.

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