Although the “Wild West” is a time period generally defined from 1865 to 1895, there are many events that shaped the American West as a region from ancient times up to 1916.
50,000-5000 B.C. – Paleo-Siberians migrate to North America from Asia via the Bering Strait land bridge.
1542 – Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo lands in San Diego, California.
1548 – Captain James Cook, seeking the Northwest Passage, charts part of the Oregon coastline.
1549 – Naval Officer Sir Francis Drake claims California for Britain.
1598 – Juan de Onate establishes San Gabriel in New Mexico.
1610 – Don Pedro de Peralta founds Santa Fe, New Mexico.
1685 – A short-lived French colony is founded at Matagorda Bay, Texas.
1692-94 – Diego de Vargas re-conquers New Mexico.
1706 – Juan de Ulibarri claims Colorado for Spain.
1743 – Louis-Joseph and Francois Verendrye explore South Dakota, seeking a water route to the Pacific Ocean.
Franciscan friars Escalante and Dominguez explore Utah.
1781 – Los Angeles, California, is founded.
1792-1804 – Captain George Vancouver explores the coast of Washington.
1803 –The Louisiana Purchase added to the United States territory from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northwest. The price of the purchase was $15,000,000. The agreement was signed on May 2.
Zebulon Pike expedition explores the American Southwest.
On October 10, Lewis and Clark met the Nez Perce.
1810 – Mexico revolts against Spanish rule.
1811 – John Jacob Astor establishes a trading post at Astoria, Oregon.
1812 – The Russians build Fort Ross, 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.
A Scottish party makes the first permanent settlement in North Dakota.
Missouri Territory was organized on June 4, 1812.
1818 – The United States obtains the northeast part of North Dakota in a treaty with Britain.
1819 – On March 2, Arkansas Territory was organized.
1820 – Daniel Boone dies at a relative’s home on the Missouri frontier at age 85.
On March 3, the Missouri Compromise was passed, which primarily regulated slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery for all new states north of Arkansas except for Missouri.
On March 9, the Land Act of 1820 was enacted to eliminate the purchase of public land in the United States on credit and reduce the tract’s minimum size from 160 to 80 acres. The act also reduced the price per acre and paved the way for westward expansion.
The first American traders arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico, via the Santa Fe Trail.
1821 – Led by Stephen Austin, the first Americans settled in Texas.
Missouri Lieutenant Governor William Ashley places an ad for fur traders for the new Rocky Mountain Trading Company.
1823 – Mexico becomes a republic.
The first permanent settlement in Nebraska is established at Bellevue.
On June 2, Arikara people attacked William Ashley and his band of fur traders at the present-day border between North and South Dakota. This event would be the most important of the early 19th-century battles between natives and mountain men.
1824 – James Bridger discovers the Great Salt Lake.
Congress creates the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1826 – On January 24, the Creek people agreed to cede their land in Georgia and move west. It was the first of a series of removal treaties.
On December 16, Benjamin Edwards rode into Mexican-controlled Nacogdoches, Texas, and proclaimed himself the ruler of the Republic of Fredonia. Edwards negotiated an agreement with the Cherokee people offering to share Texas in exchange for their help in defense against the Mexican soldiers. Six weeks later, Edwards’ ill-planned revolution disintegrated, and he fled to the United States for sanctuary.
Dr. John McLoughlin built the first sawmill in the Pacific Northwest, in what would later become Oregon.
1830 – On May 26, the Indian Removal Act was passed
George Catlin becomes the first important artist to paint the American Indians
1831 – On February 24, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the first removal treaty per the Indian Removal Act, was proclaimed. The Choctaw in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the West.
James Bowie invents the Bowie knife.
August 2, 1832 – Texas settlers refused an order to surrender their arms to José de las Piedras, commander of the Mexican battalion at Nacogdoches. The ensuing Battle of Nacogdoches is sometimes called the opening gun of the Texas Revolution.
October 20, 1832 – In the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, the Chickasaw Nation ceded northern Mississippi and moved west of the Mississippi River.
1833 – On January 12, a law was passed making it unlawful for any native person to remain within the boundaries of Florida.
Samuel Colt invents and begins producing the revolver.
