The History of the Old West

The American Old West was a time of heroes, adventure, and discovery. It was also a time of great hardship. Spanning the majority of the 19th century, this hundred year span was filled with stories of gunslingers, cowboys, and gold rushes. Understanding the real American West, however, requires getting into the lives of the men, women, and children that lived there.

Having a basic understanding of the history of the Old West is important to understanding all of the details. The West technically began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and it ended in 1890, when the US Census showed that there was no longer a clear line of advancing settlement. The frontier had been settled. A detailed history of the Old West can be found on Wikipedia.

The real lives of the settlers living in the Old West were very different than how they have been shown in popular media. Reading the diaries and letters on the over-land web page, of the men and women who settled the frontier gives an intimate view of their daily life. The lives of women are detailed at Legends Of America.

The lives of Native Americans and African Americans are also part of the Old West story. A few great resources for learning more about their lives can be found on the Wild West website, Native Americans and The Frontier, and African Americans and the Old West.

It's hard to truly understand the history of America without understanding the Old West, and that can be difficult to do without years of research. Reading diaries and history articles can only give a glimpse of their lives. The best way to understand the history is to actually see it. Ghost towns and villages that have been abandoned are one of the best places to visit when trying to learn more about the history of the Old West. Ghost Towns has a listing of ghost towns all over the US and Canada, many of which are open to visitors.

Museums offer another opportunity to view Old West lifestyles by learning about the tools, clothing, and resources the westerners used in their daily lives. Old West Museums has a listing of many of these. Photographs and other artwork can also give a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in the west. The US National Archives has links to almost 200 photographs from this time period on their American West website.

There are several websites that offer dozens of Old West links. These pages provide a gold mine of information, because there is so much information that can be found through them. Some of these sites are:

Old West Links

The Overland Trail Links

Old West History

Resources for New Perspectives on the West

A couple more fantastic sites about the history of the Old West are:


Eyewitness to History

The history of the Old West is full of fascinating facts and figures. It was a time of transition and discovery like the US will never see again. Modern western US citizens have come a long way since the 1800s. Travel from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean is no longer a dangerous journey taking several months. It can be flown in a few hours, or driven in two days. Instead of hunting and growing their own produce, families get their food and other necessities at grocery stores. Malls now sit where bison were hunted. Email and modern post office delivery can get mail to its destination quickly and without complication. The closest modern residents get to their ancestors is through visiting one of several old west towns as tourists. Most of these towns are preserved ghost towns, or rebuilt replications of typical towns or the time period.

Tombstone, Arizona

Calico Ghost Town

These are just a few of the many places to visit Old West towns. Legend's of America has a list of tourist towns listed by state.