Region III Quarterly

Volume 3 - No. 1

January, 1941


By Dr. Aubrey Neasham,
Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites.

The Southwest, as we know it today, has been under the jurisdiction of the United States for nearly a century. During those years it has emerged from a little known and sparsely populated area to one of great development and advancement. Millions of people, large cities, far-flung transportation and communication systems, vast agricultural, mining, industrial, and commercial operations, and a growing realization that the Southwest offers health, recreation, and cultural opportunities have made this one of the key sections of America. With it all there is still the feeling that much of the past is retained, and that the Indian, the Spaniard, and the Mexican will ever remain as influences upon life here. It is the blending of their cultures and civilizations with ours which gives this region much of its distinctive atmosphere and color.

The story of the Southwest under the United States is a thrilling one. It is typical of the westward movement. Immigration of settlers in ever-increasing numbers, the discovery of rich mineral resources, the formation of new territories and states, the opening of vast reaches of land for agriculture, the resistance of the Indian to the encroachment of the white man, the building of transcontinental railroads, the effects of industrial revolution, and the influence upon national affairs and thought have been important.

The Southwest seemed to have boon waiting for the era of American control. Hardly had the United States taken over California when gold was discovered there by James Marshall at Coloma in 1848. This was the impetus needed to bring the settler westward. In ever-increasing numbers the "Forty-niners" came by ship, wagon, horseback, and foot. Many, not finding the wealth in gold which they sought, stayed to settle the country and to develop the other resources.

Not all of those who started for California reached that promised land. Some died, and others, finding lands to their liking upon the way, stayed. Utah, first settled by the Mormons in the latter days of the Mexican regime, was the scene of increased colonization. Texas and New Mexico attracted others. Immigration and settlement were such that California became a full-fledged state in 1850, and the territories of New Mexico, Utah, and Kansas had been established by 1854.

New mineral deposits were discovered during and after the 1850's. The region east of California especially became the center of great activity. In Arizona, copper deposits were worked in 1855 in Ajo, and placers were found on the Bill Williams Fork in 1862. In Colorado, "Pikes Peak or Bust" became a popular slogan, and the territory around Denver became settled. Nevada and its famous Comstock Lode and Virginia City came into prominence, as did the Bingham Canyon, Little Cottonwood, and Oquirrh Mountain districts of Utah during the 1860's. These strikes led to others, which, in their importance, have made these regions areas of primary mining importance up to the present day.

The story of the mines is one which will always remain an important epic in our history. Over and ever again the process was the same. Spectacular strikes were made, rushes resulted which attracted people from various corners of the earth, and mushroom boom towns were started which in their rapid growth were almost unbelievable. The elements of law and order strove to control in the name of decency and self-government, while "bad men" and gamblers endeavored to rule for their interests. The forces of law and order won, through associations and vigilance committees. High prices and speculation gave way to stability. Boom towns of yesterday may be wholly or partially ghost towns today. As one wanders through these historic towns - Virginia City, Nevada; Tombstone, Arizona; Elizabethtown, New Mexico, and many others - there are brought to mind the once thousands of people who, in their mad scramble for wealth, personify experiences of the human race - wealth, poverty, joy, tragedy, and sorrow.


A direct result of mining activity was the formation of new territories and states. Nevada became a territory in 1861 and a state in 1864; Colorado, created a territory by 1861, became a state in 1876; Arizona was made a territory in 1863, and a state in 1912.

The rush to the agricultural lands of the Southwest was greater even than that to the mines. The increasing demand for prairie farms and grazing lands, directly caused by new markets; the invention of farm machinery, the enactment of the Homestead Act, and increased immigration, resulted in millions of people moving westward. It has been estimated that between 1860-1880, 5,000,000 Europeans immigrated to the United States, and that most of them settled in the West.

This rush westward also had its typical scenes. Long trains of prairie schooners toiled toward the horizon; sod houses marked by the over-turning windmill began to appear in isolated places; and bonanza wheat fields marked regions where once the buffalo and antelope roamed. As in the mining areas, these farms of the prairie were plagued by pests, human and otherwise. Grasshoppers in great swarms at times took their toll of the newly planted crops, as did the cyclone and drouth. Bad men, claim jumpers, and Indians did their best to thwart the advance of the settler. More than one vigilance committee was formed to bring about the enforcement of law and order.

