When Was the Frontier Closed?

Oklahoma City was settled by about 10,000 homesteaders during the Land Run in 1889.
Oklahoma City was settled by about 10,000 homesteaders during the Land Run in 1889.

In American history, the term "frontier" refers to the history, geography, folklore, culture, and the expression of life as the colonies expanded and transformed into the modern United States. The American frontier began when the British colonialists settled in North America in the 17th century and ended with the admission of New Mexico and Arizona in 1912. The American frontier was dominated by the settlement of land occupied by Native Americans west of the Mississippi River in what is today's Midwest, the Great Plains, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the West Coast, and Texas.

America's Wild West

In the late 19th century, much attention was directed on the Western United States as tales and the media broadcasted the region as dominated by romance, chaotic violence, and anarchy in what was known as the "Wild West". Although this came to be proven as mere propaganda, it promoted massive migration and settlement in the region. President Thomas, in particular, spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase so that Americans could settle it. The era of the frontier is a tale of Americanization of the entire territory by signing treaties with other countries and native tribes, military conquest, political compromise, the development of towns, farms and ranches, populating the country through immigration, and on top of all maintaining law and order throughout the territory.

End of the Frontier

By the end of the 19th century, the American West had been effectively settled. The region was linked to the rest of the country by railroads that stretched from the Canadian border to the southern states of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The American West experienced an influx of miners, homesteaders, and ranchers. President Andrew Jackson had resettled the Native American tribes in Oklahoma because it was considered productive and remote for settlement. However, by the 1880s, the value of land had appreciated immensely and the federal government was under pressure to settle non-natives in the state. Congress opened up 2 million acres of what was Indian territory to the public and in less than 24 hours more than 50,000 people streamed into the state and claimed every inch of the land. In 1893, a further six million acres of the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma was opened for non-native settlers. A census conducted in 1890 revealed that the frontier line (a population density of more than two per square mile) had been achieved and the resettlement of people to the Midwest was no longer a priority.

Effects of the American Frontier

The American frontier opened up the Western United States to the rest of the country and consequently to the entire world. Immigrants settled in the area, most of whom established ranches and converted the bare land into agricultural producing estates that provided food to the rest of the country. The West turned from the "Wild West" into homesteads, villages, towns, and cities. As the frontier disappeared, Congress sought to preserve the wilderness by establishing the Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. In 1891, Congress enacted the forest reserve act that prohibited people from settling in forest reserves. In the 20th century, large-scale irrigation projects, power lines, roads and rails, and industries had transformed the west in ways unforeseen in the 1890s.


More in Society