In April the Civil War begins when southern states agree to secede from the Union.

Kansas enters the Union as a free state. Colorado and Nevada become United States Territories. Texas joins the Confederacy, and Governor Sam Houston is forced out of office.

Photographer Carleton Watkins travels into the Yosemite Valley for the first time.


In a series of legislative acts, President Lincoln passes the landmark Homestead Act, establishes the land grant college system, and signs legislation authorizing the creation of the transcontinental railroad along the 42nd Parallel.

In the aftermath of a revolt by Dakota tribesmen in Minnesota, thirty-eight Dakota are hanged in what stands as the largest mass execution in United States history.

An army of Texas Confederates invade New Mexico, but are ultimately defeated by John Chivington’s Colorado volunteers.


President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.

Arizona and Idaho become United States Territories.


The California legislature declares Yosemite a state park, the first such designation in American history.

Nevada enters the Union. Montana becomes a United States Territory.

John Chivington heads an attack on a Cheyenne encampment, and his force kills nearly two hundred, leading to widespread criticism and a Congressional investigation.

Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson leads a campaign to subdue the Navajo in New Mexico. Following their surrender, 8,000 Navajo endure the so-called “Long Walk” from their homelands to the distant Bosque Redondo reservation near Fort Sumner.


The Civil War ends with the Confederate surrender in Virginia. General William T. Sherman takes command of the military in the West.

Mark Twain publishes his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

In an editorial in the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley popularizes the expression, “Go west, young man, go west.” An Indiana journalist had uttered this phrase fourteen years earlier.


Red Cloud and his Lakota followers attack American forces along the newly-established Bozeman Trail.

Cattlemen Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving establish a 700-mile cattle trail from Fort Sumner, New Mexico to Fort Worth, Texas.

Jesse and Frank James rob their first bank in Liberty, Missouri.


Nebraska enters the Union.

The United States purchases Alaska from Russia.

The first cattle drive from Texas to the rail station in Abilene, Kansas is conducted.

The Medicine Lodge Treaty is signed with several tribes from the southern Plains, and reservations are designated in the so-called Indian Territory.


The second Treaty of Fort Laramie is signed, bringing to an end “Red Cloud’s War” and granting the Lakota a large reservation in parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

Wyoming becomes a United States Territory.

The Overland Monthly magazine begins publication in San Francisco.

Ann Eliza Young marries Mormon leader Brigham Young, becoming his nineteenth wife. She files for divorce five years later and writes a popular exposé about Mormonism.


John Wesley Powell leads the first American exploring expedition through the Grand Canyon.

In May the Central Pacific and Union Railroads lines are connected at Promontory Point, Utah. The completion of the transcontinental railroad is marked with a great “Golden Spike” celebration.

Wyoming grants women the right to vote. Utah enacts this right the following year.


A California court rules that a black child may not attend a white school.

Bret Harte publishes The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches.


President Grant signs the Indian Appropriations Act. Native American tribes will no longer be treated as sovereign nations, but will be designated “wards” of the federal government.

Artist Thomas Moran joins Ferdinand V. Hayden’s survey expedition into Yellowstone.


Congress designates Yellowstone as America’s first national park.

In November the Modoc War begins in Northern California. Peace is negotiated by the following April.

Mark Twain publishes Roughing It.


Benjamin “Pap” Singleton begins the effort to establish an African-American community in Kansas for recently-emancipated slaves. “Exodusters” begin to migrate to Kansas.

Congress passes the Timber Culture Act to encourage tree-planting in the West.

Entrepreneur Fred Harvey opens his first restaurant for railroad passengers in Topeka, Kansas.

Levi Strauss patents his namesake jeans in San Francisco.

San Francisco premieres cable cars.


Illinois farmer Joseph Glidden receives a patent for barbed wire.

George Custer leads an expedition into the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota, violating terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. His announcement of the discovery of gold prompts a gold rush.


Comanche and Kiowa leaders surrender to American authorities to mark the end of the Red River War.

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