reservation system
The system that allotted land with designated boundaries to Native American tribes in the west, beginning in the 1850s and ending with the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. Within these reservations, most land was used communally, rather than owned individually. The U.S. government encouraged and sometimes violently coerced Native Americans to stay on the reservations at all times.
mechanization of agriculture
The development of engine-driven machines, like the combine, which helped to dramatically increase the productivity of land in the 1870s and 1880s. This process contributed to the consolidation of agricultural business that drove many family farms out of existence.
Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876)
A particularly violent example of the warfare between whites and Native Americans in the late nineteenth century, also know as “Custer’s Last Stand.” In two days, June 25 and 26, 1876, the combined forces of over 2,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians defeated and killed more than 250 U.S. soldiers, including Colonel George Custer. The battle came as the U.S. government tried to compel Native Americans to remain on the reservations and Native Americans tried to defend territory from white gold-seekers. This Indian advantage did not last long, however, as the union of these Indian fighters proved tenuous and the United States Army soon exacted retribution.
Battle of Wounded Knee (1890)
A battle between the U.S. Army and the Dakota Sioux, in which several hundred Native Americans and 29 U.S. soldiers died. Tensions erupted violently over two major issues: the Sioux practice of the “Ghost Dance,” which the U.S. government had outlawed, and the dispute over whether Sioux reservation land would be broken up because of the Dawes Act.
Officially known as the People’s party, the Populists represented Westerners and Southerners who believed that U.S. economic policy inappropriately favored Eastern businessmen instead of the nation’s farmers. Their proposals included nationalizing the railroads, creating a graduated income tax, and most significantly the unlimited coinage of silver.
Pullman strike
A 1894 strike by railroad workers upset by drastic wage cuts. The strike was led by socialist Eugene Debs but not supported by the American Federation of Labor. Eventually President Grover Cleveland intervened and federal troops forced an end to the strike. The strike highlighted both divisions within labor and the government’s new willingness to use armed force to combat work stoppages
Dawes Severalty Act (1887)
An act that broke up Indian reservations and distributed land to individual households. Leftover land was sold for money to fund U.S. government efforts to “civilize” Native Americans. Of 130 million acres held in Native American reservations before the Act, 90 million were sold to non-Native buyers.
fourth party system (1896-1932)
A term scholars have used to describe national politics from 1896-1932, when Republicans had a tight grip on the White House and issues like industrial regulation and labor concerns became paramount, replacing older concerns like civil service reform and monetary policy.
mining industry
After gold and silver strikes in Colorado, Nevada, and other Western territories in the second half of the nineteenth century, fortune seekers by the thousands rushed to the West to dig. These metals were essential to U.S. industrial growth and were also sold into world markets. After surface metals were removed, people sought ways to extract ore from underground, leading to the development of heavy mining machinery. This, in turn, led to the consolidation of the mining industry, because only big companies could afford to buy and build the necessary machines.
Gold Standard Act (1900)
An act that guaranteed that paper currency would be redeemed freely in gold, putting an end to the already dying “free silver” campaign.
Homestead Act (1862)
A federal law that gave settlers 160 acres of land for about $30 if they lived on it for five years and improved it by, for instance, building a house on it. The act helped make land accessible to hundreds of thousands of westward-moving settlers, but many people also found disappointment when their land was infertile or they saw speculators grabbing up the best land.
Frederick Jackson Turner
Author of the famous “frontier thesis,” in which he argued that the taming of the West had shaped the nation’s character. The experience of molding wilderness into civilization, he argued, encouraged Americans’ characteristic embrace of individualism and democracy. Although heis now criticized for, among other things, entirely ignoring the role of Native Americans in the West, his argument remains a keystone of thought about the West in American history.
Jacob Coxey
A wealthy Ohio Populist who led a 500-strong “army” to Washington, D.C. in 1894 to demand a public works program to create jobs for the unemployed in the midst of a devastating four-year depression. Helped establish paper moneylead protest of unemployment from Panic of 1893. Also led a march on Washington DC in 1894 to seek government jobs for the unemployed.
William McKinley
A former Republican congressman from Ohio who won the presidency in 1896 and again in 1900. He was pro-business, conservative, and unwilling to trouble the waters by voicing unpopular opinions.
Marcus Alonzo Hanna
The driving force behind McKinley’s rise to the presidency, Hanna was a former businessman who raised money and devised strategy for McKinley’s winning bid for the White House in 1896.
Helen Hunt Jackson
an author who wrote A Century of Dishonor which chronicled the government’s actions against the Indians. She also wrote Romona, which was a love story about Indians. Her writing helped inspire sympathy towards the Indians.
Long Drive
Refers to the overland transport of cattle by the cowboy over the three month period. Cattle were sold to settlers and Native Americans.
100th meridian
imaginary line running through the Dakotas through west Texas
dry farming
a way of farming dry land in which seeds are planted deep in ground where there is some moisture. Contributed to the formation of the Dust Bowl
Turner Thesis
The historian Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the frontier was the key factor in the development of American democracy and institutions; he maintained that the frontier served as a “safety valve” during periods of economic crisis.
National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry
This organization better known as the Grange, was organized in 1867 by Oliver H. Kelley; its objective was to enhance the lives of isolated farmers through social, educational, and fraternal activities; the Grangers gradually raised their goals from individual self-improvement of the farmer’ collective plight
“Cross of Gold” Speech
An impassioned address by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Deomcratic Convention, in which he attacked the “gold bugs” who insisted that U.S. currency be backed only with gold.
Dingley Tariff Bill
passed in 1897, proposed new high tariff rates to generate enough revenue to cover the annual Treasury deficits. Replaced the Wilson-Gorman law and raise more revenue, raising the tariff level to whopping 46.5 percent.

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