Four years after the conclusion of the Civil War, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad established a permanent link between the East and West coasts. This connection created new markets for the goods being produced as a result of industrialization.  It also signaled the beginning of tremendous economic growth spurred on by big business especially in production of steel, oil, and the building of more railroads.

While some gained extreme wealth during this time period, not everyone in this period enjoyed the privileges that this wealth provided. It is often asserted that the real movers and shakers of the period were not the men in the White House or Congress but “the captains of industry” or, as some have called them, “the robber barons.”

As industrialization exploded, workers experienced harsh and unsafe labor conditions. Children were often forced to work in factories as families struggled to eke out a living. Finally, immigration was at a height due to the unrest in Eastern and Southern Europe. This influx of new immigrants faced a multitude of social and economic problems. 

Politics in the period was dominated by political machines especially in the urban areas.  While these machines did provide some relief for the conditions many faced, they also led to corruption and greed.


William Jennings Bryan was born in Illinois and moved to Nebraska in 1887 where he practiced law. Running on a populist platform, he was the first Democrat elected from Nebraska to the House of Representatives. He lost his bid for the Senate in 1894 and became editor of the Democratic newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald.

Bryan became an advocate of “Free Silver” policy, delivering his “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. His charisma impressed many of the delegates. He ran unsuccessfully for president 3 times, taking progressive and anti-imperialist stances. He supported President Woodrow Wilson, who appointed Bryan Secretary of State. He served for 2 years but resigned in protest when Wilson led the country into World War I.

In his later life, Bryan worked to secure prohibition and women’s suffrage. He became concerned about the teaching of evolution, calling it “consummately dangerous.” He argued for a literal interpretation of the Bible and in opposition to the teaching of evolution against Clarence Darrow in what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. He died five days after that trial ended.

Andrew Carnegie’s rags-to-riches story is one of perseverance, initiative, and resourcefulness. Born in 1835 to a working-class Scottish family, Carnegie came to the U.S. with his family when he was thirteen years old. In 1853 he took a job at a railroad corporation. He quickly advanced at the company. In 1889, he founded the Carnegie Steel Company. This business combined with others to create U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel helped meet the country’s great demand for steel—used in railroads, skyscrapers, and other examples of great technological achievements.

Concerned with the growing power of monopolies and their impact on economic rights, the federal government tried to break up the U.S. Steel Company under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. At the time, U.S. Steel provided two-thirds of all steel produced in the country. However, the government was unable to show any misconduct on the part of the company and the case was dismissed.

Later in life, Andrew Carnegie dedicated his life to philanthropy, and he advocated an idea he called the Gospel of Wealth in which he encouraged the wealthy to give away their fortunes to worthy causes. He used his fortune to found the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Born in Ohio in 1847, Edison had little schooling, and was completely deaf in one ear from a young age. Despite these circumstances, he saw every obstacle as an opportunity. He pursued his interests with industry and passion. He loved science and mechanics and was driven to invent. By 1868, Edison had improved the telegraph and the typewriter. He made an electric vote recorder and a stock ticker. Two years later at the age of twenty-three, he had enough money to open his first “invention factory.”

He and his team of engineers and scientists prided themselves on their perseverance, thinking of every failed experiment as one that would bring them closer to success. They also cherished their economic rights, protecting their hard work by registering patents with the federal government. Within five years, he and his team had perfected the telephone and created the phonograph. Next, they became famous for the incandescent light bulb. Later, they worked on the motion picture camera, “talking” movies, a car battery, and an x-ray machine. In his lifetime, Edison registered 1,093 patents.

