Time Line of the Old West

The Old West

The Old West

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.

1500 B.C.-1000 A.D. – Ancient Puebloan culture thrives in the Southwest.

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado

1540 – Francisco Vasquez de Coronado leaves Mexico to hunt for gold in the Southwest.

The Hernando de Soto expedition goes as far as Oklahoma

1541 – Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is the first white man to visit the pueblos in New Mexico

Coronado’s party crosses the Arkansas River and goes as far as the present-day Kansas/Nebraska Border.

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.

English Naval officer, Sir Francis Drake

English Naval officer, Sir Francis Drake

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.

1680 – Northern New Mexico Pueblo Indians, outraged by atrocities committed by Spanish explorers and colonists, resist in the Pueblo Revolt. Many settlers are killed, and the rest are driven south.

1682 The Spanish establish the first permanent settlement in Texas at Ysleta, near present-day El Paso.

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.

1769 – The Spanish built Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, the first California mission.

1776 – Fort Tucson is established in Arizona.

Franciscan friars Escalante and Dominguez explore Utah.

The Presidio of San Francisco by Carol Highsmith

The Presidio of San Francisco by Carol Highsmith

The Presidio is established in San Francisco, California.

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.

The Lewis and Clark expedition begins its exploration of the West.

1805 – Lewis and Clark explore Oregon and Washington.

Zebulon Pike expedition explores the American Southwest.

On October 10, Lewis and Clark met the Nez Perce.

1807 – Fur trapper John Colter explores the Yellowstone area in Wyoming.

Trading with the American Fur Company

Trading with the American Fur Company

1808 – John Jacob Astor organizes the American Fur Company

1810 – Mexico revolts against Spanish rule.

The North West Company establishes Spokane House, the first fur-trading post in Washington.

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.

1817 – Fort Pierre is established in what would later become South Dakota.

1818 – The United States obtains the northeast part of North Dakota in a treaty with Britain.

1819 – On March 2, Arkansas Territory was organized.

Santa Fe Trail Map

Santa Fe Trail Map

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.

By this time, more than 20,000 Native Americans lived in virtual slavery at the California missions.

1821 – Led by Stephen Austin, the first Americans settled in Texas.

Fort Vancouver, Washington by Gustave Sohon, 1850

Fort Vancouver, Washington by Gustave Sohon, 1850

The Hudson Bay Company establishes Fort Vancouver in what will become Washington state.

The U.S. government began moving the “Five Civilized Tribes” of southeast America (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw) to lands west of the Mississippi River.

1822 – Mountain man James Bridger makes the first expedition into the Rocky Mountains.

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.

August 1823 –  A force of 500 Sioux and 200 American soldiers led by Colonel Henry Leavenworth retaliated by attacking the Arikara.

1824 – James Bridger discovers the Great Salt Lake.

Congress creates the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous by William Henry Jackson

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous by William Henry Jackson

1825 – The first mountain man’s rendezvous takes place on Henry’s Fork of the Green River in what is now Wyoming.

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.

1827 – Fort Leavenworth is established in Kansas to protect travelers on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.

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

James Bowie

James Bowie

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.

On May 27, trapper-explorer Jedediah Smith was killed by Comanche Indians on the Santa Fe Trail.

The First Missouri steamboat reaches Pierre, South Dakota.

James Bowie invents the Bowie knife.

1832 – April 6, 1832 – The Black Hawk War began when the Sac and Fox people tried to plant their cornfields and were repulsed by whites. The Indians were forced to leave Illinois.

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.

Bent's Fort, Colorado by Kathy Alexander.

Bent’s Fort, Colorado by Kathy Alexander.

Brothers Charles and William Bent and veteran trapper-trader Ceran St. Vrain open Bent’s Fort on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

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.

Old Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Old Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Fort Laramie becomes the first trading post in Wyoming.

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.

1836 – On February 24, the Alamo is attacked by Mexican forces, and all of its more than 180 defenders are slain, including William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett.

Texans under Sam Houston defeat the Mexican army and captured General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Texas becomes a Republic.

Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux

Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux

1838 – On June 17, the Cherokee begin the Trail of Tears, a 1,200-mile forced march from the East to present-day Oklahoma.

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.

Comanche war party by Richard Luce, courtesy First People

Comanche war party by Richard Luce, courtesy First People

1840 – On March 19, the Republic of Texas soldiers killed some 30 Penateka Comanche leaders and warriors and five women and children in the Council House Fight in San Antonio.

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.

