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The Great American Dessert

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DBQ Essay

The mass development of the West beyond the Mississippi did not occur until the 1860s in the middle of the Reconstruction Era. The environment helped shape this development and the lives of those who not only lived there but came to settle there as well. Both political and economical factors also helped for this expansion to occur. The settlement on these Great Plains, which came to be known as the “Great American Dessert” will leave large scars on the land as well on the inhabitants that once called it their home.

Stephen Long claimed that the area of the Semi-arid West (Doc. A) was uninhabitable and that with so little rainfall, agriculture could not thrive. However, his picture was thrown away when people began to be convinced that it really was a “Great American Dessert” where one could escape to from society and be in a beautiful new home. However, once they were there it was a completely different story. Even when a man named Levi Savage tried to convince the people it was not safe and smart to cross over to this new environment, people did not listen and all went wrong afterwards as L. R. Hafen wrote (Doc. C). Frederick Jackson Turner’s theory of each frontier having to start from scratch when it is being developed was proven when people would die of the journey there or having to accustom to it (Doc. E). Even when people came for the vast areas that were being offered from the Homestead Acts, they either couldn’t stand living there for the amount of time required or they wouldn’t get a good enough part of land because the best ones were given to the railroads. So the settlers reaching for a new, better home received the unexpected and most of the times cost them their lives.

The natives of the Great Plains were drastically affected by the environmental issues caused by the new settlers and railroads. Even though the natives were promised their land and that it wouldn’t be taken from them anymore, political authorities and business owners wanted more even after they got the Oregon Territory from Britain (Doc B). Realizing that there was so much empty land in between the Far West and the Mississippi River, they decided that it would be perfect for a trans-continental railroad to go through there for eastern shipment of cattle which were needed back east. This large railroad and Americans caused great involuntary problems for the natives, killing over half of their buffalos which provided them for food, clothing, and shelter. Even when the railroads weren’t the main aspects that harmed the natives, they still had problems



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