Even though he was born on a farm, Henry Ford showed more interest in mechanical things than in agricultural work. Early on, he alternated from working as an apprentice on steam engines to working on his father’s farm tools to occasionally working in the fields. By 1891, he decided to become an engineer full time. Even though he was not the first to build a self-propelled vehicle with a gasoline engine, he became the most significant person in the development of the U.S. automobile industry, creating Ford Motor Company in 1903. In 1908 the Model-T was introduced as an affordable, reliable, and efficient auto for everyone. By 1918, half of the cars in the United States were Model-T's. To meet the demand, Ford installed a mass production system using standardized and interchangeable parts, a division of labor, and assembly lines. This totally revolutionized the industry and made his company the largest automobile manufacturer in the world during his lifetime. In 1918 he lost a bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Frances Willard, born in 1839, was an influential reformer in the early part of the 19th century. She was the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a group concerned about the destructive effects of alcohol. During this time, women would meet in churches and then march to saloons to try to get owners to close their establishments. In 1882, she was instrumental in organizing the Prohibition Party. This party advocated the passage of the 18th amendment which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. As a writer, she would become the first woman dean at Northwestern University and the first woman to be represented in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s industry and perseverance changed a nation—and the world. Many had tried but no one had been able to perfect a machine that could be controlled in flight. The Wright brothers observed birds, studied wings and engines, physics and dynamics. They conducted wind tunnel tests on more than 200 kinds of wings. They continued in their research and experiments over several years, during which time they suffered some disappointing failures. In 1900, they traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a location they selected after extensive study of weather data. Its ocean breezes and soft landing sites would be perfect. On December 17, 1903, they succeeded. Their engine-powered airplane flew 120 feet, landing twelve seconds after takeoff.

The Wright brothers knew that citizens had the ability to protect their inventions through patents. They patented their invention as a “flying machine,” and almost immediately had to begin defending their work from rival inventors. Wilbur spent much of the last years of his life in this endeavor, traveling to consult with lawyers and testifying in court. He saw it as his responsibility to defend not only his own economic rights, but those of other citizens. Orville persevered in the legal battle until the case was decided in the Wrights’ favor in 1914.

Documents/Supreme Court Cases
For many years in the nation’s early history, few, if any, Asians immigrated to the United States. However, beginning in the 1840s, natural disasters, economic hardship, and political unrest in China, together with developments in the western United States, namely the California Gold Rush, caused a large number of Chinese males to immigrate to the United States. By 1850, there were over 20,000 Chinese in the U. S., most living in California. Construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1850s and early 1860s brought more Chinese who were used as cheap labor. By 1870, there were a little over 63,000 Chinese in the U. S., and by 1880, a little over 105,000. Over 90 percent were on the West Coast. By the early 1870s, the Chinese made up a large number of the individuals laboring in farming, fishing, factories, and businesses such as laundries. As the U. S. economy faltered after the Civil War, the national economic depression of the 1870s, along with other factors, led to growing resentment against the Chinese on the West Coast. Some California citizens began to resent the Chinese laborers whom, they felt, were “culturally and racially inferior” and, in addition, a threat to wage levels and working conditions. Some anti-Chinese critics began speaking of what they called “the yellow peril” because they were “taking jobs from American citizens.” Anti-Chinese feeling in California was strong. In 1858, the California Legislature passed a law making it illegal for any person “of the Chinese or Mongolian races” to enter California. This law was later struck down by the California Supreme Court. As time passed, violence aimed at the Chinese broke out in several California cities. In 1878, the U. S. Congress passed a law excluding Chinese from entering the United States, but President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed it. In 1879, California adopted a new state constitution which, among other provisions, authorized the state government to determine what persons could live in the state and banned corporations and state or local governments from hiring Chinese. Senator John F. Miller, a Republican serving his first term in the U. S. Senate introduced what eventually became the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It quickly passed the Senate and then the House of Representatives and was signed into law by President Chester Alan Arthur. It provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration and required the few non-laborers seeking entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. It also placed new requirements on those Chinese who were already in the U. S. by providing that if they left the U. S., they had to obtain certifications to re-enter. Finally, the law specifically denied state and federal courts the power to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens. When the law expired in 1892, Congress extended it for 10 more years in the form of the Geary Act. That extension was made permanent in 1902 with the additional restriction that each Chinese resident had to register and obtain a certificate of residence without which he or she could be deported. The law, of course, had long-term consequences for U. S. relations with China. In 1905, the Chinese government, in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the U. S. to alter its anti-Chinese immigration policy, placed a boycott on American goods. The Chinese Exclusion Act marked the end of free immigration in American history. It was the first major legislation restricting immigration. Never before had the U. S. restricted immigration by a specific ethnic group. It remained law until 1943 when Congress repealed it after the U. S. and China became allies in the World War II fight with Japan.
In the United States, “the spoils system” is a term used to describe the practice of awarding individuals with government positions based on their political loyalties rather than on their merit or ability. This system developed early in the political history of the U. S. under its new U. S. Constitution with the rise of two competing political groups: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. While it was a practice followed to some extent at the national government level by all of the nation’s early Presidents, many historians associate the term most directly with the administration of President Andrew Jackson. In fact, the origin of the term itself is frequently attributed to New York Senator William Marcy who, referencing the victory by Andrew Jackson and his fellow Democrats in 1828, said “to the victor goes the spoils.” Jackson and his successors seem to have utilized “the spoils system” so much more than before, that by the late 1860s there was some talk about reforming the system. In 1871, Congress authorized the President to set regulations for admission to public service and to appoint members of a Civil Service Commission to oversee the process. However, the commission was rendered useless in 1875 when Congress failed to appropriate funds for its operation. After the assassination in 1881 of President James Garfield by a disappointed office-seeker, the movement for reform of “the spoils system” gained momentum. In the early part of 1882, Senator George Hunt Pendleton of Ohio drafted a bill to reform the government’s hiring system, which became known as the Pendleton Act. This act provides for the selection of federal government employees through performance on competitive exams. It also makes it illegal to fire or demote those covered by the law for political reasons and forbids requiring these employees to perform political services or to make political contributions. The Pendleton Act transformed the public service. Before the act, new officials inundated government offices after every election, bringing chaos and inexperience to federal service. With the new system, the government was better able to rely on the experience and skills of its workers and to ensure adequate preparation for their jobs.
After the Civil War, railroads were privately owned and completely unregulated by the government. They had become increasingly important in the American economy. In areas of the country where only they operated they held a monopoly. They set prices and controlled the market. They discriminated by providing rebates or refunds to large shippers or buyers. These practices were especially harmful to farmers who lacked volume needed to receive more favorable rates. The U. S. Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 under the authority given it in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states.” The Act created the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first of many regulatory agencies of the national government. Railroads thus became the first industry to be regulated by the U. S. government. The Interstate Commerce Act changed the laissez faire or hands-off philosophy which had previously dominated the American economy by establishing the government’s clear power to regulate private companies engaged in interstate commerce. The Act banned secret rebates and required that railroad rates be openly published. It required railroad rates to be “reasonable and just.” It prohibited special rates or rebates for individual shippers, preferential rates for certain localities, shippers, or products, and unfairly charging more for a short haul than a long haul.