After Joseph Smith founded the Church of Latter-Day Saints community of Zion in what is now Kansas City, Missouri, area residents vehemently resisted and demanded that they leave.
On September 26, the Treaty of Chicago was signed by the Potawatomi of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, assuring their relocation to reservations west of the Mississippi River in Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.
1834 – On June 30, the Indian Intercourse Act created Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. The territory also included parts of Kansas and Nebraska, but these lands were taken back when the Kansas and Nebraska territories were created in 1854.
1835 – On October 2, the first battle of the Texas Revolution took place as U.S. settlers defeated a Mexican cavalry near the Guadalupe River.
On November 13, Texans officially proclaimed independence from Mexico, calling itself the Lone Star Republic.
Texas becomes a Republic.
A smallpox epidemic north of San Francisco killed over 60,000 natives.
1839 – Missourians near Far West, Missouri, are no happier about the Mormons than those near Zion, some five years earlier. As Far West has grown to some 5,000 people, the anti-Mormon hysteria increases, and the Mormons form their own army. After several skirmishes between the two factions, Missouri orders the Mormons from the state.
On May 10, Mormon leader Joseph Smith moved his band of followers to Illinois to escape the hostilities they experienced in Missouri.
August 11, 1840 – After the Council House Fight in San Antonio, Texas, the Comanche retaliated by raiding villages throughout the Guadalupe Valley. When the Texas army and Rangers went after them, the Battle of Plum Creek was fought on August 11, resulting in a decisive defeat of the Comanche.
August 14, 1842 – The Second Seminole War ended; natives were removed from Florida to Oklahoma.
1843 – The California Trail opens.
1844 – Miles Goodyear establishes Fort Buenaventura, the first town in Utah, on the site of present-day Ogden.
1845 – John L. O’Sullivan, a newspaper editor, claimed that it was the “manifest destiny” of the U.S. to take Texas and spread to the Pacific Ocean.
Texas is admitted to the union.
Texas banned saloons, but the law was never enforced and was repealed in 1856.
On May 13, the U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico.
The Black Bear Revolt begins in California.
The American flag is raised in Monterey, California.
The United States, in a treaty with Britain, obtained the Oregon Territory
Mormons establish the first permanent settlement in Idaho.
The Donner Party is trapped in the Sierra Nevada when winter descends
1847 – On January 13, the Treaty of Cahuenga ended the Mexican-American War in California.
On January 19, the Pueblo people of Taos, New Mexico, struck back, attacking a Taos home that Governor Charles Bent was visiting, murdering his guards, and then killing him. Fifteen more white settlers were killed before Colonel Sterling Price quelled the rebellion.
Brigham Young and the Mormons arrive at the Great Salt Lake, Utah.
Samuel Colt, with Texas Ranger Captain Sam Walker, develops the revolver.
In the Whitman Massacre of November 29, Cayuse and Umatilla Indians murdered missionaries Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, and 12 others near the present-day town of Walla Walla, Washington. The incident began the Cayuse War.
1848 – On May 19, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War; the United States gets more than one-half million square miles, including what will become the states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Texas is also ceded to the United States. James Marshall discovers gold at Sutter’s Mill in California.
A Mormon trading post at Genoa is the first permanent settlement in Nevada.
Oregon is organized as a territory.
1849 – 80,000 forty-niners make their way to California in search of gold
In January, Old Dry Diggings, California, was unofficially renamed Hangtown when a mob ran down three men who reportedly tried to rob a local gambler. The men were flogged and hanged on Main Street.
At Chinese Camp, California, the first outbreak of anti-Chinese violence erupted due to a depression in the mining industry when white miners attempted to rid the Chinese miners from the community.
When outlaw Joaquin Murrieta and his brother were arrested in Murphys, California, for robbery, Joaquin was tied to a tree and brutally beaten, his brother was hanged, and his wife was raped. Afterward, when he tried to file charges, he was told that it was not illegal for whites to rape Mexican women or for whites to kill Mexicans. Murrieta would retaliate by beginning a series of raids and criminal activities throughout the state.
1850 – Levi Strauss begins manufacturing heavyweight trousers for gold miners, made of the twilled cotton cloth known as “genes” in France. Strauss had intended to make tents, but, finding no market, made a fortune in pants instead.