1841 – The first covered wagons to travel the Oregon Trail arrives in SacramentoCalifornia.

1842 – John C. Fremont begins his exploration of the West with guide Kit Carson.

August 14, 1842 – The Second Seminole War ended; natives were removed from Florida to Oklahoma.

California Trail Map

California Trail Map

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.

Donner Party

The Donner party was stranded in the Sierra Nevada Range, in 1847

1846 – Brigham Young and 3,000 Mormons set out for Utah on February 4, 1846.

On May 8, the first major battle of the Mexican War was fought at Palo Alto, Texas, resulting in a victory for General Zachary Taylor’s forces.

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 TaosNew 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.

Mormon Pioneers

Mormon Pioneers

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 CaliforniaNevadaUtah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Wyoming and ColoradoTexas 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.

The State of Deseret, incorporated by the Mormons, includes Utah, most of Nevada and Arizona, and parts of OregonIdahoWyomingNew Mexico, and Colorado.

California Gold Miners

California Gold Miners

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.

Whitman Massacre

Whitman Massacre

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 9, New Mexico and Utah were organized as territories.

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.

A wagon train and Indians

A wagon train and Indians

1851 -John L. Soule, in an editorial in the Terre Haute Express, advises: “Go West, young man, go West.” But New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley gets credit for the line.

On September 17th, the Treaty of Fort Laramie is signed with the Sioux Indians.

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.

1852 – The Mormon Church in Utah officially acknowledges that the practice of polygamy is part of its religion.

Wells Fargo Express

Wells Fargo Express

On March 18, the Wells Fargo Company was founded to provide express and banking services to California.

1853 – On February 8th, Washington is organized as a territory,

On July 25, in a macabre instance of rough frontier justice, California Rangers claimed a $6000 reward by bringing in the severed head of outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, preserved in whiskey.

On October 25, Paiute Indians attacked U.S. Army Captain John W. Gunnison and his party of 37 soldiers and railroad surveyors near Sevier Lake, Utah. Gunnison and seven other men were killed.

On December 30th, the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico adds 29,640 square miles of the territory that becomes Arizona and New Mexico.

1854 – Nebraska and Kansas are organized as territories.

White settlers in Del Norte County, California, ambushed and killed 30 Tolowa people at the Etculet village on Lake Earl.

Border War between Missouri and Kansas.

Border War between Missouri and Kansas.

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.

August 19, 1854 – The Grattan Massacre occurred near Fort LaramieWyoming.

1855 – The Lecompton government was established in Kansas, starting the Kansas/Missouri Border War between pro-slavery and pro-freedom forces.

On September 3, General William Harney and 700 soldiers took revenge for the Grattan Massacre with a brutal attack on a Sioux village in Nebraska that left 100 men, women, and children dead.

On October 4, Kamiakan, chief of the Yakama, defeated forces under Major Haller in the first engagement of the Yakama War in Washington Territory.

1856 – On May 21, 1856, Border Ruffians and other pro-slavery supporters captured and sacked the abolitionist town of LawrenceKansas.

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.”

Mountain Meadows Massacre, T.B.H. Stenhouse, 1873

Mountain Meadows Massacre, T.B.H. Stenhouse, 1873

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

The first non-stop stagecoach from St. Louis, Missouri, arrives in Los Angeles, California, completing the 2,600-mile trip across the Southwest in 20 days.

1859 – Oregon is admitted to the Union.

Colorado Gold Rush

Colorado Gold Rush

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.”

The Comstock Lode is discovered in Nevada.

Painter Albert Bierstadt makes his first trip to the West.

The first steamboat from St. Louis arrives in Fort BentonMontana, the farthest-inland port in the world.

1860 – Gold is discovered in Idaho.

Pony Express Map

Pony Express Map

1861 – The Pony Express completes its inaugural delivery, bringing mail over 1,966 miles from St. Louis, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in 11 days.

Kansas is admitted to the Union.

North Dakota and Nevada are organized as territories.

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.

The Civil War begins when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.

Colorado is organized as a territory.

Early Denver, Colorado, 1859

Early Denver, Colorado, 1859

Federal troops evacuate Indian Territory soldiers.

DenverColorado, is incorporated as a city.

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.

Civil War action is seen in ArkansasTexas, and New Mexico.

Little Crow’s uprising in New Mexico.

The Battle at Picacho Pass in Arizona, the westernmost battle of the Civil War, took place on April 15.

Apache Chief Cochise attacks U.S. soldiers, igniting a war that lasts the next ten years.