The law was largely ineffective until later legislation provided the means for its enforcement, but the ICC did become the model for other government regulatory agencies.

In the decades following the Civil War, the American economy came to be characterized by the growth of large corporations and monopolistic business practices. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed by Congress in 1890, using the power given it in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states,” was Congress’ first attempt to limit monopolies. It was named for Senator John Sherman of Ohio who was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a former Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes. The law gave Congress the power to investigate and dissolve contracts or business combinations (mergers) that restrained interstate or foreign trade or commerce. Specifically, the law authorized the U. S. government to act against any “combination in the form of trusts or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade.” For about the first ten years of the law’s existence, more actions were brought against labor unions for restraining trade than against large corporations which wasn’t the original intent of the law. Only rarely was the law employed against monopolies and then without success. Part of the reason was that the law did not carefully define key terms such as “combination,” “conspiracy,” “monopoly,” or “trust.” Also working against the law were narrow judicial interpretations as to what constituted trade or commerce among the states. For example, in 1895 the U. S. Supreme Court in U. S. v E. C. Knight struck a blow against the law. In that case, the American Sugar Refining Company had purchased four independent operations, thus giving it control of 98% of the nation’s sugar production. The Supreme Court ruled that acquiring refineries and businesses that manufactured sugar within a state had no direct relation to interstate commerce and thus was not a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

The first major example of the law being used successfully to break up a trust occurred in 1904 during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency when the law was used to break up the Northern Securities Corporation: a railroad trust formed in 1901 by E. H. Harriman, James P. Hill, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller which controlled all the principal railroad lines from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. The law was also later used in 1911 during the presidency of William Howard Taft against the Standard Oil trust and the American Tobacco Company.