On June 3, five Cayuse men were hanged for the Whitman Massacre in Oregon City, Oregon.
On September 9, California was admitted to the union.
On September 29, President Millard Fillmore appointed Brigham Young the first governor of Utah Territory.
On November 29, the San Francisco Grand Jury condemned gambling as “a crying evil” and urged that something must be done about prizefighting as well as numerous houses of ill-repute.
In the 1850s, the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance executed ten people for murder, 12 for conspiracy to commit murder, and 9 for kidnapping.
On July 5, “Pretty Juanita,” convicted of murder after stabbing a man who had tried to rape her, became the first person hanged in the California mining camps.
On March 27th, the Mariposa Battalion, led by James D. Savage, are the first reported non-natives to enter Yosemite Valley.
On November 13, the Denny Party landed at Alki Point, the first settlers of what will become Seattle, Washington.
1853 – On February 8th, Washington is organized as a territory,
White settlers in Del Norte County, California, ambushed and killed 30 Tolowa people at the Etculet village on Lake Earl.
On May 30, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and opened the Northern territories to slavery leading to the “Bleeding Kansas” violence the next year.
On October 4, Kamiakan, chief of the Yakama, defeated forces under Major Haller in the first engagement of the Yakama War in Washington Territory.
On May 24, in retaliation for the sacking of the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, by pro-slavery forces, militant abolitionist John Brown led a raid against a pro-slavery settlement along Pottawatomie Creek. Over the next four years, raids, skirmishes, and massacres continued in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
1857 – On September 11, 1857, approximately 120 men, women, and children in a wagon train from Arkansas were murdered by a band of Mormons set on a holy vengeance. Known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the history of this event continues to generate fierce controversy and deep emotions even to this day.
On September 14, Mormon leader Brigham Young tried to prevent U.S. troops from entering the territory of Utah when President James Buchanan sent them to impose federal law. The Mormons attacked the federal troops’ supply lines, burning Fort Bridger and setting fire to the plains to deprive the advancing army of forage for its horses. At the same time, he readied a plan to evacuate and destroy Salt Lake City, should the federal troops get through.
1858 – Gold is discovered in Colorado
1859 – Oregon is admitted to the Union.
Gold was discovered in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, sparking the Pikes Peak gold rush, which brought an estimated 100,000 fortune-hunters to the Rockies under the banner “Pikes Peak or Bust.”
Painter Albert Bierstadt makes his first trip to the West.
1860 – Gold is discovered in Idaho.
Kansas is admitted to the Union.
Crews working on completing a coast-to-coast telegraph line meet at Fort Bridger in Utah Territory. The first transcontinental telegram, transmitted from Sacramento to Washington, carries a message from the state’s Chief Justice to President Lincoln. Completion of a transcontinental telegraph line signals the end for the Pony Express.
Colorado is organized as a territory.
Nevada is organized as a territory.
Henry Griffin discovers gold near the Powder River in Oregon.
1862 – Gold is discovered in Montana near the present-day town of Dillon.
Congress passes the Homestead Act.
Little Crow’s uprising in New Mexico.
1863 – Arizona is organized as a territory
Idaho is organized as a territory.
The U.S. Army kills more than 250 Shoshone Indians near Logan, Utah, in the Bear River Massacre.
1864 – Montana is organized as a territory.
Nevada is admitted to the Union.
A cholera epidemic strikes many American cities.
1867 – Nebraska is admitted to the Union.
The United States purchases Alaska from Russia for 2 cents per acre.
August 1, 1867 – The Hayfield Fight occurs three miles from Fort C.F. Smith, Montana. Pitting a determined stand of 31 soldiers and civilians against more than 700 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, the combined soldier/civilian force withstood six hours of attacks before relief finally arrived to disperse the warriors.
The Kiowa are moved to the Oklahoma reservation.
The Battle of the Washita occurred in Western Oklahoma on November 27, 1868. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, leading the 7th Cavalry, attacked the sleeping Southern Cheyenne village of Chief Black Kettle. The chief and more than 100 Indians, many women and children, were killed. Hailed at the time as a military victory, it is today viewed as a massacre.
Wyoming is the first state to give women the right to vote.
Jesse James robs his first bank.