Bozeman Trail map

Bozeman Trail map

1863 – Arizona is organized as a territory

Idaho is organized as a territory.

The Bozeman Trail opens from central Wyoming to Virginia CityMontana.

Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Collis Huntington invested in the proposed Central Pacific Railroad, making them California’s Big Four.

Quantrill leads a raid on LawrenceKansas.

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.

Colorado cavalry volunteers slay 133 Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek.

Kit Carson

Kit Carson

Kit Carson accepts the surrender of 8,000 Navajo.

1865 – Indians massacre William J. Fetterman and eighty troops near Fort KearnyWyoming.

Jesse and Frank James launch their criminal career with a bank robbery in Liberty, Missouri.

First cattle trail blazed by Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, 2000 head of cattle moved from Texas to New Mexico.

Jesse Chisholm, a trader, cut the Chisholm Trail by carting a heavy load of buffalo hides from Oklahoma to Kansas.

A cholera epidemic strikes many American cities.

1867 – Nebraska is admitted to the Union.

The first cattle drive from Texas up the Chisholm Trail arrives at the rail yards of AbileneKansas.

The United States purchases Alaska from Russia for 2 cents per acre.

Hayfield Fight, Montana

Hayfield Fight, Montana

August 1, 1867 – The Hayfield Fight occurs three miles from Fort C.F. SmithMontana. 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.

August 2, 1867 – The Wagon Box Fight between the Sioux and the U.S. Army occurs near Fort Phil KearnyWyoming.

The Treaty of Medicine Lodge creates reservations in western Oklahoma for the Cheyenne, ArapahoKiowa, and Comanche Indians.

1868 – The Sioux sign a treaty with the United States at Fort LaramieWyoming.

The Kiowa are moved to the Oklahoma reservation.

The Crow Indians are moved to a Montana reservation.

Battle of Washita, Oklahoma by Steven Lang

Battle of Washita, Oklahoma by Steven Lang

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.

The Navajo Indian Reservation, the largest reservation in the country, is established in northeast Arizona, overlapping the four corners into ColoradoUtah, and New Mexico.

Promontory Point, Utah

Promontory Point, Utah

1869 – The Central Pacific and Union Pacific join at Promontory Point, Utah, creating the first transcontinental railroad.

Utah and Wyoming are organized as territories.

Wyoming is the first state to give women the right to vote.

Wild Bill Hickok is Marshall in Hays City, Kansas.

Jesse James robs his first bank.

John Wesley Powell makes his first expedition on the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Ghost Dance of the Sioux

Ghost Dance of the Sioux

1870 – The Osage Indians are moved to a reservation in northeast Oklahoma.

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.

On September 6, Louisa Ann Swain, a seventy-year-old woman, became the first woman in America to vote in a public election at LaramieWyoming.

1871 – More than 100 Apache were killed in Arizona’s Camp Grant Massacre.

Wild Bill Hickok is Marshal in AbileneKansas.

Buffalo Bill Cody, 1907

Buffalo Bill Cody, 1907

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.

Apache Chief Cochise surrenders to General O.O. Howard and is sent to a reservation.

Yellowstone becomes the first U.S. national park.

Dodge CityKansas established as a center of the buffalo trade. After 1876, Texas cattle and cowboys were the town’s economic mainstay.

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 Modoc War rages in southern Oregon and northern California. The conflict, also known as the Lava Beds War, was the last of the Indian Wars in these two states.

The Big Bonanza, the Comstock’s richest ore body, is discovered in Nevada.

Ellsworth succeeds Abilene as the northern stopping point on the Old Texas cattle trail.

Charles Rath sitting atop buffalo hides in Dodge City, 1878.

Charles Rath sitting atop buffalo hides in Dodge City, 1878.

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.

Gold is discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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.

Fort Sill is established in southwestern Oklahoma as a base of operations of the Indian Wars.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

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.

“Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker arrives in Fort SmithArkansas. He shortly began his 21-year stint as Judge; he handed out 88 death sentences, 79 swung.

Wyatt Earp begins his career as a law officer in Wichita, Kansas.

DeadwoodSouth Dakota, soon to be one of the wildest towns in the West, springs into existence when Black Hills miners find gold on Deadwood Creek.

The U.S. Government orders all Indians in the Black Hills and Wyoming to report to reservations or face military action.

Prospectors find lead carbonate ores, rich in silver, near present-day LeadvilleColorado.

Dodge City Kansas 1875

Dodge City, circa 1875

1876 – Bat Masterson became a deputy marshal of Dodge CityKansas, serving alongside his brother Jim.

