Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources The West


“I came here expecting to find a rich mineral country, and also to find much such a population as California had in 1849 and ‘50.

“The great mineral wealth of eastern Nevada has not been exaggerated. In fact I did not expect to find so rich or so many silver mines.

“There is not so much wild reckless extravagance among the people of the towns and the miners as in the early days of California. There are not as many homicides... but there is perhaps more highway robberies committed. We have here, as twenty years ago, numbers too lazy to work but not too lazy to steal, and some too proud to work and not afraid to steal....

“There are, I judge, nearly 200 paying mines within four miles square.... There are very many mining districts within 80 and 100 miles that are now attracting the attention of miners and capitalists. The merchants of Chicago are turning their attention to this silver country and will enter into competition with San Francisco, and I should not be surprised if they succeed in establishing a heavy business and a profitable one....

“It will never be considered good grain country, but as a pastoral country it is unquestionably a good one. Millions of sheep can be kept here and without cutting hay for winter. It is also a good dairy country. There is a great scarcity of water, it is true, but artesian wells can supply it.

“It is also a healthy country: no fever and ague. At this high elevation, persons of weak lungs are subject to pneumonia, but a little care will prevent it.”

Henry Eno, letter to his brother William (August 21, 1869). A book of his letters, Twenty Years on the Pacific Slope: Letters of Henry Eno from California and Nevada, 1848-1871, was published in 1965.

c. 1876 “The sidewalks swarmed with people.... Money was as plenty as dust; [everyone] considered himself wealthy.... There were fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theaters,... gambling palaces,... street-fights, murders,... riots,... and a half dozen jails... in full operation.” Mark Twain, description of silver-mining boom town Virginia City, Nevada, in his book Roughing It.

c. 1880 “[Men] without restraint of law, indifferent to public opinion, and unburdened by families, drink whenever they feel like it, whenever they have the money to pay for it, and whenever there is nothing else to do.” Description of life in a frontier mining town.


c. 1865 “Swinging near the cliff, Ah Goong... dug holes, then inserted gunpowder and fuses. He worked neither too fast nor too slow, keeping even with the others. The basketmen signaled one another to light the fuses. He struck match after match and dropped the burnt matches over the sides. At last the fuse caught; he waved, and the men above pulled hand over hand hauling him up, pulleys creaking.” From Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men, an account of explosive expert, her grandfather, Ah Goong, working on building Western railroads.

1869 “On the morning of May 10, 1869, Hon. Leland Stanford, Governor of California and President of the Central Pacific, accompanied by... a trainload of California’s distinguished citizens, arrived form the west. During the forenoon Vice President T. C. Durant... of the Union Pacific, with other prominent men, including a delegation of Mormons from Salt Lake City, came in one a train form the east....

“The Chinese laid the rails from the west end, and the Irish laborers laid them from the east end, until they met and joined....

“The [last] spike [to be driven to connect the two rail lines] was given its first blow by President Stanford and Vice President Durant.... Neither hit the spike the first time, but hit the rail, and were greeted by the lusty cheers of the onlookers, accompanied by the screams of the locomotives and the music of the military band. Many other spikes were driven on the last rail by some of the distinguished persons present, but it was seldom that they first hit the spike. The original spike, after being tapped by the officials of the companies, was driven home by the chief engineers of the two roads. Then the two trains were run together, the two locomotives touching at the point of junction, and the engineers of the two locomotives each broke a bottle of champagne on the other’s engine. Then it was declared that the connection was made and the Atlantic and Pacific were joined together never to be parted.” Grenville M. Dodge


c. 1870 “Land for the landless! Homes for the homeless!” From pamphlets distributed in Europe by salesmen working for American railroad companies, wanting to settle Western land.

1879 When I landed on the soil of Kansas, I looked on the ground and I says this is free ground.” John Solomon Lewis, one of 50,000 “Exodusters” -- former slaves who left the South after violence during the elections of 1878 and moved West to start their own farms.

c. 1880 “I never saw finer country in the world than that part of Kansas passed over by the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe [rail]road. Corn waist high, wheat in the shock, oats in fine condition, and vegetables in abundance.” Observation of a newspaper editor from Indiana.

c. 1880 “Life in Nebraska is a lot like being hanged; the initial shock is a bit abrupt, but once you hang in there for a while you sort of get used to it.” Description of life in frontier Nebraska.

c. 1880 “You have no idea, Beulah, of what [wheat farms] are like until you see them. For mile after mile there is not a sign of a tree or stone and [the land is] just as level as the floor of your house..... Wheat never looked better and there is nothing but wheat, wheat, wheat.” Letter of a Dakota farmer to his wife before she moved to join him.

1887 “Nature was as beautiful as ever [but it could not] conceal the poverty of these people,... the gracelessness of their homes, and the... mechanical daily routine of these lives.” Novelist Hamlin Garland, the author of Main-Travelled Roads (1891) stories about the harshness of Western farm life, on visiting the West after being educated in Boston.

