The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 16, “The Conquest of The Far West


Chapter 16 Main Themes


  1. The varied and vibrant ethnic and racial cultures that characterized the American West and how Anglo-European whites enforced their dominant role by the latter part of the nineteenth century.
  2. The transformation of the Far West from a sparsely populated region of Indians and various early settlers of European and Asian background into a part of the nation's capitalistic economy.
  3. The closing of the frontier as Indian resistance was eliminated, miners and cowboys spearheaded settlements, and government-subsidized railroads opened the area for intensive development.
  4. The development of mining, ranching, and commercial farming as the three major industries of the West.
  5. The problems faced by farmers as the agricultural sector entered a relative decline.



A thorough study of Chapter 16 should enable the student to understand:


  • The cultural characteristics of the varied populations of the region.


  • The pattern of settlement of the last American frontier, and the significance of the frontier in American history.


  • The growth of the American cultural romance with the West, as reflected by the Rocky Mountain school, the writings of Mark Twain, and the shows of Buffalo Bill Cody.


  • The impact of the discovery of gold and silver in the West both on the region and on the nation as a whole.


  • The development of the cattle industry in the American Southwest after 1860.


  • The methods used by the federal government to reduce the threat of the Plains Indians, and the Indians' ultimate fate.


  • The reasons for the transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming, the effect of the change on the West, and the growing agrarian malaise affecting farmers in the wake of urban industrialization.




Barrios   Urban neighborhoods occupied, principally, by lower-class Mexican Americans. Spanish language dominates in the barrio, and businesses, churches, and other social institutions catering to Mexican Americans are concentrated in these neighborhoods. Barrios were often, but not always, located on the fringe of the city.


Californios   Hispanic residents of California.


Coolies   Chinese indentured servants whose condition was close to slavery.


Frontier   In the American sense, an unexplored, unsettled, or recently settled geographic region. The term also refers to any endeavor in which development possibilities seem unbounded--for instance, the urban frontier, frontiers of science. In the European sense, the frontier is the area near the border with another nation.


Placer Mining   The process of removing gold from the sand and gravel of stream beds. Gold, eroded from mountain lodes, washes into swift-flowing streams and is suspended in the water until the streams slow in certain places and the gold settles to the bottom. Placer mining is the easiest and cheapest method of gold mining because only a simple pan or wooden sluice box is required to separate the gold from the sand and gravel.


Quartz Mining   The process of removing gold or silver from lodes in ore-bearing rock and earth. It is an expensive process involving digging, blasting, crushing, and smelting.


Territory   A geographical and governmental subdivision under the jurisdiction of the United States but not included within any state. Beginning with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the federal government divided the West into territories to facilitate control until the area was prepared for statehood. Territories were allowed some self-government by territorial legislatures, but the president appointed the territorial governor. Because of the peculiar circumstances surrounding their entry into the union, Texas and California never went through the territorial stage.


Tongs   Chinese secret societies of the nineteenth century. Sometimes violent criminal organizations involved the opium trade and prostitution, rival tongs occasionally became embroiled in "tong wars," or violent conflict.