The Wild West, also known as the Old West or the American Frontier, refers to the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of the western United States during its frontier period.
The Wild West was given its name for the lawlessness of the territories west of the Mississippi River. It is famous for its cowboys, the pioneers, the gamblers, the gunslingers, the outlaws, the shootouts, and the gangs. Some recognizable names from the period are Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, “Wild Bill” Hickok, and Wyatt Earp.
The Wild West began in the 17th century and ended around 1912 when the last of the western territories were admitted to the Union as states.
The frontier area west of the Mississippi included the territories of:
The Territory of Dakota was an organized incorporated territory that formed on March 2, 1861. The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged a few people to migrate to the territory and the discovery of golden 1874 brought many prospectors. The settlers clashed with the Sioux natives in armed conflict, which ended with the Sioux surrendering the Black Hills of their reservation.
The Northern Pacific Railway was completed around the same time and brought over 100,000 settlers to the new area between 1879 and 1886. The territory split and the two Dakotas were formed in 1889 after controversy over the location of a capital. On November 2, 1889, North Dakota and South Dakota joined the Union as the 39th and 40th state.
The Territory of Nevada was an organized incorporated territory that formed on March 2, 1861. The territory was smaller than the state of Nevada is today, which also encompasses part of the Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory.
Nevada’s process of becoming a state was somewhat rushed and irregular. Congress was generally left out of it, with only President Lincoln and the territory involved. One of the reasons that it was rushed through the statehood process was because, at the time, the Civil War was still going on, and the Nevada territory was perceived as pro-Union and very Republican. Lincoln wanted to have it added to the Union before the 1864 Presidential election for perceived political advantages.
Nevada was admitted to the Union on March 21, 1864.
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the U.S. that formed on August 14, 1848. The territory encompassed the area that is now comprised of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and small parts of Montana and Wyoming. The territory was originally claimed by several countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, and was divided between the U.K. and the U.S. in 1846. Congress passed the Act to Establish the Territorial Government of Oregon two years later.
Between its formation in 1848 to its statehood in 1859, the Oregon Territory had three capitals cities: Oregon City (1848-1851), Salem (1851-1855), Corvallis (1855), and then back to Salem shortly after the switch to Corvallis. Salem is the current capital of Oregon.
On February 14, 1859, Oregon was admitted to the Union with its current boundaries as the 33rd state. The remaining portions of the territory became part of the Washington Territory.
The territory of Utah was an organized incorporated territory of the U.S. formed on September 9, 1850. The creation of the territory was part of the Compromise of 1850 and was partially the result of petitions sent by Mormon pioneers. The Mormons had settled in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847 and petitioned to Congress to be admired to the union as the State of Deseret with Salt Lake City as its capital.
After the discovery of silver in 1858, Utah began attracting many non-Mormon settlers. In 1861, the Nevada territory was created out of the western part of the territory, and the easternmost part of the territory became part of the Colorado Territory.
The long delay of 46 years between the formation of the Utah Territory and its admittance to the Union was blamed on the controversial Mormon religion. Nonetheless, the Utah Territory was admitted to the Union on January 4, 1896, becoming the 45th state.
The Territory of Idaho was an organized incorporated territory of the United States formed on March 3, 1863. It was a successor region made up of areas from existing territories that were simultaneously undergoing political transitions. In 1863, the territory encompasses all of present-day Idaho and Montana and almost all of Wyoming.
In 1864, the area that is now present-day Montana was ceded to the Montana Territory and the area that is now present-day Wyoming was ceded to the Dakota territory, later becoming the Wyoming Territory in 1868.
The territory was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, becoming the 43rd U.S. state.
The Territory of Montana was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that was formed on May 26, 1864, by Act of Congress known as the Organic Act. The territory was organized out of the existing Idaho Territory.
The Organic act prescribed a standard organization for the Montana Territory, establishing executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. The governors, secretaries, and members of the territorial supreme court were appointed by the President of the United States.
The Montana Territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Montana on November 8, 1889, becoming the 41st state.
The Territory of Arizona was a territory of the U.S. that was formed on February 24, 1863. The territory was created during the American Civil War, formed from the western half of the New Mexico Territory. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the territory was split into a north-south divide, denying the Confederacy the ratification of the Confederate Arizona Territory.
The territory’s first capital was at Prescott in the northern half, established in 1864. The capital was moved to Tucson in 1868, then back to Prescott in 1877, and finally to Phoenix on February 4, 1889.
The Arizona Territory was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1912, becoming the 48th U.S. state.
California was one of only a few states that became a state without first being an organized territory.
When the Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico ceded a large portion of northern Mexico. This area encompasses the present-day southwest U.S.
Two years later, An Act for the Admission fo the State of California into the Union, also called the California Statehood Act, was signed into law admitting California to the U.S. as the 31st state. California was admitted as a free state to the Union on September 9, 1850.
The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the U.S. that was established on September 9, 1850. The Mexican-American War resulted in the land being ceded to the United States in 1848. A bid for statehood was approved in 1850, with proposed boundaries encompassed present-day Texas and Oklahoma and parts of Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona in addition to present-day New Mexico.
The Compromise of 1850 ended the push for New Mexico’s immediate statehood and established the New Mexico Territory and the Utah Territory. The issue of slavery was a large debate at the time for the territory and a U.S. House of Representatives committee attempted to admit the territory as a slave state immediately in 1860. The offer was signed but not implemented. Slavery was extremely limited in the territory due to former Mexican traditions and laws.
On February 24, 1863m Congress passed the Arizona Organic Act, splitting up the New Mexico Territory to form the new Arizona Territory.
New Mexico was admitted to the Union on January 6, 1912, becoming the 47th state. New Mexico was the longest-lived organized territory in the U.S., lasting about 62 years.
The Territory of Colorado was an organized incorporated U.S. territory established on February 28, 1861. The territory was founded in the wake of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858-1861, which attracted many white settlers to the region.
The organic act creating the territory was passed by Congress and signed by President James Buchanan in 1861, during the successions by Southern states before the American Civil War. The organization of the territory helped solidify Union control over the mineral-rich Rocky Mountains. The boundaries of the Colorado Territory are the same as present-day Colorado’s state boundaries.
The Colorado Territory pushed for statehood in 1865 but was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. During Reconstruction, President Ulysses S. Grant advocated for the territory’s statehood against an unwilling Congress. Colorado was admitted to the Union on August 1, 1876, becoming the 38th U.S. state.