1889 “Thousands of people gathered along the border... As the day for the race drew near the settlers practiced running their horses and driving carts.... At ten o’clock [on April 22] people lined up... ready for the great race of their lives.” Cowboy Evan G. Barnard, observing the land rush for 160 acres in what had been Indian lands in present Oklahoma.

1889 “The race was not over when you reached the particular lot you were content to select for your possession. The contest still was who should drive their stakes first, who would erect their little tents soonest, and then, who would quickest build a little wooden shanty.... “On the morning of April 23, a city of 10,000 people, 500 houses, and innumerable tents existed where twelve hours before was nothing but a broad expanse of prairie.” Hamilton S. Wicks, one of 50,000 prospective homesteaders who raced into Oklahoma.

1889 “No Man’s Land” The strip of land not open to the 1889 Oklahoma land rush. The expression was used during World War I (1914 - 1918) to refer to the strip of land between the lines of opposing enemy forces.

1891 “The introduction of machinery has revolutionized almost every branch of work on farms, and has greatly reduced the number of laborers required. In the great grain-producing sections of the country, farming has almost become a sedentary occupation.” Rodney Welch, “The Farmer’s Changed Condition,” in The Forum.


c. 1875 “I carry the marks of fourteen bullet wounds on different parts of my body , most any one of which would be sufficient to kill an ordinary man.... Horses were shot from under men, men killed around me, but always I escaped with a trifling wound at the worst.” Nat Love, African-American cowboy and, later, rodeo star, in his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love (1909).


c. 1875 “The drovers [cowboys] of the seventies were a wild and reckless bunch... [who wore] a wide brimmed beaver hat, black or brown with a low crown, fancy shirts, high heeled boots, and sometimes a vest.” Memories of Teddy Blue, a cowboy.

c. 1876 “Dime novel” Inexpensive paperback books, which made popular adventures taking place in the Wild West (“Westerns”).

c. 1880 A man that is cowhunting with a lively crowd has no idea how long and lonesome the time passes with his wife at home.... A man can see his friends, hear the news, and pass time... while his wife is at home and sees and hears nothing until he returns from a long trip tired and worn out. Susan Newcomb, a Texas ranch wife.

c. 1890 Good-by, old trail boss, I wish you no harm; I’m quittin’ this business to go on the farm. I’ll sell my old saddle and buy me a plow; And never, no, never will I rope another cow. Cowboy song.


1869 “When the march of our empire demands this reservation of yours, we will assign you another;... so long as we choose, this is your home, your prison, your playground.” Massachusetts newspaper editor Samuel Bowles, on the message sent to western Indians by the actions of the United States government.

1876 “They crowded in, so we had to move out.” Chief Iron Teeth, on why white migration into the Dakotas led him to move his tribe out.

1876 “You are fools to make yourselves slaves to a piece of fat bacon, some hard-tack [biscuits], and a little sugar and coffee.” Sioux medicine man Tatanka Iyotake, known as Sitting Bull, to Indians who accepted life on reservations run by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

1876 Special Dispatch to the New York Times

“Chicago, July 6.--A special to the Times tonight from Bismarck, recounts most graphically the late encounter with the Indians on the Little Big Horn. Gen. Custer left the Rosebud on June 22, with twelve companies of the Seventh Cavalry, striking... in the direction of the Little Horn. On the evening of the 24th fresh trails were reported, and on the morning of the 25th an Indian village, twenty miles above the mouth of the Little Horn was reported about three miles long and half a mile wide and fifteen miles away. Custer pushed his command rapidly through. They had made a march of seventy-eight miles in twenty-four hours preceding the battle.

“When near the village it was discovered that the Indians were moving in hot haste as if retreating. Reno, with seven companies of the Seventh Cavalry, was ordered to the left to attack the village at its head, while Custer, with five companies, went to the right and commenced a vigorous attack. Reno felt of them with three companies of cavalry, and was almost instantly surrounded, and after one hour or more of vigorous fighting, during which he lost Lieuts. Hodgson and McIntosh and Dr. Dewolf and twelve men, with several Indian scouts killed and many wounded, he cut his way through to the river and gained a bluff 300 feet in height, where he intrenched and was soon joined by Col. Benton with four companies.

“In the meantime the Indians resumed the attack, making repeated and desperate charges, which were repulsed with great slaughter to the Indians. They gained higher ground than Reno occupied, and as their arms were longer range and better than the cavalry's, they kept up a galling fire until nightfall. During the night Reno strengthened his position, and was prepared for another attack, which was made at daylight.

“The day wore on. Reno had lost in killed and wounded a large portion of his command, forty odd having been killed before the bluff was reached, many of them in hand to hand conflict with the Indians, who outnumbered them ten to one, and his men had been without water for thirty-six hours. The suffering was heartrending.