The demand for grazing lands resulted in the creation of many ranches, some of them of great size. Still typical of the Southwest, they vary in size from a few hundred acres to over 1,000,000. Charles Goodnight in Texas, Lucien Maxwell in New Mexico, Pete Kitchen in Arizona, the Miller and Lux interests in California, and many others, were virtually lords of all they surveyed. The King Ranch in Texas, consisting of over 1,000,000 acres, and now operated by the Kleberg family, retains most of the elements of the ranch of the last century, in addition to modern innovations.

The great cattle drives of the last cetury from Texas, New Mexico, and other parts of the Southwest, formed an intergral part of the life on the range. Historian, novelist, poet, and song writer have all given the story of the famous trails - the Chisholm, Chisum, Western, Shawnee, Abilene, Panhandle, Pecos, Goodnight, and others. Those connecting with the railroads at such points as Dodge City, Newton, and Abilene, Kansas, were the scenes of millions of long-horned cattle being driven north to market after annual or semi-annual roundups. These cattle, taking the place of the ill-fated buffalo, in turn were to give way to such standard breeds as the Hereford and Shorthorn on grazing lands surrounded by barbed wire fences. Today, for the most part, modern transportation methods have ended the long distance drives.

The cattle country also had its lawbreakers and troubled times. Such characters as "Billy the Kid", fighting on one side or the other of famous cattle wars, have become almost legendary because of their prowess with the six-shooter. Rustlers, sheepman versus cattleman, and fence wars were also typical of this frontier scene.

Every move of the white man westward meant impingement upon the lands of the Indian. The area directly west of the 95th meridian had been closed between 1830-1850 to settlement by the white man, but, gradually, the trails to the far West and the pressure for lands resulted in his invasion of this region. By 1854, outside of reservations, the Indian had been relegated largely to that area which is now Oklahoma.

Resistance to the white man was a logical move upon the part of the Indian. Indian wars became increasingly frequent during the late 1850's and up to the 1880's. Famous chiefs with picturesque names rallied their peoples in the last great attempt to throw off the yoke of the usurpers. The Navahos in Arizona and New Mexico were finally defeated by Kit Carson. The last battle of the White Mountain Apaches occurred in Arizona in 1882; and the Chiricahua Apaches, first led by Cochise and then by Geronimo, were finally brought under control in 1886. Other Apaches in New Mexico, Comanches under Quanah Parker in Texas, and Cheyennes led by Black Kettle in Oklahoma, were as famous as the Southern Sioux under Red Cloud, the Northern Sioux under Sitting Bull, the Modocs led by Captain Jack, and the Nez Perces of Chief Joseph in other sections.

Fort Union

Military posts and forts were established in all parts of the Southwest to protect the traveler and settler aginst Indian resistance and raid. Forts Yuma and Tejon in Califorria; Churchill in Nevada; Douglas in Utah; Grant, Bowie, Defiance, Apache McDowell, Whipple, and Crittenden in Arizona; Union, Sumner, Marcy, Cummings, Wingate, Selden and Craig in New Mexico; Griffin, Davis Belknap and Bliss in Texas; and Towson, Gibson, Washita, and Cobb in Oklahoma were only a few of the important posts. Today, their remains serve as grim reminders that a large percentage of the battles fought by the United States Army during the second half of the 19th century was in the Southwest. Such battles as the Big Dry Wash in Arizona, Adobe Walls in Texas, and the Washita and Rush Springs in Oklahoma, marked the end of effective resistance by the Indian.

The War between the States assumed some importance in the South-West. Although activities were kept to a minimum in Californ ia Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, there was struggle in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Texas, controlled largely by Confederate troops, was the scene of several battles. The Gulf area, especially, was important in its resistance to Union forces. The Battle of Palmito Ranch fought near Brownsville on May 13, 1865 a victory for the Confederates, was one of the last battles of the war. In New Mexico, the Confederates established control for a time during 1862. Defeating the Union forces at Val Verde on February 21, 1862, they were, in turn, defeated at Glorieta Pass, near Santa Fe, by Union forces from Fort Union on March 26, 1862. With this defeat the soldiers of the South retreated to Texas, thus abandoning this important sector on the lines of communication to the Southwest. The Indian Territory of Oklahoma was largely abandoned by the Union forces during the War between the States and Confederate forces took oven several of the important military posts. The Battle of Honey Springs, on July 17, 1863, was one of the decisive battles in Indian Territory. In this battle the Federal trcops, commanded by General Blunt, succeeded in defeating the Confederates with a severe loss of life.