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.

Battle of the Little Bighorn by C.M. Russell

Battle of the Little Bighorn by C.M. Russell

On June 25, 1876 – Custer and his troops are slain at the Little Bighorn.

August 1, 1876 – Colorado is admitted to the Union.

August 2, 1876 – Wild Bill Hickok is murdered in DeadwoodSouth Dakota, holding Aces and Eights, the dead man’s hand, in a game of poker.

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 CimarronNew Mexico.

1877 – The United States violates its treaty with Dakota Sioux by seizing the Black Hills.

Nez Perce War, Frank Leslie's Newspaper, 1877

Nez Perce War, Frank Leslie’s Newspaper, 1877

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce surrendered after the Bear Paw battle in Montana.

Crazy Horse is captured, then assassinated while in custody at Fort RobinsonNebraska.

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.

The Battle of the Big Hole occurs in Montana.

Bat Masterson is the Sheriff of Dodge CityKansas.

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 GrantArizona. Cahill died the next day.

Exodusters in Nicodemus, Kansas.

Exodusters in Nicodemus, Kansas.

1878 – On January 27, Dave Rudabaugh, Mike Roarke, Dan Dement, and three other masked men attempt to rob the Santa Fe train station near Kinsley, Kansas. One man is killed.

Billy the Kid makes a name for himself as a killer in the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.

In March, John Younger, a member of the Younger Gang, is killed by Pinkerton detectives in St. Clair County, Missouri.

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 NicodemusKansas.

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.”

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

1879 – Wyatt Earp is deputy US Marshall for the Arizona Territory.

Dull Knife escapes from Fort Robinson, Nebraska.

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.

1880 – The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reaches Santa Fe, marking the death of the Santa Fe Trail.

Apache leader Victorio is slain in Mexico.

Hide hunters have shot the buffalo to near extinction.

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

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.

TombstoneArizona, Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp and his brothers gun down the Clantons in a showdown at the O.K. Corral.

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 CityKansas. 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.

Jesse James Killed

Jesse James Killed

1882 – Jesse James is killed by Bob Ford in St. JosephMissouri.

Stagecoach bandit Black Bart is captured in California.

Adolph Bandelier begins his exploration of the Ancient Puebloan ruins in New Mexico.

Judge Roy Bean opens the Jersey Lily saloon in LangtryTexas

Free Chinese immigration ends.

Annie Oakley makes her first public appearance at a sharpshooting show.

The last great Indian buffalo hunt occurs in North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt, the hunter. By George Grantham Bain 1885

Theodore Roosevelt, the hunter. By George Grantham Bain 1885

1883 – Theodore Roosevelt arrives in North Dakota to hunt buffalo and buys a ranch.

Swiss artist Karl Bodmer tours the West.

Texas purchases The Alamo from the Catholic Church to preserve it as a historic shrine.

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.

Buffalo Bill Cody starts his Wild West Show

1884 – August 19, 1884, John H. ‘Doc’ Holliday shot bartender Billy Allen in the arm over $5 at Leadville, Colorado.

Geronimo, 1903, by J.W. Collins

Geronimo, 1903, by J.W. Collins

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.

February 18, 1886 – Dave Rudabaugh, a former member of Billy the Kid’s Dodge City Gang, is reportedly captured and decapitated by townspeople after terrorizing the village of Parral, Mexico.

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.

Oklahoma Land Run

Oklahoma Land Run

1889 – Fifty thousand homesteaders swarm into Oklahoma on the first day of the land rush.

North DakotaSouth DakotaMontana, and Washington are admitted to the Union.

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.

Idaho and Wyoming are admitted to the Union.

The massacre at Wounded KneeSouth Dakota, ended the Indian Wars

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.

Bob and Grat Dalton after having been shot in Coffeyville, Kansas

Bob and Grat Dalton after having been shot in Coffeyville, Kansas

1892 – The Dalton Gang raids Coffeyville, Kansas. Grat and John are killed, and Emmett is sent to prison.

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.

1901 – “Black gold” is discovered at the Spindle-top oil field near Beaumont, Texas.

On April 26, 1901, Black Jack Ketchum was hanged in Clayton, New Mexico. He was the only person ever hanged for train robbery in the State of New Mexico.

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.


Frontier trooper by Frederic Remington

Frontier trooper by Frederic Remington

Compiled by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2023.

Also See: 

Adventures in the American West

American History Timelines

Explorers, Trappers & Traders

Native American Timeline

Westward Expansion & Manifest Destiny