John Wesley Powell makes his first expedition on the Green and Colorado Rivers.
Ghost Dance movement appears among the Paiute on reservations in Nevada. Participants believed in the imminent return of the dead and the buffalo, the white man’s disappearance, and the land’s return to the natives. This led to the Paiute Massacre of 1870, in which over half of the tribe were killed by settlers paranoid about the results.
Major General George Crook — arguably the Army’s best Indian fighter and one of the few government officials who treated all natives with respectful understanding — drives most of the Arizona Apache onto reservations. Warfare with the Apache persists to this day, however, led by Chief Geronimo.
1871 – More than 100 Apache were killed in Arizona’s Camp Grant Massacre.
1872 – On January 18, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, General Sheridan, General Custer, Chief Spotted Tail, Chief Two Lance, and Grand Duke Alexis go on a buffalo hunt near North Platte, Nebraska.
Yellowstone becomes the first U.S. national park.
The first formal rodeo is held in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Buffalo Bill Cody is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Later that year, he appeared on stage for the first time, portraying himself in “Scouts of the Prairie.”
The Sioux War begins, which disperses the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. General Custer is continually outwitted by the native leaders Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but it is a draining effort on their tribes. Native attacks become less frequent as Sitting Bull and others retreat into Canada.
The Big Bonanza, the Comstock’s richest ore body, is discovered in Nevada.
1873 – The railroad arrives in South Dakota.
Cable cars are introduced in San Francisco, California.
Although federal authorities estimate hunters are killing buffalo at a rate of three million per year, President Grant vetoes a law protecting the herd from extermination.
Modoc Indian War ends in California.
The double-action revolver is developed.
The James Gang pulls its first train robbery at Adair, Iowa.
1874 – On June 27, while occupying an old trading post, 28 hunters, including a 21-year-old Bat Masterson, are besieged and eventually drive off 700 Comanche warriors at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls.
Joseph Glidden receives a patent for barbed wire, an inexpensive, durable, and effective fencing material which, with the destruction of the buffalo, will open the plains to more efficient agriculture and ranching.
1875 – On January 26, a posse representing the Pinkerton Detective Agency bombed the home belonging to Jesse James’ mother in Clay County, Missouri. The bomb blew Zerelda’s hand off and killed Jesse’s nine-year-old half-brother Archie Peyton Samuel.
January 10, 1876 – “Texas Joe” Horner, Tom Wagman, and Bill Redding hold up the Martin and Company Bank in Comanche, Texas. As they fled the bank, one shouted: “Charge this to the James boys!”
March 17, 1876 – The Battle of the Powder River occurred in southeastern Montana. This battle between Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds’ troops and the combined forces of the Cheyenne and Oglala Sioux was a loss for the U.S. Army and contributed to the defeats of General Crook at the Rosebud and Custer at Little Bighorn because it caused the Indians to form a massive nation for self-preservation.
June 17, 1876 – The Battle of the Rosebud occurred between the U.S. Army and the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians in Montana Territory. After six hours and many lead shots, the Indians called off the fight when the braves had fought Crook’s men to a standstill.
August 1, 1876 – Colorado is admitted to the Union.
September 7, 1876 – A bloody battle ensues in Northfield, Minnesota when the James Younger gang tries to rob the First National Bank. Two members died, Cole Younger was shot 11 times but survived. Frank and Jesse James, and four others escaped.
September 30, 1876 – Twenty-three-year-old David ‘Davy’ Crockett, related to the famous Crockett of the Alamo, but a “bad guy” rather than a “good guy” is gunned down by Sheriff Rinehart and two others in the streets of Cimarron, New Mexico.
John Wesley Hardin, a Texas gunfighter who claims to have killed more than 40 men, is sentenced to 25 years in the Texas State Prison for the murder of a deputy sheriff. “I take no sass but sasparilla,” he once said, explaining his deadly disposition.
August 17, 1877 – At 17 years old, Billy the Kid shoots his first man, Frank “Windy” Cahill, in self-defense after Cahill wrestled him to the ground at a saloon in Fort Grant, Arizona. Cahill died the next day.
With racial discrimination on the rise in the post-Reconstruction South, an estimated 40,000 African Americans began to migrate from the former slave states into Kansas. These so-called Exodusters establish the first all-black pioneer town at Nicodemus, Kansas.
