The West

The following notes will help you prepare for questions about The West on the AP U.S. History Exam.

  • The completion of the transcontinental The West opened the West to both white and African American settlers. White settlers looked for a new life as ranchers, farmers, and miners. African Americans escaped the inequality and, at times, the danger that existed for blacks in the Deep South. Joining the settlers from the East and the South were Chinese immigrants who remained in the West after the construction of the The West was complete.

  • With the influx of settlers, Native American tribes who had lived in the Great Plains were pushed off their land. Bison that had roamed the territory and played such as vital role in the lives of the Indians were pushed to near extinction. Prairie grass was plowed under to make way for wheat crops and set the stage for an environmental disaster in the 1930s.

  • Much of the image of the Wild West is a myth. Cowboys rarely had guns, let alone got into shootouts in saloons. They were too busy rounding up cattle or tending fences on a ranch. However, mining led to boomtowns, which often attracted prospectors before any form of law enforcement could be established. Many of the boomtowns disappeared as quickly as they were formed, with prospectors having very little to show for their efforts. Large mining companies took far more of the profits than independent miners.

barbed wire : steel wire fencing that closed off large areas of open prairie

bison : vital to the way of life of the Great Plains Indians, who used every part of the animal for survival; millions were killed for sport or by the U.S. government, as a means to force the Indians to move

Chisholm Trail : cattle trail from Texas to Kansas, where herds of cattle would be loaded onto trains and sent to market

cowboy : typically responsible for herding cattle from Texas to The West depots in Kansas; lifestyle was far less glamorous than the romanticized image of the 20th century

Dodge City, Kansas : popular cattle town that attracted cowboys after herds had been delivered to the train depot; when the The Wests moved closer to Texas, its popularity declined

Exodusters : African Americans who migrated from the Deep South to Kansas

Tombstone, Arizona : mining town in southern Arizona, famous for the Gunfight at the OK Corral

Frontier Thesis : Historian Frederick Jackson Turner's theory that the frontier was constantly moving and its development shaped American culture

homesteader : a settler who made a claim on land in the West under the rules of the Homestead Act

long drive : name of the trip cowboys made when herding cattle the long distance from Texas to Kansas

Great Plains : mostly flat land west of the Mississippi River; settlers who went to there had to overcome challenges with harsh weather, lack of resources, and Indian attacks

sod houses : houses made of sod due to lack of trees in the Great Plains


Buffalo Bill Cody : former scout turned showman who capitalized on the mythological Wild West with his Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which traveled around the U.S. and Europe

Wyatt Earp : lawman who took part in the Gunfight at the OK Corral; his myth is larger than his actual contributions as a lawman in the West

Annie Oakley : one of the greatest sharpshooters of the West; part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Pap Singleton : organizer of the Exoduster movement to Kansas

Sitting Bull : Lakota tribal chief; after surrendering to U.S. forces, became part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Related Links:
The West Quiz
AP US History Quizzes
AP US History Notes
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Amerigo Vespucci Timeline
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