The People’s Party (popularly known as the Populist Party) had its origins in the 1870s and 1880s among farmers in the South, Midwest, and West who were experiencing difficult times. One of the farmers’ problem s was the high rates which railroads charged to transport the farmers’ products. Another was the high tariff in place at the time on certain imports to the United States which meant that these farmers had to pay large amounts of money for imported goods which they required while the items that they produced were undervalued. Banks and other loan institutions were also foreclosing on farmers who were struggling to meet their financial obligations. In general, the farmers felt that neither of the country’s two major political parties were concerned with the farmers’ interests or those of “the common man.”

The founding convention of the Populist party occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, in July,1892. At this convention, the Populists adopted what came to be called the Omaha Platform.” The Preamble to this platform was written by Ignatius Donnelly, a Minnesota lawyer, farmer, and politician. In its Omaha Platform the Populists adopted a number of ideas which many Americans at the time considered radical: (1) a graduated income tax; (2) a secret ballot; (3) the direct, popular election of U. S. Senators; (4) an eight-hour work day; (5) government ownership of the railroads, telegraph, and telephone: (6) free, unlimited coinage of gold and silver; (7) limiting state and national revenue to necessary expenses of government, to keep as much money as possible in the people’s hands; and (8) government reclamation of land held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs and land held by aliens. Some of their proposals later became law in the Progressive and New Deal eras of American history.

Article I, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution gives Congress the power “to coin money and regulate the value thereof.” In 1791, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed bimetallism or in other words, that the nation’s new currency would be equal to a given amount of gold or a larger amount of silver. During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the Congress passed the Legal Tender Act which authorized the issuance of paper money called greenbacks to finance the Civil War. Greenbacks were unable to be converted into gold or silver. That ended longstanding U. S. policy of using only gold or silver in transactions. In 1873 however, the nation went exclusively on the gold standard by ending silver coinage and bimetallism. This limited the money supply but eased trade with other nations. For the next twenty years, the nation became divided over the nation’s monetary standard. Many people once more had come to believe that bimetallism, making gold and silver legal tender, was necessary. Most Republicans wanted every dollar printed to be backed only by gold known as the gold standard. Many Democrats argued that silver, which was more plentiful, should also be used to back every dollar which would make it easier for Midwestern farmers to pay their debts.

William Jennings Bryan was a Democrat and a former two-term member of the U. S House of Representatives from Nebraska. He was an advocate for bimetallism or abandoning the gold standard and allowing the nation’s currency to be backed by silver as well. Bryan spoke on this topic in 1896 at the Democratic Party’s national convention in what came to be called his Cross of Gold speech. In a speech filled with religious imagery and righteous indignation, Bryan thundered, “having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

At the start of the 1896 Democratic National Convention, Bryan was a “dark horse” candidate with little support for the party’s presidential nomination. This Cross of Gold speech is largely credited with winning him the party’s nomination. He lost the election to Republican William McKinley, and in 1900, the U. S. formally adopted the gold standard. Bryan later also lost races for the presidency in 1900 and 1908.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants. Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco to Chinese parents living in the United States. When his parents moved back to China after living in the United States for twenty years, he visited them. When he returned to the United States, he was denied entry as he was not considered a citizen. Eventually, the Supreme Court heard the case U.S. v Wong Kim Ark.

The Court ruled in favor of Wong Kim Ark, using a clause in the Fourteenth Amendment which granted citizenship to a child born in the United States. This case established the concept of “jus soli.” The Latin term “jus soli” means “by the soil” and was used to establish the citizenship of any child born on U.S. soil to non-citizens.

In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed the Separate Car Act which required railroads “to provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” in order to protect the safety and comfort of all passengers. In 1891, a group of African Americans and Creoles formed the “Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law.” The Committee chose Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth African American, to test the law by violating it. He bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway that traveled from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. He boarded the train, walked past the coach clearly marked “For Coloreds Only,” and took a seat in the coach clearly marked “For Whites Only.” When the train conductor asked Plessy to move to the other coach, he refused, was arrested, and charged with violation of the Separate Car Act. Tried in a Orleans Parish court, Plessy was found guilty and sentenced to jail. After his conviction was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, he appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

By a 7-1 vote, with only Justice John Marshall Harlan I dissenting, the Supreme Court upheld the Louisiana law and Plessy’s conviction. The majority concluded that the Louisiana law requiring “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans and whites did not violate either the Privileges and Immunities Clause or the Equal Protection of the laws Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The law mandating racial segregation, the majority reasoned, was in line with “the established usages, customs and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order.” In his powerful solo dissent, Justice Harlan I wrote: “In view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v Ferguson upholding racial segregation by law under the so-called “separate but equal rule” led more states to enact such laws. Plessy remained the law until the Supreme Court overruled the decision in 1954 in the case of Brown v Board of Education.


