GCSE History- American West - Key Dates - Detailed


Key Dates

1837 – Financial Crisis in the Eastern USA

In 1837 the economy of the Eastern USA collapsed. Factories closed and people lost their jobs. Banks collapsed and people lost their savings. Crime rose and the East no longer seemed like an attractive place to live. Land in the East was hard to come by at this time as the region was filling up with Americans.

This all acted as a major PUSH factor for people moving out of the East to go to the West. The West appeared as the Promised Land with lots of cheap land for settlers able to make the journey there.

1844 – The death of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church and became its first leader. He attracted thousands of followers and led them in a desperate search for a place where they could build Zion in the East. Smith would not take the Mormons to the West, as he believed it was unsafe and that they could find a place to live in the East. Smith was shot in 1845 whilst escaping from jail.

Brigham Young replaced him as leader. Young made the decision to take the Mormons to the Great Salt Lake. This date is a turning point in the history of the Mormons.

1848 – The Discovery of Gold in California

Before 1848 the flow of migrants to the West (California and Oregon) was slow with less than 5,000 a year crossing the Plains. In January 1848 gold was discovered in California and the settlement of the West speeded up. 50,000 miners flooded across the Plains into California in search of gold in 1849. They established definite trails for families of settlers to use after them. The ’49ers proved it was possible for huge numbers to go to the West. By 1850 California was a state in the USA. The Gold rush of 1848 acted as a massive boost to the settlement of the West by the USA.

1851 – The 1st Fort Laramie Treaty

In 1831 the USA had set up the Permanent Indian Frontier. This gave the Native American Indians control of the Great Plains ‘forever’. However with the discovery of gold in California and the flood of migrants on the Wagon Trails across the Great Plains in the 1840s, the Frontier was soon broken.

In 1851 a new treaty was signed, the 1st Fort Laramie Treaty. Under this treaty the Plains Indians agreed to keep away from the wagon trails in return for annual payments. This made travel to the West easier for white Americans, as well as establishing the idea of limiting the Plains Indians to certain parts of the Great Plains.

1862 – The Homestead Act

By the early 1860s the only area of the USA not settled by white Americans was the Great Plains. Settlers going west had ignored these. The fertile lands in California and Oregon were more attractive than the so-called ‘Great American Desert’.

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