Lewis and Clark expedition explores the Missouri River and the Oregon Territory, establishing contact with Native Americans in the region, describing flora and fauna.


John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company takes over from previous French and Spanish companies and begins to organize trading outposts along the upper Missouri River.


Construction of the National Road begins at Cumberland, MD; reaches Wheeling on the Ohio River in 1818 and Vandalia, IL in 1839.


Champlain Canal connects Lake Champlain and western Vermont to the Hudson River.


Erie Canal connects New York with the Great Lakes and the Northwest Territory.


John C. Fremont maps the West.


Annexation of Texas.


Brigham Young leads Mormons from Nauvoo, IL, to the Great Salt Lake in UT.


Gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill, on the South Fork of the American River in northern California.

War with Mexico, U.S. acquires California and the Southwest.


Indian Appropriations Act consolidates western tribes on agricultural reservations. A series of treaties signed with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, and other Plains tribes delineates the extent of their territories and allows passage across them in exchange for payments.


Kansas-Nebraska Act allows the slavery question to be decided by popular sovereignty; triggers bloody battles between pro- and anti-slavery groups in Kansas.

13,000 Chinese immigrants enter U.S.


Pony Express begins fast overland mail from Missouri to California (discontinued in 1861 with completion of a transcontinental telegraph).


Homestead Act encourages settlement of “unoccupied” western lands.

Union Pacific Railroad authorized to build a line from Nebraska to Utah to meet the Central Pacific.

Sioux (or Santee) Uprising (or Dakota War) in Minnesota. Number of Indians killed is unknown, white deaths estimated at between 300 and 1,000.


Gold discovered in Bannack, MT.


Sand Creek Massacre, eastern Colorado (Cheyenne, Arapaho), triggers the wider American war with the Plains Indians.


Mineral Act grants title to millions of acres of land to mining companies.

1866 to 1867

Red Cloud’s War to close off the Bozeman Trail running from Fort Laramie to the Montana gold fields.

Thousands of Chinese men imported to work on the Central Pacific Railroad.


Treaty of Medicine Lodge, the largest such gathering in U.S. history. Members from the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas supposedly agree to move onto reservation lands-but the treaty is disavowed by other tribal leaders.


Wyoming Territory formed.

Nez Perce Treaty, the last Indian treaty ratified by the U.S. government.

Second Treaty of Fort Laramie ends Red Cloud’s War and guarantees Sioux rights to the Black Hills of Dakota.


Transcontinental railroad completed as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific meet in Promontory Point, UT.

Wyoming grants women suffrage.


Indian Appropriation Act ends the treaty system and mandates that all future relations will be conducted by congressional statutes or executive orders. Indians are no longer legally considered members of sovereign nations.


Gold discovered in the Black Hills, the most sacred lands of the Lakota; gold rush prompts the Second Sioux War (1875).


Battle of Little Big Horn; Lt. Col. George A. Custer and more than 260 men meet death at the hands of several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.


Nez Perce War, Chief Joseph leads a 1,500-mile flight to avoid forced relocation to reservations.


The Northern Cheyenne escape from a reservation in Oklahoma and return to their lands in Montana Territory; pursued by the army and vigilantes, only 114 of more than 350 people make it back alive.


The first students, a group of 84 Lakota children, arrive at the U.S. Indian Training and Industrial School at Carlisle, PA.


Helen Hunt Jackson publishes Century of Dishonor criticizing the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians.


Chinese Exclusion Act.


Congress forbids unauthorized fencing of public lands in the West.

Geronimo leads Apache people off their reservation.

Sitting Bull tours with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.


Dawes Act reduces Indian landholdings by allotting 160 acres to the heads of families and 80 acres to individuals; “surplus lands” on the reservations are opened up to white settlement.


Indian Territory (Oklahoma) is opened to white homesteaders; 50,000 settlers race across the land and claim all 1.92 million acres by sunset.

SD, MT, WA become states.

Wovoka (Paiute) announces his vision of a new world set aside for native people and the disappearance of white people: the birth of the Ghost Dance religion.


Wounded Knee Massacre at Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, follows the killing of Sitting Bull.


Experts estimate that fewer than 2,000 buffalo remain of the more than 20 million that once roamed the Western plains.

F.J. Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.”




Various U.S. history textbooks.