STUDY GUIDE USII.2a -- Geography Themes
Land and Climate influence the Western Movement
(Adapting to the challenges of the Plains)

 The student will use maps, globes, photographs, pictures, and tables for
a) explaining how physical features and climate influenced the movement of people westward;
WHITE TYPE - from the VDOE CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK BLACK  TYPE - additional information

How did people’s perceptions and use of the Great Plains change after the Civil War?

Because of new technologies, people began to see the Great Plains not as a "treeless wasteland", but as a vast area to be settled.

Physical features/climate of the Great Plains
• Flatlands that rise gradually from east to west
• Land eroded by wind and water -
• Low rainfall
• Frequent dust storms

1850-1890 - Before 1860, those who crossed the Mississippi generally traveled all the way to the west coast. Few settled on the Great Plains.
Living on the Great Plains presented many challenges. The winters were bitter cold. There were few rivers and streams for water, and few trees for wood. Low rainfall caused drought and dust storms. Fierce winds and frequent dust storms eroded and blew away the soil. The remaining tough soil was thought to be unsuitable for farming. Before the Civil War, the Great Plains were considered a "treeless wasteland".

Encouraged by the Homestead Act of 1862 which gave willing farmers land on the Great Plains, and new technologies which allowed people to live in more challenging environments, farmers and immigrants flocked to the Great Plains during the decades after the Civil War. People began to see the Great Plains no as a "treeless wasteland" but as a vast area to be settled.

How did people adapt to life in challenging environments?

Technological advancements allowed people to live in more challenging environments.

Innovations and technologies encouraged settlement of the Great Plains and help people adapt to the challenging environment:

• Railroads
1860-1890 The railroad network in the US grew fast. The Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869, was made of many different lines. It linked the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and opened the vast interior to people who wanted to settle there. The railroad made trade between different parts of the country easier, encouraging industrial and economic growth.

• Beef Cattle Raising
In the early 1800s, cattle ranches began appearing on the Great Plains, especially in Texas. Demand for beef was high, and as railroads developed, ranchers would drive their cattle north to meet up with the lines.

• Barbed wire
The invention of barbed wire allowed farmers to keep cattle from nearby ranches off their fields and away from their crops.

Wheat farming
With the invention of the mechanical reaper which could do the work of 20 men, wheat farming took off. Farmers adopted an improved strain of Russian wheat which required less water and grew well in the dryer soil of the Great Plains.

• Steel plows
With improved steel plows, farmers could break up the tough soil.

   •Dry farming  

Farmers learned they could grow crops on the dry soil if they plowed deeply, breaking up the tough sod with the new steel plows.

• Sod houses
Lacking trees and other materials, settlers on the Great Plains built their homes from sod, a sort of packed dirt held together by roots and cut into squares.

• Windmills

New models of windmills were used throughout the Great Plains to pump water from the ground and to provide power.


Image, Source: intermediary roll film

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