The Bannock Indian War takes place in Oregon.
On November 27, homesteaders Ami Ketchum and Luther Mitchell shoot and kill cattleman Bob Olive in Nebraska. Olive’s brother leads a vigilante group that hangs Mitchell and Ketchum and burns their bodies. After that, Nebraska becomes known as the “Man Burner State.”
The Meeker Massacre occurs at the White River Ute Reservation in Colorado.
On September 26, 1879, Deadwood, Dakota Territory, burned to the ground. Sawmill owner John Hunter supplies enough lumber to rebuild nearly all of Main and Sherman Streets.
Hide hunters have shot the buffalo to near extinction.
1881 – Legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, charged with more than 21 murders in a brief lifetime of crime, is finally brought to justice by Sheriff Pat Garrett, who trails The Kid for more than six months before killing him with a single shot at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Sitting Bull surrenders.
Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, the first detailed examination of the federal government’s treatment of Native Americans in the West. Her findings shocked the nation with proof that empty promises, broken treaties, and brutality helped pave the way for white pioneers.
Late summer brings the last big cattle drive to Dodge City, Kansas. With livestock plentiful on the plains, the long trek up the Western Trail is no longer profitable, and most states now prohibit driving out-of-state cattle across their borders. In the fifteen years since Texas cowboys first hit the trail, as many as two million longhorns have been driven to market in Dodge City, Kansas.
Stagecoach bandit Black Bart is captured in California.
Free Chinese immigration ends.
Annie Oakley makes her first public appearance at a sharpshooting show.
Swiss artist Karl Bodmer tours the West.
The Northern Pacific Railroad, connecting the northwestern states to points east, is finally completed after a 19-year struggle against treacherous terrain and intermittent financing. Along the line, crews blast a 3,850-foot tunnel through solid granite and construct a 1,800-foot trestle. As a result, the round trip to the Columbia River that took Lewis and Clark two-and-a-half years in 1803 it took just nine days.
1886 – Geronimo surrenders to General Nelson A. Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, after more than a decade of guerilla warfare against American and Mexican settlers in the Southwest. The terms of surrender require Geronimo and his tribe to settle in Florida, where the Army hopes he can be contained.
December 1, 1886 – Brothers Jim and Rube Burrow rob their first train in Bellevue, Texas.
1887 – Silver is discovered in Leadville, Colorado.
On November 8, 1887, Doc Holliday died of tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Congress passed the General Allotment or Dawes Act. Under its provisions, tribal landholdings and tribal leaders were effectively dissolved. While it was in effect (1887-1934) about 60 percent of the remaining Indian land base, over 86 million acres, passed out of Indian ownership.
1889 – Fifty thousand homesteaders swarm into Oklahoma on the first day of the land rush.
Belle Starr was shot down in cold blood from behind near her Oklahoma territory home. Her killer was never found
Butch Cassidy is involved in his first robbery, the Telluride, Colorado bank for $10,000
Belle Starr is murdered in Indian Indian Territory.
1890 – Oklahoma is organized as a territory.
Sitting Bull is murdered in a confrontation at the Standing Rock Reservation
The U.S. Department of the Interior announces that the frontier is officially closed.
A cattlemen’s army invades Johnson County, Wyoming, in an incident that becomes known as the Johnson County War.
1893 – Repeal of the Sherman Act demonetized silver. Many silver boomtowns go bust overnight.’
1896 – Utah is admitted to the Union.
Butch Cassidy formed the “Wild Bunch,” which consisted of 15 men and four women.
1900 – Galveston, Texas, is hit by a hurricane, killing some 6,000 residents.
Jim Butler discovers silver at Tonopah, Nevada, launching a twenty-year boom.
1906 – The great earthquake and fire level San Francisco killed some 700 people and left 225,000 homeless.
1907 – Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory are joined to create the state of Oklahoma.
Tribal governments are abolished in Oklahoma.
1912 – New Mexico is admitted to the Union.
Arizona is admitted to the Union.
1916 – On December 5, 1916, the last stage robbery in the nation took place in Jarbridge Canyon, one-quarter mile north of Jarbridge, Nevada.