7 Replies Latest reply on Dec 10, 2021 7:59 AM by Jason Davis

    What was life like in the west during 1860?


      What was life like in the west during 1860?

        • Re: What was life like in the west during 1860?

          Mr. Harper I will try to answer your question. Of course I was not there however my family went to TEXAS in 1850 and we have many stories handed down through the years and several of my Aunts kept  a journal and of course a diary.

          Life was very hard for the people in the west. There was no running water, so a well had to be dug or you had to find a clean stream. If people got water from the stream you always had a chance for disease do to dead animals in the water upstream or other contamination. Clean water was life ,without it you could not survive. It was a valuable source for people and livestock.

          The livestock you had was very important to you existence Horses to work the land cattle for milk and meat as well as chickens and sheep. There were no grocery stores so you had to learn to do your own butchering. A task I have seen modern men lose their breakfast over. Women and girls also helped in this chore they would help render lard from during" hog killing time " which was in the fall so the weather was cool if not cold. Eggs had to be gathered every day and wood had to be cut and stacked also in the fall. The stove ,if you were lucky enough to have one had a fire in it most of the time so Mom could cook. Usually there was a big pot of beans on the stove being kept warm with some pork in it and biscuts or cornbread were usualy made every day.

          There would have been a smoke house to cure the meat that was killed. That fire had to be tended to as well.

          Usually the first thing that was built was the barn for the livestock and people would live there as well until a house could be built. Our family had a blacksmith shop on the side of the barn and some people slept there.

          Work was hard and usually started before daylight and went till after dark. There was no electricity and lamp oil was expensive so you didn't set up with the lights on. No doctors and bathing was usually done in a wash tub and maybe not everyday.

          There was a lot of work to be done with gardening, tending to livestock ,laundry. Monday morning was a busy day, I still remember an old photo where the women and young boys were on the back porch of the house separating cream , churning butter and doing laundry while the men and older boy's were out in the field working either plowing, putting up hay  or gathering crops. As a young boy I can remember falling a farm wagon through the corn field cutting off the ears of corn and throwing them into the wagon when the wagon was full we had to unload it, that was when the work started. Then there were other problems like attacks from the Native's in the area. Fire was a problem with oil lamps and wood stoves or fire places a lot of homes burned and lives were lost. Today we take a lot for granted because these things come so easy for us but don't forget whoever you are or wherever your forefathers came from , whatever your family history our forefathers made huge sacrifices for themselves and their familys and for generations to come. I know they had future generations in mind and always wanted the next generation to do better than they did. They live by the Bible passage that said " the children should not lay up for the parents but the parents for the children " and I am thankful that my forefathers did that and they did that for me knowing that they would never meet me on this earth.

          I hope this will help you in you quest for an answer.

          • Re: What was life like in the west during 1860?
            J. Andrew Tracker

            I presume you are referring to the states and territories of the United States west of the Mississippi River, but even then there is no one answer. The experience of a person was very much dependent on their exact place of residence, their social class, their occupation, and dare I say their race.  The life of a Native American in Wyoming, for example, would not necessarily be the same as that of a banker in San Francisco.  Making huge generalizations can be dangerous.  There is also a great deal of myth and legend which can be misleading at best.

            History Hub is mostly about giving people guidance for how to do their own research rather than trying to give people a ready made answer to everything.  For a question as broad as yours which has no one answer that can be summed up in a few paragraphs, I'd suggest starting by going to your local libraries and asking for suggestions on history books about the topic. There have been many histories, both popular and academic, written about the Old West, and librarians should be able to help you find some that is appropriate to your needs.

            If you are doing this as a research project for a school assignment or something like National History Day, you might want to consider narrowing down your topic.  Try to identify whose stories and perspectives you want to include.  Various Native American tribes?  African American slaves in Texas?  Free African Americans?  Chinese immigrants? US Army soldiers? Mormon settlers? 

            Which areas do you want to learning about?  Indiana Territory (now Oklahoma)?  Texas?  California?  The Northwest? The Great Plains?  The Rockies?  Utah?

            What aspects of life do you want to know about?  Railroads and transportation, mining, ranching, crime, commerce, farming, migration, displacement of native populations, etc.?

            • Re: What was life like in the west during 1860?
              Thomas Richardson Navigator

              Dear Mr. Harper,


              Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


              There are numerous historical resources available from the National Archives, the National Park Service, and various state and local institutions. NARA has archival offices located in Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Riverside, San Bruno, and Seattle. These units have custody of a variety of records series relating to the American West from that time period. For more information, please visit the NARA webpage.


              Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from any of the NARA archival offices and records centers. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.


              Individual states have respective historical societies and archives containing more local records and archival holdings from the 1800s. Here are their respective institutions:



              Private historical associations are another good resource for learning about life in the American West in 1860. The Western History Association and Organization of American Historians have a number of research tools you may use for this topic.


              We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!

              1 person found this helpful
              • Re: What was life like in the west during 1860?
                Jason Davis Wayfarer

                Western settlements were very different than those in the eastern United States. There were fewer women living in the area, and many men were single or families. What few women were present were prostitutes. In 1860, there were thirty women in the Comstock Lode region of Nevada. Many of these women went on to become businesswomen and owners of brothels. While the western states were far more progressive, the Chinese had less freedom.

                The rapid population growth caused a great deal of conflict. Native Americans in the West resisted American intrusion and renewed wars in the early 19th century. In addition, the expansion of plantation slavery forced the slaves to move to new territories. However, white Americans viewed the new territory as a great opportunity. Western land offered the promise of independence and prosperity. In contrast to their oppressive conditions, the expansion of the west created an euphoric atmosphere.

                The completion of the railroads to the West following the Civil War opened up vast areas of the region to settlement and economic development. White settlers from the East poured across the Mississippi to mine, farm, and ranch.

                The era of mining in the West was full of family feuds and lawlessness. The people of the frontier had few protections and relied on the community for protection. The Federal Homestead Act encouraged western expansion by requiring settlers to live on their land for five years, and in many cases, the ensuing land disputes resulted in a series of bloody fights. Several of the most notorious and well-known of these conflicts were the Lincoln County War, the Tutt-Everett Feud, the Sutton-Taylor feud, and the Brooks-McFarland feud.