“In this state of affairs they determined to reach the water at all hazards, and Col. Benton made a sally with his company, and routed the main body of the Indians who were guarding the approach to the river. The Indian sharpshooters were nearly opposite the mouth of the ravine through which the brave boys approached the river, but the attempt was made, and though one man was killed and seven wounded the water was gained and the command relieved. When the fighting ceased for the night Reno further prepared for attacks.

“There had been forty-eight hours' fighting, with no word from Custer. Twenty-four hours more of fighting and the suspense ended, when the Indians abandoned their village in great haste and confusion. Reno knew then that succor was near at hand. Gen. Terry, with Gibbon commanding his own infantry, had arrived, and as the comrades met men wept on each other's necks. Inquiries were then made for Custer, but none could tell where he was.

“Soon an officer came rushing into camp and related that he had found Custer, dead, stripped naked, but not mutilated, and near him his two brothers, Col. Tom and Boston Custer. His brother-in-law, Col. Calhoun, and his nephew Col. Yates. Col. Keogh, Capt. Smith, Lieut. Crittenden, Lieut. Sturgis, Col. Cooke, Lieut. Porter, Lieut. Harrington, Dr. Lord, Mack Kellogg, the Bismarck Tribune correspondent, and 190 men and scouts.

“Custer went into battle with Companies C, L, I, F, and E, of the Seventh Cavalry, and the staff and non-commissioned staff of his regiment and a number of scouts, and only one Crow scout remained to tell the tale. All are dead. Custer was surrounded on every side by Indians, and horses fell as they fought on skirmish line or in line of battle. Custer was among the last who fell, but when his cheering voice was no longer heard, the Indians made easy work of the remainder. The bodies of all save the newspaper correspondent were stripped, and most of them were horribly mutilated. Custer's was not mutilated. He was shot through the body and through the head. The troops cared for the wounded and buried the dead, and returned to their base for supplies and instructions from the General of the Army.

“Col. Smith arrived at Bismarck last night with thirty-five of the wounded. The Indians lost heavily in the battle. The Crow Scout survived by hiding in a ravine. He believes the Indians lost more than the whites. The village numbered 1,800 lodges, and it is thought there were 4,000 warriors.

“Gen. Custer was directed by Gen. Terry to find and feel of the Indians, but not to fight unless Terry arrived with infantry and with Gibbon's column. The casualties foot up 261 killed and fifty-two wounded. New York Times account of “Custer’s Last Stand,” (July 7, 1876)

1876 “Now they will never let us rest.” Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (c. 1831-1890), on the fact that the annihilation of Col. Custer’s detachment of Seventh Cavalry forces (“Custer’s Last Stand”) would lead to unrelenting pressure being put on the Indians.

1877 “Red Napoleon” Title given by newspapers to Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe, during his three month journey to escape from confinement on a reservation with his tribe from their land in Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

1877 “I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed.... It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death.... My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Oath of Chief Joseph (1840-1904) after surrendering to American troops.

1879 “We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We asked to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men.... “Let me be a free man — free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself — and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty. “Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike — brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above all will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers’ hands upon the face of the earth.” “Chief Joseph’s Own Story”

1879 “Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief.” Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe, invited to address Congress.

1883 “Life Among the Paiutes” Title of a book written by Sarah Winnemucca, who had worked as an interpreter and a teacher at an Indian school, and who lectured to eastern audiences about corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs that caused money appropriated for Indians to disappear.

1886 “Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all.” Apache Chief Geronimo (1829-1909).

1887 “[T]ribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed and the family and autonomy of the individual substituted. The... establishment of local courts and police, the development of a personal sense of independence and the universal adoption of the English language are means to this end.” The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, on making the lives of Indians less tribal and more like other Americans.

1887 “[K]ill the Indian... and save the man.” The philosophy of the Carlysle, Pennsylvania Indian School, to “Americanize” Indian children who were taken from their parents and sent to the boarding school.

1890 “The rumor got about: ‘The dead are to return. The buffalo are to return. The Dakota [Sioux] people will get back their own way of life. The white people will soon go away, and that will mean happier times for us once more!’ “That part about the dead returning... appealed to me. To think I should see my dear mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters again.” A Sioux woman, explaining the nonviolent Ghost Dance religion that was preached by Wovoka, a Paiute holy man. Young Sioux militants who wanted action began wearing “Ghost Shirts” that, they claimed, would stop bullets.

1890 “I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” Black Elk, after the Battle of Wounded Knee (December 29, 1890), the last fight between Indians and the army in the U.S., begun by young militant Sioux Ghost Dancers.


1893 “Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land... and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.” Historian Frederick Jackson Turner, in his essay, “The Significance of the American Frontier”