The American frontier comprises the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the forward wave of American expansion that began with English colonial settlements in the early 17th century and ended with the admission of the last mainland territories as states in 1912. "Frontier" refers to a contrasting region at the edge of a European-American line of settlement. American historians cover multiple frontiers but the folklore is focused primarily on the conquest and settlement of Native American lands west of the Mississippi River, in what is now the Midwest, Texas, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, and the West Coast.
In 19th- and early 20th-century media, enormous popular attention was focused on the Western United States in the second half of the 19th century, a period sometimes called the "Old West" or the "Wild West". Such media typically exaggerated the romance, anarchy, and chaotic violence of the period for greater dramatic effect. This eventually inspired the Western genre of film, which spilled over into comic books, and children's toys, games and costumes. This era of massive migration and settlement was particularly encouraged by President Thomas Jefferson following the Louisiana Purchase, giving rise to the expansionist philosophy known as "Manifest Destiny".
As defined by Hine and Faragher, "frontier history tells the story of the creation and defense of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states." They explain, "It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America." Through treaties with foreign nations and native tribes; political compromise; military conquest; establishment of law and order; the building of farms, ranches, and towns; the marking of trails and digging of mines; and the pulling in of great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast, fulfilling the dreams of Manifest Destiny. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his "Frontier Thesis" (1893) theorized that the frontier was a process that transformed Europeans into a new people, the Americans, whose values focused on equality, democracy, and optimism, as well as individualism, self-reliance, and even violence. Thus, Turner's Frontier Thesis proclaimed the westward frontier to be the defining process of American history.
As the American frontier passed into history, the myths of the West in fiction and film took a firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike. In David Murdoch's view, America is "exceptional" in choosing its iconic self-image: "No other nation has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America's creation of the West."
The Battle of the Little Bighorn
, known to the Lakota
and other Plains Indians
as the Battle of the Greasy Grass
and also commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand
, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne
, and Arapaho
tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment
of the United States Army
. The battle, which resulted in the defeat of US forces, was the most significant action of the Great Sioux War of 1876
. It took place on June 25–26, 1876, along the Little Bighorn River
in the Crow Indian Reservation
in southeastern Montana Territory
The fight was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, who were led by several major war leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, and had been inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull (Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake). The US 7th Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, suffered a major defeat. Five of the 7th Cavalry's 12 companies were annihilated and Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew and a brother-in-law. The total US casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded (six died later from their wounds), including four Crow Indian scouts and at least two Arikara Indian scouts.
Daguerrotype of cowboy in Dakota Territory, c. 1887.