- From the 1820s to 1860s all the area West of Mississippi River was called the Great American Desert
- The discovery of minerals and the Ogallala Aquifer transformed the so-called Great American desert, to become among America’s most profitable centres
- Native Indians were alienated from the Great Plains upon the discovery the wealth in t Plains
Early days in the Great American desert
The zone west of the Mississippi river until the Rocky Mountains was called the Great American Desert. Settlers in considered the place undesirable due to its extreme weather conditions that made the area unfit for farming using the methods available at the time. Wolves and locusts inhabited the area. It was flat with no trees and with ferocious winds. The only inhabitants at the time were Native American Indians. Over time, the expanse acquired the name the Great Plains, with the discovery of minerals in the late 1850’s in Nevada and Colorado that saw miners’ rush to Idaho and Montana in the 1860’s. Further, realizations by the settlers that the deserts desert areas began west of the Rocky Mountains ranges.
The Natives living in the area at the time, however, were flourishing. There were abundant herds of buffalos, which was a source of food and its hide useful for making clothes and houses. Their Native dwellings were called teepees, consisting of wooden poles anchored to the ground in a cone-shape, covered by buffalo hide. The other animals that habit the region are the black-footed ferret, pronghorn antelope, foxes, deer and grassland birds.
Streams and aquifers were the critical sources of water in the region. Later on, around the 1890s, Mr. N. H. Darton, an officer of the United States Geological Survey discovered the Ogallala Aquifer, and it became the primary source of water. The aquifer sits under eight states ranging from South Dakota south to Texas and New Mexico. The early 1900s would see the Ogallala’s aquifer used for irrigation in the Plains thus enabling agriculture.
By the turn of the 1860’s the region witnessed transformation to become America’s economic pivot with the exploration of mineral deposits such as gold and silver. Thousands of people during this time moved west, towards this region. These led to population growth that brought about springing of new towns in the area a phenomenon called America’s westward expansion. There was an economic boom in this period that opened opportunities for farms, ranches and railroad construction for further development. Ranchers in the Great Plains gained huge profits raising cattle. Due to the lack of rainfall, farmers in the Great Plains were innovative with some drilling well to access water.
Alienation of the Natives from the Great Plains
At first, the Native Indian allowed white settlers into the Great Plains without resistance. Soon after that the European settlers became entitled and wanted all the land in the Plains to themselves. The Natives maintained a spirited fight for their rights over the area in the Plains, but Congress passed a series of policies meant to exclude the Natives from the land and the federal government implemented them, leading to the lives and livelihood by the natives.