One interesting development in the opening of the Southwest was the establishment of new missions among the Indians. During the Spanish and Mexican periods this activity had been carried on by the Roman Catholic Church in the regions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, but during the period of American domination the Protestant churches began a similar effort. Indian territory was, of course, the scene of greatest activities. As early as 1820, the Dwight Mission in what is now Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, had been established among the Cherokees by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Other important missions were the Park Hill Mission, the Union Mission, Tallahassee Mission, and Council Hill Mission. These missions, some of them still operating as schools, served as important cultural, educational, and religious centers for such tribes as the Cherokees, the Osages, and the Creeks. Today in other parts of the Southwest may be seen a number of missions, administered by various denominations, all active in the primary work first established by the Spanish padres.

The opening of the West resulted in increased demands for transportation and communication facilities. In the Southwest, old trails were used extensively and new ones were opened. The Santa Fe Trail reached its greatest height in the period preceding the 1880's. Other routes of outstanding importance were the Texas Trail, utilized by the stage coaches of the Butterfield Company, which ran from. St. Louis to Fort Smith, Preston, El Paso, Fort Yuma, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. From Santa Fe and Albuquerque the old Spanish Trail connected with the Texas Trail to the South and the Mormon Trail to the north. The Mormon Trail, started by Brigham Young, extended from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. These trails, over which hundreds of thousands of immigrants passed, were considered to have been of equal rank with those farther north - the Oregon Trail, Overland Stage Route, Central California Route, Great Salt Lake Trail, and the Bozeman Trail. Offshoots and lesser trails ran from these, connecting areas of lesser importance.

By the 1880's, major travel to the Southwest had changed from the wagon, stagecoach, and horseback to that of the railroad. The methods of the days of the pony express, although spectacular and picturesque, were no longer sufficient to meet the demands of faster mail and travel. Official explorations, sponsored by the government as early as the 1850's, had been made to determine the best routes for railroad construction. By 1884, bands of steel from east to west had tapped the important centers of the Southwest. These railroads, following often the older routes of travel, had been made possible through a system of land grants and subsidies from the government to the chartered companies. The Union Pacific, completed in 1869, was followed in turn by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe; the Southern Pacific, and the Texas and Pacific. Such individuals as Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins, Gould, and Strong were outstanding in the building of these railroads. Telegraph lines, in many instances, followed the routes of the railroads.

The inrush of people into the Southwest after the completion of the railroads resulted in the opening of new territories and the establishment of additional states. The Indian Territory of Oklahoma, opened after the passage of the Dawes Act a 1887, became the center of new homeseekers. The movement of the "Sooners" and "Boomers" into this area in successive waves constituted the last important rushes to stake out homesteads. The Indian, deprived of his last great expanse of territory, was relegated to the reservation. Between 1896-1912, the youngest of the states were created - Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The development of the Southwest under the United States cannot be dismissed without some tracing of the effects of the industrial revolution. The new inventions and their applications explain much of the settlement of the region. The Bessemer process for manufacturing steel, the development of steam, electrical, and gasoline power, the perfection of the internal-combustion engine, the telegraph, telephone, radio and refrigeration have made it possible to apply large scale processes to manufacture, transportation and machinery. The result has been an opening of the region and the exploitation of natural resources. It has been said that the invention of barbed wire, the windmill, and the Colt revolver were primary factors in settlement of the land. By the same token, new processes and methods in such fields as reclamation and irrigation have made the Southwest inhabitable and agriculturally profitable.

Each new phase of the industrial revolution, although increasingly effective in making the exploitation of natural reources possible, also made it apparent that conservation must be practiced. This movement, although having its origin in the West, is typical of the nation as a whole. Gradually, it has dawned upon the people that important areas must be conserved and preserve by public effort in order that this and future generations may enjoy the natural, scenic, and cultural resources. Retention by the government of large parts of the public domain, as evidenced in the reservation of forest and mineral areas, the development of reclamation and irrigation projects, and the creation of national parks and monuments, has become recognized as necessary in our life as a nation.

The innovations of the Southwest and the West as a whole have truly altered or conditioned our national thought and action. In addition to the examples mentioned above, those innovations have run the gamut from horse and caravan travel, the six-shooter, new methods in mining and cattle raising, dry farming, the barbed wire, the wind mill, and well drill, to populism, agrarian crusades, farm relief, and a new literature and folk-lore.

Such is the story of the Southwest, under the United States. This land occupied successively by the Indians, Spain, Mexico, and the United States still holds an individuality and independence of its own. In so doing, however, it has contributed to the making of a nation.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005