Pacific Railroad Acts

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Pacific Railway Act

The "Pacific Railroad Acts" were a series of acts of Congress (from 1862 – 1866) that promoted the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the U.S. through issuing of government bonds and grants of land to railroad companies.

transcontinental railroad

Completed on May 10, 1869, it connected the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines, enabling goods to move by railway from the eastern United States all the way to California.

Munn v. Illinois

An 1877 Supreme Court case affirming that states could regulate key businesses, such as railroads and grain elevators, if those businesses were “clothed in the public interest.”

gold standard

The practice of backing a country’s currency with its reserves of gold. In 1873, the United States followed Great Britain and other European nations in following this practice.

Crime of 1873”

A term used by those critical of a law directing the U.S. Treasury to cease minting silver dollars, retire Civil War–era greenbacks, and replace them with notes backed by the gold standard from an expanded system of national banks.

Homestead Act

The 1862 act that gave 160 acres of free western land to any applicant who occupied and improved the property. This policy led to the rapid development of the American West after the Civil War.

Morrill Act

A legislative act that set aside 140 million federal acres that states could sell to raise money for public universities.

Comstock Lode

Immense silver ore deposit discovered in 1859 in Nevada that touched off a mining rush, bringing a diverse population into the region and led to the establishment of boomtowns.

Long Drive

Facilitated by the completion of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1865, a system by which cowboys herded cattle hundreds of miles north from Texas to Dodge City and the other cow towns of Kansas.

rain follows the plow”

An unfounded theory that settlement of the Great Plains caused an increase in rainfall.


African Americans who walked or rode out of the Deep South following the Civil War. Many settled on farms in Kansas in hopes of finding peace and prosperity.

Yellowstone National Park

Established in 1872 by Congress, 2 million acres in Wyoming was set aside as the first U.S. national park, “a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Dakota 38

Starving and angry Dakota Sioux in Minnesota killed nearly 400 white settlers. 307 were tried and found guilty in a military court. Most were pardoned by President Lincoln, but on Dec 26, 1862, 38 were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Sand Creek Massacre

The November 29, 1864, massacre of more than a hundred peaceful Cheyennes, largely women and children, by John M. Chivington’s Colorado militia.

Indian boarding schools

These were set up by reformers who realized the most effective way to assimilate Native Americans was to remove the children from their families and immerse them in white culture, language and religion.

Dawes Severalty Act

The 1887 law that gave Native Americans severalty (individual ownership of land) by dividing reservations into homesteads. It was a disaster for native peoples, resulting in the loss of 66 percent of lands held by Indians at the time of the law’s passage.

Battle of Little Big Horn

The 1876 battle begun when American cavalry under George Armstrong Custer attacked an encampment of Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne who resisted removal to a reservation. Custer’s 7th Cavalry was annihilated.

Ghost Dance movement

Religion of the late 1880s and early 1890s that combined elements of Christianity and traditional Native American religion. Plains Indians hoped that through the dance they could resurrect the great bison herds and call up a storm to drive whites back across the Atlantic.

Wounded Knee Massacre

The 1890 massacre of Sioux Indians by American cavalry in South Dakota. Sent to suppress the Ghost Dance, soldiers caught up with fleeing Lakotas and killed approximately three hundred on the banks of this creek.

Chief Joseph & the Nez Perce

In 1877 the federal government forcibly removed this tribe from their ancestral lands (Idaho, Washington, Oregon). Their chief attempted to lead them on a 1,100 mile trek into Canada. Just miles from the border, they were captured by troops and sent to reservations in Indian territory (Oklahoma).

Sitting Bull

This Lakota holy man led his people as a tribal chief during years of resistance to U.S. government policies. In 1890, he was killed by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Reservation during an attempt to arrest him, at a time when authorities feared that he would join the Ghost Dance movement.

George Armstrong Custer

This Lieutenant Colonel was known as an effective leader during the Civil War. After the war he was notorious for his ruthlessness in dealing with Indians, often killing women and children. In 1876, he led the 7th Calvary against Sitting Bull’s camp, suffering the loss of all 210 troops at the Little Big Horn River in Montana.

Dr. Charles Eastman

Born a Santee Sioux, originally called Ohiyesa, he was a shining example of how the Indian could be acculturated through the boarding school process. He practiced medicine at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Buffalo Bill Cody

Famous for his “Wild West” show, he entertained cheering crowds with displays of riding and sharp-shooting. Claiming his shows were an authentic representation of frontier life and the conquest of the Indians, he employed Native Americans such as Sitting Bull in the spectacle.

Frederick Jackson Turner

Historian whose 1893 essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” asserted that the western frontier had shaped American democracy and character. Using the most recent census data, he also claimed that this moving line between “civilization and savagery” had ceased to exist in 1890.

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