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Edexcel GCSE History: The American West, c1835–c1895 Glossary

The key vocabulary you need to learn for your Edexcel GCSE History: The American West, c1835–c1895 History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘American Civil War’ to ‘Ward’.
A – C (American Civil War to chief)
American Civil War
The American Civil War was the armed conflict between the northern and southern states of the USA that lasted from 1861 to 1865.

To integrate by conforming to or being absorbed by another society or culture is to assimilate into that group.

A band is a subdivision of an Indigenous nation or tribe, which were often split into bands, or divisions, of around 50 families; each band was led by a chief.

When companies or people go out of business due to a lack of money to pay their debts, they are referred to as bankrupt.

A bison is a type of large ox, also known as a buffalo. The Indigenous peoples’ nomadic life depended on bison; they used almost every part of the animal.

California Trail
The California Trail was a route used by pioneers that branched off the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall and led to Sacramento, California.

cattle baron
A cattle baron was a wealthy and powerful man who owned thousands of cattle that were raised on the open range of the Plains.

cattle drive
A cattle drive was a journey during which cowboys herded, or drove, large numbers of cattle for hundreds of kilometres, from ranch to market.

A census is an official survey or count of the population by the government.

A chief was the leader of an Indigenous band. The role of chief was appointed rather than inherited, and the position was given to men who were respected and considered wise; chiefs did not always keep the role for life.

C - D (Citizen to dry farming)
A citizen is a person who is legally and officially considered to be a member of a particular nation, state, or country.

A mining claim is a parcel of land for which a person has the right of possession and the right to extract, or mine, a valuable mineral deposit, such as gold.

claim jumper
A claim jumper was someone who claimed ownership of another person’s land once gold had been, or was hoped to be, discovered there.

Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy, was an unrecognised, breakaway republic created when the southern states seceded (left) the United States during the American Civil War. The Confederacy existed from 1861 to 1865.

Groups of Indigenous men from a band would meet to discuss and reach important decisions at a council; councils might be chaired by a chief.

counting coup
A counting coup was the practice of Indigenous warriors that involved them striking rather than killing an enemy in battle. It might involve getting close enough to touch or strike the enemy with the hand, a weapon, or a coup stick. Such counting coups during battle allowed men to demonstrate their bravery and horsemanship, gaining respect and admiration, without necessarily inflicting death.

cow town
The term cow town was the nickname given to lawless towns that grew rapidly where cattle trails met the railroads; Abilene was the first cow town.

A cowboy was a man who worked with cattle; as approaches to cattle raising changed, the cowboy’s role changed from driving, or herding, cattle to working on ranches.

deputy marshal
Often responsible for a specific town or region, a deputy marshal was a law man appointed by a US marshal.

dry farming
Dry farming was the technique used to grow wheat by preserving moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation; dry farming required less water than other farming methods and meant wheat could be grown successfully on the arid Plains.

E – L (Economic depression to lawlessness)
economic depression
An economic depression is a severe financial downturn characterised by businesses and banks failing, and rising unemployment.

An elder is an older member of an Indigenous band; elders were valued for their experience, perspective, and wisdom.

Exoduster was the name given to any formerly enslaved African American who moved from a southern state to Kansas or any other western state in 1879.

federal government
The federal government is the central national US government based in Washington, DC (as opposed to individual state governments).

A frontier is another word for the border between two countries; in the US, the term has been used to refer to the farthest limit of settled land, beyond which lies wilderness.

A homestead was a small farm (160 acres) on land purchased cheaply from the government under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Indigenous peoples
The term Indigenous peoples refers to various groups of people who lived on the North American continent before Europeans began moving there in 1492.

Irrigation is the supply of water to land to enable crops to grow.

land rush
A land rush was a method of distributing land to settlers in Oklahoma from 1889 to 1893, in which people raced to plot markers and claim 160 acres of land allocated for settlement by the government.

Lawlessness is a state of disorder caused by disregard of the law and involves behaviour that is illegal or not controlled by laws. Lawlessness occurred in US history when there were not enough government officials to enforce the law and crimes went unpunished.

M – O (Manifest Destiny to overpopulation)
Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the belief among US citizens that it was their God-given right to occupy and settle to spread ‘progress’ and their ‘superior’ way of life across the entire North American continent.

A migrant is a person who moves from one place to another, especially to find a home, work, or better living conditions.

miners’ court
A miners’ court was an unofficial court set up in a remote mining settlement, where claim jumpers were often common.

A Mormon is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-day Saints, which was founded in 1820 by Joseph Smith in Palmyra, New York State.

With reference to the Indigenous peoples of America, the term nation refers to the largest groups; examples include Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Pawnee, and Comanche nations.

The term nomadic describes a lifestyle that involves moving to find food sources rather than living in permanent settlements and growing crops.

open range
The term open range refers to the technique of raising cattle on the Plains and rounding them up once a year rather than driving them along trails to market. The cattle were branded with an identifying mark, left to roam free, and then rounded up once a year and taken the short distance to the railroad.

Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail was the route from Independence, Missouri, across the Plains and through the Rocky Mountains to Oregon on the west coast.

Overpopulation happens when the population becomes too large to be sustained by the resources available (for example, land, water, and food).

P – Q (Pasture to quarantine)
Pasture is land covered with grass that is suitable for animals, such as cattle, to graze on.

Permanent Indian Frontier
The Permanent Indian Frontier was the border between the USA and what was then called ‘Indian Country’.

People are persecuted if they are subjected to hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs.

A pioneer was a migrant who travelled down the Oregon or California Trails in the 1840s and 1850s.

Plains is the name given to the dry, flat grasslands that stretch from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west.

A plantation was a large-scale farm worked by enslaved African Americans and often located in the southern states of the USA.

A prospector is a person who searches, or prospects, for gold.

prove up
The term prove up refers to the process of working the land for five years in order to gain permanent ownership of a homestead.

Quarantine is when people or animals are isolated or prevented from entering an area to stop the spread of an infectious disease.

R – T (Rancher to town marshal)
A rancher is someone who owns a large farm where cattle are bred and raised for market.

range war
The term range war refers to conflict over who controls the open range; many range wars were fought by rival cattle barons.

A reservation is one of many specific areas of the Plains in which the US government encouraged Indigenous peoples to live.

A sheriff is an elected officer who deals with local law and order issues; a sheriff is appointed by the townspeople.

sovereign nation
A sovereign nation is an independent state that is not under the control of any other country.

spirit world
The spirit world is an invisible realm existing alongside the physical realm; many Indigenous peoples believed that all living things have a spirit, and that the spirit world could be contacted through ritual dances.

Texas fever
Texas fever is a cattle disease transmitted by insects; it was harmless to Texas longhorns but deadly to other breeds of cattle.

Texas longhorn
Texas longhorn is a hardy breed of cattle raised in Texas and driven north to market.

Tipi is the name for the conical tent made of bison skin that could withstand the strong winds of the Plains and be quickly set up and taken down and packed away.

town marshal
A town marshal was an elected official who dealt with local law and order issues; the position was appointed by the townspeople.

U – W (Unbranded to ward)
Unbranded describes cattle that have not been burned with an owner’s mark.

US marshal
A US marshal is an elected official appointed by the US president and with responsibility for law and order in a territory or state.

A vigilante is an unofficial, unregulated person who takes law enforcement into their own hands.

The term ward refers to a person who is the legal responsibility of the government – in the same way that a child’s welfare and protection is the legal responsibility of its parents.