Homestead Act Stamp
Stamp commemorating the Homestead Act
[audio] Westward Expansion

  • Most people thought the West would be poor farmland, with extreme temperatures and little rain. They imagined the land had few trees.
  • The West included California, Oregon, and Washington, and the 6 great plains states.
  • Only 4% of Americans lived in the West in 1840.

Getting people to move West

  • Under the Donation Land Law, an American married couple could get 160 acres if they moved there before the end of 1850 and agreed to four years of farming.
  • Under the Homestead Act, people could have 160 acres if they farmed and settled on the land. If they farmed the land for 5 years, they could have the land for free. They could have the land right away if they payed $1.25 for each acre.
  • The Desert Land Act and the Timber and Stone Act were other cheap ways for people to get land in the West.

[audio] Problems with cheap land

  • Some thought the 160 acres were too big for a farm, and too small for raising cattle.
  • Some people illegally tried to get large amounts of land. For example, a Southwest rancher might buy lots of land using different names.

Western immigrants

  • The Chinese made up the largest group of immigrants to the West.



  • San Francisco was the largest Western City until World War I.

Western population growth:

  • 17 million American citizens lived in the West in the 1900s, and most of the Western territory was divided into states.
  • Most Westerners lived in California.
  • Most people lived in the urban Midwest and East.


  • The government developed the transcontinental railroad to make Western travel easier and faster.