The end of the Civil War, opening of the western frontier to homesteaders, and the gold rush sent many settlers west in search of a new life. People headed west for a variety of reasons. Many people attempted to settle the Great Plains region for agricultural pursuits. Several others headed farther west in search of gold. The lack of available land in the east and the devastated southern economy helped fuel the migration as settlers packed everything into wagons and headed west.
Land in the east was no easier to come by after the Civil War. Most of the land was in the hands of rich farmers. This left smaller farmers with only one option, head west. Farmers saw the Great Plains as a chance for a new start. They could purchase large tracts of land for much less than the price of eastern lands, and the railroad’s western expansion gave them the ability to send the fruits of their labor to markets in the east. Even the poorest farmer could obtain land in the west.
The Homestead Act offered 160 acres of land to any head of household, or adult who settled the land and lived there for five years. Advances in farming techniques and machines lead people to believe that farming was getting easier. As many settlers found out, this was untrue. These innovations made it easier to grow and harvest the wheat, corn, and other products, but farming was still a hard life. The fall of agricultural prices, due to over production, killed the hopes of many western farmers. Droughts, insect invasions, and the hardships of everyday life took a toll on those who survived the financial downfalls. Many gave up and returned to wherever the came from, but some were able to find new sources income farther west.
Gold fever brought many settlers west into California. Men headed for the hills in search of untold wealth. Most never found enough gold to make the trip worthwhile, but a few lucky ones would find the riches they were after. Many of the unlucky attempted to return to farming as a means to support them selves, but land in California was almost as expensive and hard to come by as land in the east. The development of mining, and logging industries in the west would employ many of the unlucky gold miners, and bring even more people west in search of jobs.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, a migration west began to unfold. Most of the fruitful land in the east was taken, and promises of cheap land for homesteaders, misguided aspirations, and agricultural innovations lured people across the Mississippi and into the western frontier. They loaded their families and belongings into wagons and set out for what they thought would be a new life. Some found nothing but hardships. Others found new ways to earn a living, and a few lucky ones even found riches.