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The 1890's
Looking for Happy Endings America in the 1890s



Looking for Happy Endings America in the 1890s
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.18

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    morphing, pointed, self-contained, boon, imperialism, telegraph, conquest, tariff, commodity, tribal, rails, mines, skirmish, expansion, sorrow, rail
     content words:    Native American, Sitting Bull, Wounded Knee, Indian Wars, Wild West, Frederick J., Frontier Thesis, President McKinley, John D., Andrew Carnegie


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Looking for Happy Endings America in the 1890s
By Toni Lee Robinson
  

1     The end of a century is a time for pondering. Human beings cook up lots of joy, sorrow, and silliness in a hundred years. When the calendar marks such a milestone, we try to make sense of what's happened. We wonder what's in store. In the U.S., the 1890s may have been an even more dramatic milestone than most. The nation itself had recently had its 100th birthday. Americans looked back in wonder over the growth of their country.
 
2     The handful of rugged colonists who had started the whole thing had long since become wave after wave of people. Pulled by a tide of hope, an ocean of humanity had spread out across the vast spaces of land. First, pioneers built forts and farms. Then they came together in villages that grew into cities. Soon iron rails were laid across the entire breadth of the nation. Locomotives puffed from shore to shore. Telegraph messages zinged cross country along slender black lines held up by thousands of tall poles. Each step in the process claimed another chunk of the wild land.
 
3     In places, the road to progress was darkened by sorrow and violence. Conquest of the land went hand in hand with the subduing of Native American tribes. The native peoples were squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. Those who wouldn't be corralled were pursued. In 1890, great Sioux leader Sitting Bull was killed in a skirmish with U.S. Cavalry troops. Days later, the Sioux were crushed at the terrible Battle of Wounded Knee. The battle signaled the end of the "Indian Wars." The proud, free-roaming cultures of the tribal people had been broken. Their unbounded plains and forests were surveyed and divided to support the more structured lifestyles of white settlers.
 
4     America was no longer made up mostly of wilderness. Even the Wild West was finally settled. The U.S. census of 1890 flatly declared that the frontier no longer existed. The idea was earthshaking. At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, historian Frederick J. Turner read his paper titled "Frontier Thesis." Challenging the frontier, he said, had been the national pastime. The nation had been birthed and built on the pioneer spirit of its people.
 
5     Now there were no more unknowns to conquer. America suddenly had an identity crisis on its hands. If, as a people, they were no longer pioneers, who were they? No one quite knew the answer to the question. Some said the problem was easily solved. Other nations of the world had taken colonies. The U.S. should do the same, they said. It might not be the same as frontier, but there were still places for expansion. This line of thought was known as imperialism.

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