When you think about the Wild West, what comes to your mind? Cowboys? Horses? Covered wagons?
Here are a few fun facts about the Wild West, and what it was really like.
The time period of the Wild West began in 1865, at the end of the Civil War in the United States. It lasted for 30 years, until 1895.
All the land west of the Mississippi River was considered the "Wild West."
People began moving west for a few reasons. The first reason was because more land was available to farm, and many families who were poor or struggling in the eastern cities thought they could have a better life if they moved west. These families, called pioneers, loaded up everything they owned on wagons pulled by horses or oxen, and they set out to make a new life for themselves in the Wild West.
A second reason people moved west was because they were hoping to find gold. If they could find gold, they could become rich quickly and not have to do the hard work of farming. A few people did strike gold, but most of them spent all their time looking for something they would never find. Many of them lost everything they had looking for gold.
A third group of people who moved west were cowboys. The land in the West was perfect for large groups of cattle because it provided wide open spaces and plenty of food for them. The cowboys would oversee the herds of cattle, and then drive them to the cities where they could be sold at certain times of the year.
Whether you were a pioneer trying to start up a farm, a prospector looking for gold, or a cowboy trying to manage a large herd of cattle, life was hard. People didn't have electricity or sinks where they could easily get water. There were some stores in the towns, but for the most part people couldn't just run to the grocery store whenever they needed food. They grew or raised the animals that provided almost everything they ate.
The Wild West got its name because it was a wild place! Since life was so hard, people sometimes turned to stealing and hurting others to try to survive. They didn't have police stations back then. There were some sheriffs and deputies, but it was really hard to enforce the laws.
The term "cowboy" was once used to refer to an outlaw, bandit, or horse thief. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers.
As more people moved into an area, a town called a "boom town" might be built. Often times, it was because gold had been discovered nearby. But when the supply of gold dwindled, the town would be abandoned and become a ghost town.
The Oregon Trail was a 2,000 mile Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon. Early pioneers and settlers traveled in large wagon trains using covered wagons called "prairie schooners" to carry their supplies. It took about six months to make the journey.
The Santa Fe Trail ran 900 miles from Missouri to Santa Fe (now New Mexico). It was an important trade route for all kinds of goods until the railroad replaced it in 1880.