Farming and Settling the West
Settling the west after the Civil War, grew steadily in the decades that followed. The Great Plains was the area in midwest-America stretching from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas. It was once thought to be terrible, draught and dry, but this land was where America’s Wheat Belt was transformed. As Americans started moving west, most people traveled with horses, wagons and boats. But the railroads made it way easier for people to travel and they could haul a lot more goods than a wagon could and they were way faster so it didn’t take as long to get places. “The railroad, or ‘iron horse,’ became a vital new travel option, especially after the 1860’s” (Slatta, Richard).
The first homesteaders faced many challenges. Without trees they had to build their houses out of sod, which is really packed soil held together by grass roots. To get water they had to drill wells 100 feet deep and operate the pump by hand. When they would plant seeds they would not grow because they would not get water so they tried a new method called Dry Farming that would plant the seeds deep in the ground where they could find enough moisture that they could grow. The land was so dry, the only way they could plant seeds was to use seed drills and plows. Farmers during this time were called Sodbusters because they were the first to go out and bust the sod. During the dry season the soil they plowed over and over would get blown away by the wind. Eventually many of the Sodbusters had to leave the farm as they had no good soil left to farm in.
Many immigrants, arriving from different countries, helped to settle the West. Most were young adult males coming for mining and to get rich quick. Ranching and farming drew whole families and the Homestead Act made it easier for these families to get farmland. They could claim 160 acres and in five years they would get the title to that land.
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