The federal government subsidized the growth of the railroad industry by providing land grants to railroad companies between 1850 and 1870. Among others, Chinese immigrants and Irish Civil War vets worked on the railroads, which at times led to tension among the laborers. Although the Civil War slowed construction of the first transcontinental railroad, the race to complete it ended in 1869 when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in Utah, completing the route from Nebraska to California. This provided faster transportation between the east and west coasts. The ability to move goods, resources, and people had a significant effect on the economy. Demand for goods spurred the growth of factories and businesses, creating jobs and putting more people to work. By 1883, refrigerated railroad cars carried meat and farm products to eastern urban markets, while manufactured goods headed west. Mass-produced factory items were available in urban department stores or through mail-order catalogs such as Sears and Roebuck for those living in rural areas. Western settlement and business-friendly government policies like land grants to railroads, protective tariffs, low corporate taxes and the lack of industry regulation helped create a national economy.
Farmers organized under the Grange Movement to demand help from state and the federal government over high railroad rates and unfair practices by grain elevator operators that limited farmers' profits. They established farmer-owned co-ops where they graded, packed, shipped and sold their own crops, sharing the profits among themselves. In addition to organizing to fight unfair treatment as a result of having less power or influence than bigger industries, the Grange created opportunities for farmers to learn about new agricultural methods and the latest political events that might affect them. It also provided a place for wives and families to gather and socialize.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, providing an opportunity for individuals to communicate with one another across long distances. This invention brought people closer together and led to innovative technological developments in communication. As individuals sought new ways to communicate, the free-enterprise system allowed the telecommunications industry to develop innovations to meet consumers’ needs. The first cordless phones were introduced in the 1970s. By 1983, the first cell phone small enough to carry entered the market. Developments like the 2007 iPhone revolutionized access to information by providing the power of a computer in a hand-held device. Satellite technology enables GPS to operate in our phones as well.
The development of electric power by Thomas Edison in 1879 changed the way people lived and worked. The light bulb led to longer workdays because laborers were no longer limited to working during daylight hours. By 1900, industries began to use electricity to run machines. This led to an increase in the number of factories and the growth of cities as people left their farms seeking factory work. Electric streetlights made the streets safer and were much more efficient than lamplighters lighting individual gas lamps nightly. Electric streetcars made travel easier in cities. Electricity powered appliances such as washing machines, toasters, electric irons, and vacuum cleaners, making life easier for women who did most of the domestic work.
Political machines consisted of small groups of insiders who controlled the affairs of the local government without actually being elected to public office. Political bosses led the political machines. Although they often made infrastructure repairs and provided much needed services for immigrants and the economically disadvantaged, machines traded these services for votes in the local elections. Boss Tweed controlled Tammany Hall, the most infamous political machine in New York City. While Boss Tweed controlled the local NYC government, over $200 million taxpayer dollars were funneled to Tweed and his friends. The graft—political corruption that misdirects public funds—was finally exposed by Harper's Weekly cartoonist, Thomas Nast. Although the Tammany Hall machine continued after Boss Tweed was arrested, tried, and sent to prison, it slowly began to lose power and influence over New York politics.
With the rise of big business in steel and railroads, workers joined together into labor unions to protect their interests regarding pay and working conditions. The major weapon the Union used to make their protests known was to "strike" by refusing to work until negotiations took place between the employer and the employees. The largest labor union was the American Federation of Labor founded in 1881. It began as a federation of skilled workers from various trades, rather than an organization of workers in the same trade. The founder of the American Federation of Labor hoped to secure higher pay, an 8-hour work day, and improved working conditions for all members of the union. Opposition to labor unions intensified because many people believed that demands for higher wages would increase the price of goods. The most notable strikes included the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, Haymarket Riot in 1886, the Homestead Strike in 1892, and the Pullman Strike of 1894. Sometimes labor strikes ended in violence. Following the death of workers during the Pullman Strike, President Cleveland attempted to improve relations with the labor unions. One of the outcomes of this effort was the creation of a federal holiday known as Labor Day to celebrate the contributions and achievements of American workers. Labor Day is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September.
Manufacturing steel using the Bessemer process was much more efficient than previous methods. Steel played a critical step in the industrialization of the United States as steel was used to manufacture equipment, tools, and railroads. In 1883 workers completed the Brooklyn Bridge across the East River, connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. At the time, it was the longest steel-wire suspension bridge in the world. Skyscrapers built with a steel frame soon followed. Both changed the landscape of the nation.
The Indian Wars began at the end of the Civil War as more people moved west looking for opportunities to mine, farm, and ranch. There they encountered indigenous tribes who had lived on the Great Plains since they were removed from the eastern United States in the 1830s by President Andrew Jackson. Prior to the final conflict at Wounded Knee in 1890, the Lakota put up one final effort to halt expansion of the Americans moving west, known as the Ghost Dance. The Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, in which more than 250 Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were massacred, marked the end of the Indian Wars and the defeat of the Lakota Sioux tribe.
Between 1896 and 1899 approximately 100,000 prospectors rushed to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada after hearing reports by local miners of gold being discovered. A few of these prospectors did find gold and became wealthy, but most were unsuccessful. However, the economies of Seattle and San Francisco flourished because both cities were located where prospectors began their trips to the Yukon territory. The Klondike gold rush came to an end for several reasons. First, most prospectors did not find gold and lost their savings. Second, the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. Eventually, gold and silver were discovered in the United States, including Colorado, the Black Hills of North Dakota, and the territory of Alaska.
By the 1890s, most Indian Wars were over, and a majority of Native Americans were forced to live on reservations. The government designed the reservation system to keep the peace by isolating Native Americans from the settlers who were moving west. However, since the land set aside for the reservations was often the least desirable and far away from their Native American homeland, this system created problems for the Native Americans in maintaining their customs and way of life. Native American reservations were under the authority of the U.S. government, not the state in which the reservation existed. Therefore, Native Americans living on the reservations depended on the federal government for food, shelter, and clothing. The government attempted to change the reservation system to help Native Americans assimilate into the American way of life, but these attempts often produced mixed results and resentment.
From the 17th century to the early 20th century, missionaries established Native American boarding schools in an attempt to assimilate Native American youth into American culture. One of the most prominent schools was the Carlisle School founded in 1879 by a former army officer, Richard Pratt. Mr. Pratt believed that education was the way to help Native American children become accustomed to the way of life in American culture. The belief behind the school was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”

