Congress passed the Desert Land Act to promote the development of arid western lands. The act allowed settlers 640 acres of public land at a cost of twenty-five cents per acre in return for settlers’ promise to irrigate the land within three years.
Hostilities between settlers and the Nez Perce Indians became violent in June 1877. For the next four months, the Nez Perce were pursued by the US Army, and the two sides clashed across Montana and Idaho. In October, led by Chief Joseph, the Indians surrendered. Though promised a safe return to their Oregon homeland, the Nez Perce were relocated to Kansas and Oklahoma.
Railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, initiated a strike to protest working conditions and wages. The strike spread and lasted more than a month, sparking violence and damaging the economy before being put down by federal troops.
At the Democratic National Convention, Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan delivered his “Cross of Gold” speech and was nominated for president. Populism had helped transform the Democratic Party and lift Bryan to become the first major candidate from west of the Mississippi, though he did not win the election.
Buffalo soldiers were members of African American calvalry regiments of the US Army who served in the American West between 1867 and 1896. Buffalo soldiers were charged with escorting and protecting trains and western settlers on the frontier from American Indians as well as outlaws. They often clashed with Indians of the Plains and Southwest and took part in nearly 200 engagements. They earned the repuation of brave and disciplined members of the Army.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company was chartered in 1859 and was a major force in the settlement of the American Southwest. The main line of the railway to Colorado was finished in 1872, but it was extended throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At its peak, the rail ran more than 13,000 miles in track.
The Central Pacific Railroad was established in 1861 by the “Big Four”—Leland Standford, Collis P. Huntingon, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. The Central Pacific was part of the first transcontinental rail line, though its progress was often slow. Chinese immigrants were largely responsible for building the rail, which began in Sacramento, California, and reached east until it met the Union Pacific Railroad in Promontory Summit, Utah, in May 1869 to complete the transcontinental line.