The West

Earth, Wind, and Fire
Nature and History in America

The Spanish

Spanish & the environment

  Little impact in Texas

Spanish & the environment

  New Mexico

          Transformation of Indian life

                  Sheep, weaving, new crops

          Spanish land grants: the ranch

                  Grassland to sagebrush and creosote bush

California: widespread transformation

  Missions: Indians decimated

          Sheep, grapes, olives, orchards, wheat

  Land grants: ranches and ecology


  Down the coast from Alaska to California

  Following furbearing sea mammals

          Virtual extinction of otter

Gold and Silver Rush

Hydraulic Mining

Washing away of mountain topsoil

  Floods in spring

  Silt and boulders in farmers’ fields

Hydraulic mining, Wardner, Idaho

Malakoff Mine, California

Watkins, Nevada County, 1871

Dams for the dry months

Flumes to deliver water

Mining debris floods towns & farms


Homestake gold mines & mills, Lead City, Dakota Terr., 1899


Mercury, arsenic, salt, toxic minerals


Timber needs

The Great Plains

  Halt to westward expansion, 1850s






Opening the West to settlement

  The sad, bloody business of Indian war

          Migrants to Oregon and to California & Colorado goldfields

                  Use and destroy resources Indians need

          Ambitious politicians attack peaceful Indians

          Many broken treaties

          Indians fight back desperately but futilely

  Crescendo of violence, 1860-1890

  Rising market in buffalo hides

          Hunters methodically wipe out the buffalo





The decade of cattle drives

  Large herds of cattle in Texas after Civil War

  Railheads push west

          Abilene, Kansas, 1867

          Then Wichita and Dodge City

  Cattle driven up the plains

  Shipped to Chicago packing plants





Technology brings the farmer

  Barbed wire solves the wood problem, 1874

  Windmills solve the water problem

  Railroads solve the transportation problem

“Rain follows the plow,” 1880s

First Harvest

Farming the Plains

  New technology for wide open spaces

          New plows for sticky prairie soils

          Riding plows

          Mowing machines

          Reapers & twin binders

          1880: the combine

          Need for migrant workers

          Farm as factory

Harvest, Dalrymple farm, Dakota Territory

Steam tractor, South Dakota

Threshing with steam, Kansas, 1921

30-horse combine, Moro, Oregon, 1903

Dust Bowl

  World War I: “Wheat Will Win the War!”

          Jump in acreage of Plains cultivated

  Acreage continues to expand in 1920s

          Poor farming methods: deep tilling; bare soil in winter

  1930s: record drought

          Millions of tons of fine soils of Plains blows away

          Up to 75% of topsoil gone

          Dust reaches eastern cities and ships in the Atlantic

  One of the worst environmental disasters in history