Hundreds of private and government sponsored schools were modeled on the Carlisle school. At the schools, the children were required to change their Native American names, cut their hair, give up their tribal languages, religious beliefs, and customs while experiencing harsh discipline, corporal punishment, and isolation if they resisted. These schools were mostly unsuccessful because many Native American children resisted adopting American culture if it required them to also give up their identities, culture, and traditions. For those that did stay, the negative impact of losing their connection to their tribal culture was far-reaching.

The cattle industry boomed in the late 1800s. After the Civil War, people moved to the Plains and found much of this land adaptable to raising cattle. Wild cattle roamed the area in abundance. Men called cowboys found work rounding up these cattle, driving them to market for sale, where they were transported to the meat packing plants in the East for processing. Rapid urbanization and increased immigration led to a rise in the demand for beef.

With the cattle boom came issues and conflicts, especially with the farmers in the area. Farmers didn’t like the cowboys driving cattle to market through their land because it often destroyed their crops. Ranchers much preferred access to an “open range.” Because it allowed their cattle to graze freely. To protect their crops and land, farmers began to use barbed wire fences. Ranchers and cowboys resented the use of barbed wire to keep their cattle off the land, especially if it meant that a significant water source might also be behind the barbed wire fence. Barbed wire also damaged the cattle’s skin if they got entangled in the wire. These issues caused continued tension between the rancher and farmer in the settlement of the Plains.

The Exoduster Movement was a name given to the movement of African Americans migrating from states in the South after the Civil War. Beginning in 1879, many newly freed African Americans left to seek economic opportunities in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado as well as to escape discrimination and racial violence at the hands of the KKK. The land available to them was not the best for farming and many who moved remained destitute and forced to find work in factories. The exodus helped cause a slight labor shortage in the South, prompting some employers to improve conditions for their workers.