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The Trans-Mississippi West, Multicultural West

sheepherders, Japanese immigrants, transcontinental railroad, century West, Mexican War

Races and ethnicities mingled in the late-19th-century West. Immigrants from Scandinavia and ethnic Germans from Russia settled farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Irish, Cornish, and Slovak miners moved to the mountain states. Other Europeans went west as speculators, adventurers, and prospectors, and some remained as residents. Chinese immigrants, over 90 percent men, arrived in California in the 1850s. They formed communities in Western cities, labored on the transcontinental railroad, and moved eastward with the railroad and mining booms. Japanese immigrants reached California in the 1890s and settled mainly in rural areas in the Pacific Northwest. Among African Americans who migrated to the West, a small number worked as cowboys; some founded all-black communities such as Langston, Oklahoma, and Nicodemus, Kansas. When the United States acquired Texas, New Mexico, and California at the end of the Mexican War in 1848, it incorporated many Mexicans who lived in what had been the northern border area of Mexico. Clusters of Native Americans lived everywhere.

The mixture of peoples in the West spurred competition and antagonism more than harmony. Virulent anti-Chinese sentiment in California pitted native-born workers against immigrants. The growth of the cattle industry affected land ownership in the southwest, to the detriment of Mexican Americans. The United States had promised Mexico to protect the freedom and property of Mexicans who remained in the area ceded to the United States, but American ranchers and other settlers took control of territorial governments and forced Hispanic settlers off their land.

Antipathy and violence, moreover, pervaded much of Western life. Hostilities flared not only between settlers and Native Americans, but also between ranchers and farmers, sheepherders and cattle ranchers, Mormons and non-Mormons (in Utah), and labor and management. Yet despite all these tensions, Americans and new immigrants poured into the West.

By the 1890s, the western half of the continent was linked firmly to the nation’s industrial economy. Huge meat-packing plants in Chicago and big corporations determined the profits of ranchers. Indebted farmers on the plains, who felt oppressed by railroads and dependent on distant markets, voiced their grievances through farmers’ alliances. Mining became a big business. Finally, cities arose from mining towns, from cattle depots, and as “gateways” on the borders of the plains. West or east, the nation was becoming more urban and industrial.

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